White Paper Is Toned Down a Bit

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White Paper Is Toned Down a Bit

It was both realistic and reasonable that the Ministry of National Defense maintained the existing view of North Korea as the nation''s principal military threat in the 2000 National Defense White Paper published Monday.

Reconciliation and cooperation on the one hand, and a steadfast security posture on the other, are the two pillars of our North Korea policy. Given that hasty assumptions and blind optimism are unwise where national security is concerned, it must be recognized as valid to hold fast to the notion that the North poses the greatest potential military threat to South Korea.

We cannot help but wonder about some defense policies manifested in the white paper. The military, by its nature, must maintain a conservative posture, but we see indications that its policy is tilting close to the positions adopted by government bureaus that have cooperative dealings with the North.

For example, with regard to the repatriation of South Korean prisoners of war detained in North Korea since the end of the war in 1953, the white paper states: "We will keep consulting with North Korea as a part of a comprehensive government pursuit to resolve the issue of separated families."

If the military authorities vow to resolve the prisoners of war issue in the context of separated families, how many South Korean citizens - including the POWs themselves and their families - are going to accept such a merging of unrelated issues without objection?

A few days ago, the National Assembly''s National Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee rejected the government''s position of equating POWs and abducted South Korean fishermen with ordinary separated families. As we saw Sunday during the reunion of a kidnapped fisherman and his mother in Pyongyang, if abducted South Koreans are tossed into the category of separated families the South will likely find itself forced to dance to the North''s tune.

Last year''s National Defense White Paper discussed the resolution of POW cases in a different manner. It said: "We will work hard to mould international public opinion in favor of POWs'' return by locating them through the agency of international organizations and other nations, and by urging their repatriation. We will also cooperate closely with domestic civic organizations." The absence of such sentiments from this year''s white paper is regrettable.

We basically accept that this year''s White Paper reflects the changed climate in inter-Korean relations. The old "North Korean engagement policy" has made way for a "reconciliation and cooperation policy," and expressions that might provoke Pyongyang have been eliminated.

We would like to point out that some expressions in the section headed North Korea''s Southern Strategy exude excessive optimism - given that the paper is, after all, published by the nation''s military forces.

While we agree in principle with a passage in the White Paper that reads: "Only when our military attains a perfect pitch of preparedness can the North-South Joint Declaration be implemented and ultimate reconciliation, cooperation and peaceful reunification become possible," we would add that until North Korea demonstrates a fundamental change in its posture, the prevailing view of the North as our principle threat should remain the premise for training our soldiers. Regardless of the future course of inter-Korean relations, the military should remain as solid as a rock, for it is their duty to serve and protect the people, property and sovereignty of South Korea.
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