[EDITORIAL] A Diplomatic ErrorPresident Vladimir Putin of Russia must have had a satisfied smile on his face as he flew to Vietnam yesterday after his three-day stay in Korea. Mr. Putin's visit showed the world that Russia has her share in the Korean Peninsula issue and accomplished some substantial diplomatic and economic results.
Mr. Putin brought Korea around to agreement on the need to maintain and strengthen the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which amounts to joining Russia in opposing the United States' plans for a National Missile Defense program. This is a diplomatic coup in anyone's eyes and, indeed, not only the Russian media but also news analysts in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries evaluate it as Mr. Putin's diplomatic success. They interpret the joint communique as tantamount to the staunch American ally taking sides with Russia on the NMD issue. With the Korea-U.S. summit meeting only a week off, the U.S. press in particular is paying special attention to the background of Korea's support of Russia.
Seoul says this is a misunderstanding; on the issue of the ABM Treaty, the communique simply echoes what has become common phraseology at international meetings and summit conferences?n other words, it has nothing to do with NMD at all. If that is true, then why include such an article when it can cause this kind of misunderstanding? A look at what little we got from Russia in return shows that the government will have to work to answer criticism that it has committed a diplomatic blunder. The administration will proudly point to the fact that Russia has hereby given its support to the "sunshine policy," but with Russia straddling the diplomatic fence on the Korean Peninsula, what choice did it really have? We need to get away from diplomatic devotion to the United States, but the reality is that national interest has to be the basis for diplomatic efforts.
On the NMD issue, it is better for Korea to maintain a sort of strategic ambiguity for the time being. There are already worries over possible friction between Korea and the new U.S. administration over North Korea policy. We are concerned that, through its diplomatic ineptitude, our government has unnecessarily added yet one more thing to have to explain to the Americans.