[EDITORIALS] Don't Ignore North Korea's Threat

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[EDITORIALS] Don't Ignore North Korea's Threat

Our attention is drawn to the testimony of Thomas Schwartz, commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command. On Tuesday, in a hearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee, he testified that the North Korean threat is graver now than in the past year. Unlike Seoul's view that a trend of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula has taken root since last year's inter-Korean summit, Washington sticks to the argument that the North Korean threat is alive and well. Our confusion deepens because the South Korean defense authorities have admitted that the North Korean forces have increased their military strength. What was the background of General Schwartz's testimony? What is North Korea's intention? Do clashing perceptions on the North exist within the South Korean administration?

It is likely that General Schwartz's remarks were intentionally hard-line in front of the Senate panel, where the Pentagon's budget is deliberated, in preparation for the possibility of cuts in U.S. forces in Korea. But when he said that as the local commander he could not agree to the argument that the security climate on the peninsula was changing and that a threat did not exist, he practically refuted Seoul's perception of Pyongyang.

Mr. Schwartz said the North Korean threat was bigger, stronger, more fatal, more persistent and moving closer. He went on to say that dangers in unstable times defy predictions. Given the special nature of national security, in which missteps can be fatal, his statement merits attention.

Seoul should examine closely why North Korea is pursuing reconciliation and cooperation while reinforcing its war preparedness by forward-deploying two mechanized brigades and increasing battle training. North Korea's creation of military tension bucks not only the spirit of inter-Korean reconciliation, but also goes against Pyongyang's policy of seeking better ties with Washington. Ultimately, it will only induce the hardening of the Bush government's North Korea policy.

Has Seoul been aware of Pyongyang's move, but kept it under wraps so as not to pose stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation and cooperation? If that is true, the government must provide a clear explanation to the people.
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