[OUTLOOK]A shock that shouldn't have beenA sense of crisis is spreading on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea came clean about its hidden nuclear weapons development program. The unexpected turn of events has deepened our apprehension that our fears about a nuclear peninsula have now become an actual threat.
But the problem of nuclear weapons in the North is not a new development. Few experts here or in other countries actually believed that the North would really give up its "nuclear option" despite its signature on the 1994 Agreed Framework. Suspicions and partial evidence that it was continuing with its nuclear program continued to be raised. This situation had been long anticipated and warned about; our security system should have recognized all this as a threat and developed some countermeasures.
After wasting a few years with the hopeful opinion that North Korea was going to fall in the near future, we then indulged in groundless optimism that the threat of war had disappeared from the face of the Korean Peninsula. While we were staging tear-jerking events promoting "one nation" and peace, North Korea's nuclear program advanced to bear down on us like an oncoming freight train.
North Korea's admission that it has a nuclear weapons program is a roundabout way of saying that it indeed has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons. The North's proposal that it is ready to resolve the situation through talks is a typical strategy of trying to minimize the initial shock. What North Korea is aiming for at present is to make their possession of nuclear weapons an established fact. North Korea will now play on with tedious negotiations and confrontations while concentrating its efforts on strengthening the "vested rights" it now holds as a nuclear-possessing nation.
Solving North Korea's nuclear problem peacefully in cooperation with the United States and Japan is the only alternative and hope we have at present. Yet, from North Korea's point of view, its nuclear program is a matter of survival and preservation of the regime. North Koreans have had to walk their own thorny path to get the nuclear weapons in their hands, and will not be easily convinced to give up its precious weapons now. On the other hand, the United States has also vowed a zero-tolerance fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in countries it has defined as rogue states. Iraq is a good example of the United States' determination. The reason the United States is showing a rather flexible attitude toward North Korea right now is to buy time for a win-hold-win strategy. In the end, the Korean Peninsula will have to ready itself for another crisis. The tragedy of another war must be stopped at all costs. In order to avoid more combat, we must accurately assess the threat before our eyes and devote our efforts to coming up with countermeasures.
Empty political rhetoric or a slovenly adaptation to circumstances by claiming that "North Korea's true intentions have been misconstrued" will not make the problem go away. From now on, we will have to live with a North Korea armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, whether we like it or not. Our first effort must be to try to find a political solution to the situation in cooperation with our friends, including the United States. At the same time, we should develop military countermeasures that could deter nuclear blackmail by North Korea.
In the short term, the joint forces of South Korea and the United States should immediately reinforce their information-gathering capabilities and retaliatory capability. In the medium and long term, we must concentrate our national abilities on building up our war deterrence capability for self-defense.
A new framework must be laid out for our military strategy on North Korea and we must prepare our force structure for the purpose of executing that strategy. The many strategic projects that have been modified, reduced or canceled in the last 10 years or so because of a sense of oblivion to the threat and a negligence of security should be re-examined by military experts. More budget allocations should be made for national defense investment and research and development.
Although it is late, if we start making determined preparations now, a few inferior nuclear weapons won't become a decisive threat to our existence. That is why a balanced national leadership and national consensus is needed now more than ever.
* The writer is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
by Cho Yung-kil