[VIEWPOINT]Intelligence failures hurt securitySurprise and unease are sweeping the nation because of the release of documents alleging that the former defense minister deliberately ignored an intelligence warning about North Korean provocations before the Yellow Sea naval incident last June. Whether the allegation is true or not should be investigated; if true, the standing of the government and the military in the public's eyes will plummet.
When this kind of secret document is opened to the world, the man who revealed the information is usually discharged from the army, where the chain of command is particularly strong. General Han Cheol-yong is to be commended for taking that risk.
We have been disappointed at the government's behavior regarding the Yellow Sea battle. Our navy was surprisingly defensive during the battle, and the ceremonies for the deceased soldiers were very low-key. Judging by this handling of their deaths, we have no choice but to suspect that the government's behavior was heavily influenced by the sunshine policy. The allegation that the defense minister ignored the intelligence warning must have been related to the sunshine policy as well.
President Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy has been under heavy criticism for violating the principle of reciprocity and giving benefits to the North without getting anything in return. Still, people in the South have supported the policy unsparingly with the belief that it is the only way to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula. But in June, when a global sports festival, the World Cup soccer tournament, was taking place here, the North staged a surprise attack and took the lives of five young Koreans. The attack might have been staged because of a despicable calculation by Pyeongyang that South Korea was not in a position to respond appropriately to the attack because of the World Cup. To top it all off, we now hear this appalling story that an intelligence warning about North Korea's provocations was neglected by those in the chain of command of our military.
All this suggests that we have to totally rethink the basis of our security. First of all, we need to regard this case as a serious problem that has threatened our citizens' lives and assets. Then, we need to investigate the case thoroughly and punish the officials who are responsible to prevent this kind of problem from ever happening again. The investigation results should be given a lot of publicity.
Second, the sunshine policy should not weaken our consciousness for national security. If our lives were threatened because of concessions made without our knowledge, that was a deception and failure of a policy that threatens our lives.
It has been constantly suggested that a wide consensus to adopt the sunshine policy was necessary when it was being formulated. Although few except conservatives might realize it, North Korea is still dangerous. As shown in the case of the North's kidnapping of the Japanese, North Korea's fantastic dream of communizing the entire Korean Peninsula has not disappeared yet. It was discovered that North Korea kidnapped the Japanese to use them as instructors for training secret agents to spy on South Korea while posing as Koreans living in Japan.
Third, we need to develop and strengthen our information collecting systems and networks. Even if Korean intelligence succeeded in collecting the information on the North's provocation before incidents occur, the overall ability of the Korean military to collect information independently still needs to be improved. The ability to collect information independently directly affects national security. North Korea was arguing without any basis that South Korea staged the attack. Then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that he had evidence that it was North Korea that started the attack. It was the U.S. information-collecting system that shut the North Koreans' mouth. The recent mystery ship sunk and then salvaged by Japan and now found to have been a North Korean spy ship was actually discovered and destroyed by the Japanese intelligence system.
The present case sends us the signal that Korean national security is being threatened from its very basis. It is time to have a comprehensive checkup of our national security system.
The writer is a professor of political science at Hanyang University.
by Kim Kyung-min