[INSIGHT]Confusion over Korea's interests

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[INSIGHT]Confusion over Korea's interests

Passing by the U.S. Embassy in Gwanghwamun, one has the feel of passing through a battlefield. Hundreds of heavily armed police swarm around the embassy compound and the streets nearby. In sharp contrast, the Russian Embassy and the Chinese Embassy in Seoul are sights of idyllic peace, complete with dozing guards. Historically, the United States is our ally, while we fought with the former Soviet Union and China, both of whom sided with North Korea. The United States is the only country that we have signed a defense treaty with. Yet, the American office looks like that of an enemy. A fender-bender or trifling argument becomes a social issue if a U.S. serviceman is involved.

The phenomenon arises from the differences of opinion about the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Some view the U.S. presence as helpful to the national interest; others say it is harmful. Were we one country with one people like other countries, such judgments of national interest might have been simpler. Protecting our country, prospering economically and leading happy lives ?these would have been the elements of our national interest. Unfortunately, our situation as a divided country makes our concepts of national interest more complex. The national interests of North and South Korea and the interests of the Korean people as a whole do not always coincide. The pinnacle of our common interest is to become one country and to live without intervention from foreign powers. Those leading the anti-American movement say that U.S. troops are a barrier to unification. But there are people who believe that South Korea's national interests, not those of the Korean people, should come first. They say that if protecting economic prosperity, democracy and human rights are the national interests of the South, we need the U.S. troops to defend them.

As communism crumbled around the world, North Korea started developing a nuclear program in what they considered a necessity for their survival. North Korea's nuclear program might or might not protect its national interests, but it definitely goes against the interests of the Korean people as a whole. Needless to say, a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula would mean the practical extinction of the Korean race. By arming itself with nuclear weapons, North Korea also invites the intervention of neighboring powers, something that it has always campaigned against. After Pyeongyang admitted the existence of a nuclear program there, the first country that the United States sought out to discuss the matter was not South Korea but China. Russia and the other UN Security Council permanent members were next. It can be said that the Korean Peninsula issues are now out of the hands of North and South Korea. Our neighboring powers are taking the lead.

The problem is the South Korean government's unification policy. North Korea went to the extent of developing nuclear weapons to protect its national interests, and yet we have been suppressing our national interests because we believed Pyeongyang's claims that it, like we, was working for the interests of the Korean people as a whole. The thought that our money could have provided the funds for North Korea's nuclear program, the fact that our government ignored the warning signs of the June naval skirmish in which several of our men died, the audacity of our government to claim that it was actually a good thing that North Korea has admitted to having a nuclear program ?these all show how misguided and wide of the mark our government's judgments on national interests have been.

Maybe it's a delusion, maybe it's naivete, maybe there's some sort of hidden intentions that we know nothing about. What is certain is that the Kim Dae-jung administration has taken great pains to push South Korea's national interests to the side and stuck persistently to working for the interests of the Korean people as a whole. We no longer can let this confusion between these two differing interests grow. That is not to say that the interests of the people as a whole are not important ?we just need to be more realistic about what we are seeking. Is shunning all foreign influence the best way to guarantee our interests? Is it realistic? A Korean Peninsula without U.S. troops would mean a Korean Peninsula influenced by China or Russia. Is this not foreign influence as well? North Korea's nuclear program demands that we wake from our fantasy and make a clear judgment of what our national interest is.


The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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