[OUTLOOK]Security alert needs wake-up call

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[OUTLOOK]Security alert needs wake-up call

The security situation on the Korean Peninsula was thrown into turmoil when North Korea admitted that it has maintained a secret nuclear weapons program. Grave and irreversible damage should be expected if the South Korean government and the public put too much confidence in U.S. President George W. Bush's ability to control himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's good intentions. The seriousness of the situation is aggravated because of a complete loss of confidence in the North among the international community. The U.S. administration's principle that weapons of mass destruction is not an issue open to negotiations, and the apparent disagreement between Seoul and Washington in their positions toward Pyeongyang pose a more serious problem. The problem may even result in a division of the public here, especially with some who may come to deny the South-U.S. security alliance, which would be a greater security crisis.

It is time to demand that the government come around to an appropriate sense of alarm about security issues and to begin working for the interest of the nation and the public. There must also be a check and verification of the inner workings of our national security organizations.

Reports say that the beginning of information sharing between Seoul and Washington on the North's nuclear program came in August. What has happened in the last two weeks, in particular, since the briefing by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to key Seoul officials about the North's admission is especially alarming.

The North's nuclear program is in violation of its international commitments and an unmistakable display of duplicity against the South, especially when the North has proclaimed it is engaging in reconciliation and cooperation. What Seoul has done in the past two months is nothing more than playing a supporting role in the North's propaganda drama. There was no sign of concern for national security; there was only a blind drive to keep the sunshine policy afloat by pumping out "accomplishments" in cooperation and reconciliation.

Since Mr. Kelly's visit, our government appears to have been betting everything on the North Korean regime's good intentions. The appearance is enough to raise doubts whether there was any realization in the government of the seriousness of the consequences. This is perhaps the result of the government's misguided national security function. At the peak of that system stands the National Security Council. In the council meeting following Mr. Kelly's visit, held Oct. 15, there was no discussion about the North's nuclear program, according to the Defense Minister's testimony Oct. 18 at the National Assembly. Nor was there any discussion before that. What is even more alarming is that the head of the council, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, was not kept abreast of the information as he prepared for ministerial talks in Pyeongyang. Officials preparing for the trip expressed frustration that they had been left in the dark, even as serious as this issue was. One wonders what the function of the National Security Council is and for whom it exists.

Very little can justify the council's actions if national security functions were discouraged because the president and his closest aides were too preoccupied with the sunshine policy and thus neglected security concerns. The obvious next step, if the national security body was indeed brushed aside, is to immediately restore the integrity of national security system.

The North will no doubt begin demanding recognition of its legitimacy, a peace agreement and economic assistance in return for giving up the nuclear program, as the United States has requested. But Washington will not likely back down from its position that the program must be scrapped before there can be any discussions. This scenario puts Seoul in an awkward position.

A clarification of national security principles is needed in terms of epistemology. The foundation of our national security policy is deterrence within the framework of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. Unless there is a shared recognition between the two alliance partners that the threat to security is none other than North Korea's regime, the basic foundation of our national security policy will crumble.

In a broader context, multilateral cooperation with the United States and Japan must be on the practical level to help preserve the nation, the lives of the people and their values. The use of mere rhetoric won't be enough.


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The writer is a professor of international relations at Chung Ang University.

by Kim Dong-sung

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