[VIEWPOINT]National Interests Must Come First

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[VIEWPOINT]National Interests Must Come First

The St. Louis Post Dispatch, a local U.S. newspaper which normally takes no interest in international issues, recently published an entire Washington Post article from Stockholm about European Union leaders seeking to help the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and covered the news in greater depth than even Korean newspapers. According to the article, the 15 EU leaders decided to break from their past deference to U.S. leadership when dealing with Asian trouble spots, deciding to step in to help reduce tension between the two Koreas even at the risk of antagonizing the Bush administration.

The Korean Peninsula is one of the last regions where conflicts originating in the World War II are still going on. EU leaders suspect Washington might be trying to thwart President Kim Dae-jung's initiative to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula. It is unprecedented for Europe to join Russia in denouncing U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula.

It is understandable that the United States should exaggerate North Korea's threat in its attempt to establish a missile shield targeting Russia and China. There is also no reason for us to defy today's global system centered on the United States, which tries to enforce its kind of peace on the rest of the world by maintaining absolute superiority in military strength. Even North Korea has made it a policy goal to become part of this system.

But can we support the U.S. strategy if its missile defense policy holds hostage the Korean peace process? It was a matter of course for Mr. Kim to clearly indicate his opposition to the NMD system when President Putin visited Korea. Although he embarrassed himself by reversing his position when he met President Bush, the world is not so foolish to miss his real message. It knows Korea must bow to the United States because of the long-standing hostility between the North and the South. It was the United States, not Korea, which oscillated during the Washington summit; Korea suffered from the pain of being the weaker nation. It is the sort of pain it need never experience again once it joins hands with North Korea.

Just as the United States pursues its own global strategy, it is only right that the Korean people pursue their own strategy for survival and prosperity, and for establishing regional peace. It might be desirable to sustain a system of perfect cooperation with Washington, but this is not always possible. There is no need to worry about an impending crisis just because the policies of the two countries happen to produce occasional discord. If there are obstacles we cannot overcome by ourselves, we can bypass them. We can reach partial agreements if we cannot reach a package solution with North Korea.

It is also normal to have differences of opinions over policy priorities. While we have to leave technical matters requiring expertise to professionals, the grass roots can prepare for a brighter future by setting policy positions. It is regrettable that the follow-up measures to the June 15 Joint Declaration between the two Koreas were badly timed. President Clinton might have visited Pyongyang had the North Korean leader made more concessions and more aggressively pursued reconciliation with Washington.

It is frustrating that Mr. Kim had to appeal to European leaders for help, and that there is no unified support from the Korean people. On some issues, there are precedents in which the public's perceptions are more accurate than the personal judgement of experts or leaders. But the public becomes confused when it is at an exceptional crossroads where the status quo is challenged and old habits must be broken. This is why the constitution of all democratic states allows the leader to exercise emergency powers during crisis. Whatever the circumstances, the people of the two Koreas and Koreans living abroad have to take the great road toward peace.


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The writer is a U.S.-based columnist.

by Kim Sang-ki

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