[TODAY] Stop Debating the 'Main Enemy'

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[TODAY] Stop Debating the 'Main Enemy'

We Cannot Demonstrate Love For the North Without Recognizing Its System

I believe we have to debate the concept of "main enemy" to ascertain whether North Korea is really our enemy, at least once the process of inter-Korean reconciliation reaches a certain stage.

Plato, that great philosopher, offered penetrating insight into this issue 2,400 years ago. In a set of dialogues called "The Republic," the Greek stressed the importance of making a clear distinction between "polemios," or public enemies to wage war against, and "exithros," or personal enemies.

His emphasis on the distinction also reflects his concept of war. Plato perceived the conflicts between Greeks and those he called barbarians as a war, but not those among Greeks, which he defined as a civil war. Based on Plato's criteria, the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta was a civil war, and the Korean War should also be called a civil war.

Perhaps the person who defined the concept of enemies and friends with the greatest clarity in the context of 20th-century politics was Carl Schmitt, the noted political theorist and philosopher who was also notorious for his collaboration with Nazi Germany. In his book "The Concept of Things Political," written in 1932, he said politics is founded on the distinction between friend and enemy, as esthetics is founded on the distinction between beauty and ugliness and the economy on the distinction between gain and loss. He dedicated himself theoretically to the dissolution of the Weimar Republic and championed Hitler's ascent to power because he believed a liberal parliamentary democracy negates enemies by viewing them only as partners in debates and business deals. This approach fails to settle the issues that can be resolved only by confronting enemies, he argued, and is a sign of regressing to being a neutral state.

Mr. Schmitt also cited from the New Testament to emphasize that an enemy always refers to the public enemy. He claimed the Bible's instruction to love your enemy meant your personal enemy, not the public enemy. One cannot love a political enemy, he said, adding that in the thousands of years of conflicts between Christians and Muslims, no Christian ever gave up defending Europe to hand it over to Muslims out of love for Saracens or Turks.

Regardless of how international law defines the Korean War, the North and the South have been maintaining a relationship of public enemies. The Pyongyang summit meeting and the succession of events that followed only signal the beginning of a process of identifying the North-South relationship as between either enemies or friends.

The "main enemy" concept is a dilemma for us. The heads of the North and the South have passionately embraced each other. President Kim Dae-jung has declared there will be war no longer between the North and the South. The North Korean National Defense Commission chairman, Kim Jong-il, has hinted at a willingness to transform the North Korean economy into a Chinese-style market economy.

Judging by these events alone, North Korea is no longer our public enemy. It has transformed itself into a partner in discussions and negotiations, if we are to use Schmitt's concept of politics. This development provides the grounds for objecting to defining the North as our main enemy. North-South relations are not evolving in a vacuum, however. Officially, North Korea has not changed its militant strategy toward the South. Its weapons of mass destruction, and its conventional weapons, which the Bush Administration is now demanding be downsized, are formidable enough to wipe out the entire South should it decide to employ them.

Many South Koreans still believe North Korea cannot be trusted and they are unwilling to share President Kim's conviction that war will not break out between the two Koreas in the future. In the circumstances, it is entirely logical and also justifiable that the South's defense white paper specifies the North as its main enemy. Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae said, "Unless North Korea modifies its military strategy toward South Korea right now, it is not appropriate to change our concept of the main enemy." He could not have given a better answer. If we are to invoke Mr. Schmitt's advice, the status of national security and reunion of separated families are separate issues.

But then we have come a long way since we embarked on the long journey toward inter-Korean reconciliation last June. It seems we'd best use Plato's insight into the concept of public and personal enemies and Schmitt's interpretation of the Bible's command to love your enemy only as a guideline. Unless we recognize North Korea's system, and reconcile and cooperate with its leadership, it is impossible for us to extend our love for our "beloved" brothers in North Korea.

Let us not prolong the debates on the main enemy concept. The ruling party and the opposition, and the conservative and liberal camps, should cut the debates short and wait and see what Chairman Kim brings with him when he makes his first visit to the South.

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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