[VIEWPOINT]Time to face the North's threat

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[VIEWPOINT]Time to face the North's threat

While South Korea was congratulating itself on successfully hosting the Asian Games and cheering the crowds from North Korea, North Korea was delivering the message that it was developing nuclear weapons to the United States.

No doubt concerned about the blow this could have on its "sunshine policy," the South Korean government hastily reassured the public that there was no reason to interpret the situation out of proportion. Whenever North Korea has committed its various and outrageous acts of provocation, this government has, in substance, defended the North and tried to downplay the impact.

No longer can we afford to continue allowing this "sunshine drama," in which blazes rising from North Korea are faithfully extinguished by the firefighters from the South.

From the day that U.S. special envoy James Kelly's visit to Pyeongyang was announced, the South Korean government has made hope-filled requests to the U.S. administration. The message that the United States should fairly evaluate the recent changes in North Korea, including its plans for a special economic district in Sinuiju and its measures inching toward a more market-friendly economy, has been presented through various means. Some optimists even foresaw a personal letter from President George W. Bush to be delivered to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

North Korea, on the other hand, protested strongly to Mr. Kelly against labeling it as a part of the "axis of evil," and told him that the North has no alternative but to develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. forces continue to stay in the South.

The Bush administration had previously stated that positive actions by the North on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction would be rewarded with economic aid and the improvement of the relations between the two countries. The United States now no longer feels obliged to such reciprocity and believes that the 1994 Agreed Framework is no longer effective.

And yet the South Korean government is sticking to its implausible logic that a clear confirmation of North Korea's intention to develop nuclear weapons is a positive sign. Seoul seems to continue insisting that North Korea's coming out of the closet with its nuclear weapons program is proof of Pyeongyang's transparency, and that South Korea and the United States should apply even a higher level of incentives.

While there remains a need to analyze the reason that North Korea admitted its weapons program, its ability to develop nuclear weapons is no longer the central issue. The decisive questions are North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and this government's strategic ambiguity toward the United States.

The United States sees the Sept. 11 terror attack as its second Pearl Harbor and has set homeland security as its priority. Subsequently, it has declared that it will pursue a new military strategy in which preemptive strikes are also an option, destroying rogue states' weapons of mass destruction to prevent a second Sept. 11 attack.

Of course, there is almost no possibility of a preemptive strike on the North, considering the special security situation of the Korean Peninsula. However, it is also clear that the United States will use all non-military measures to pressure North Korea. The problem herein is the South Korean government's halfhearted attitude toward such a doctrine.

This government has repeatedly warned of a new crisis arising in 2003, yet the crisis is right before our eyes, and the reason is that we are evaluating North Korea's real intentions through the window called the "sunshine policy." At the same time, the government has abetted an unprecedented information disconnection with the United States. The situation couldn't be more dismal.

It isn't surprising that the Foreign Ministry took care not to provoke North Korea when it announced North Korea's nuclear development. All that remains is the presidential election that comes in some 60 days and the clear, unforgiving judgment of the people.

The writer teaches at the Graduate School of International Studies of Yonsei University.

by Lee Chung-min

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