[TODAY]Scrap 'sunshine'? Then what?Did the hardliners in North Korea attack the South Korean navy ships with firm determination that they would risk a war if necessary for their regime's survival? It hardly seems likely. Kim Jong-il and his advisers are well acquainted with Operations Plan 5027, the U.S.-ROK combined forces basic war plan ?they complain about it often enough. Before 1992, the plan specified that a North Korean attack on South Korea would lead to a counterattack by South Korean and U.S. forces by sea and by land, and the dismantling of the North Korean regime after capturing Pyeongyang.
In 1992, the plan was strengthened to call for the joint forces to go into battle mode even before any actual engagement from the North Korean side, should it show signs of attacking the South. The OP Plan 5027 and the U.S. missiles have been effective in restraining any urge on the North Korean military's part to provoke a war. Furthermore, U.S. President Bush has been adding to the heat on North Korea with his tough talk of pre-emptive or nuclear strikes.
So what were North Korea's intentions in the Yellow Sea clash? North Korea and China expert Bates Gill of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington saw Saturday's incident as a North Korean "incursions game" with the South, which they have enjoyed for quite some time but which got out of hand this time.
Having struck at the South Korean Navy while avoiding an all-out war, the North Koreans probably feel avenged for their humiliating defeat three years ago in a clash in the Yellow Sea. Seen from the perspective of North Korean military hardliners, this incident would also halt, or delay at least, the visit of James Kelly, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, to Pyeongyang. U.S.-North Korean talks on North Korea's missiles and nuclear armaments would also be stalled.
These hardliners are opposed to the resumption of dialogue with the United States. They consider any talks with the United States an act of suicide because the talks, they claim, concentrate more on the problems of North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons rather than assisting the country in the building of a peace system. North Korea also believes that the Kim Dae-jung administration has lost the freedom to pursue its North Korea policies because of President Bush's interference. The military leaders in the North are opposed to reconnecting the Gyeongui railroad and developing a land route for the Mount Geumgang tours because these projects would require clearing landmines in the demilitarized zone. These military leaders are working to obstruct any line of reforms or open-door policies without directly opposing Kim Jong-il.
The Yellow Sea clash could put off the U.S.-North talks for a considerable time, as probably was the North Korean hardliners' intention. However, what we are worried about more than the U.S.-North relations is the negative effect this incident will have on our national politics. The opposition parties are calling for a halt of the Mount Geumgang tours and for scrapping the "sunshine" policy towards North Korea. Their anger is justified, considering how poorly the North has repaid us for our shipments of rice and fertilizer and our "donation" of nearly $ 1 billion to support the Mount Geumgang project.
The situation seems to require an apology and a promise from North Korea that such incidents will never happen again. But calling for a complete end to the sunshine policy because of the incident on Saturday is too rash. What exactly is meant by demanding that the policy be "abolished"? Does it mean ending all talks with the North? Does it mean returning to a situation of military confrontation? Saying that the sunshine policy has not lived quite up to the expectations and saying that it has failed are two different things.
If North Korea and the United States fail to resume talks, North Korea's moratorium on missile testing will end next spring and the light-water reactor construction project and the Geneva Agreement on nuclear armament may come under serious threat. It is important that the sun keeps its warmth throughout the tension between North Korea and the United States. The sudden attack of the North Korean ship on ours was not because of the sunshine policy but because of a strategic mistake in failing to station ships within firing distance from the speedboats that blocked the path of the North Korean ships. We offered a weak spot for the North Koreans to exploit.
What we need to throw away is not the sunshine policy but our blind belief in the policy. As long as patrolling ships are in the places they should be and there are no alternatives, it is worthwhile to keep the basics of the sunshine policy.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Editorials
Fearing the jab
Hong learns a lesson
Appointing a special prosecutor
The BAI’s independence