[OUTLOOK]Just the facts about our interestsWe are caught in a great sea of contradictions these days. Amidst demands for the truth about the money sent to North Korea, one major figure involved in the affair claimed in tears that he had done a historical deed by opening a land route from the South to Mount Geumgang. While the United States is positioning aircraft carriers and fighter-bombers around the Korean Peninsula, suggesting that it could go as far as military action in dealing with the North should it refuse to give up its nuclear program, buses loaded with South Korean tourists travel across the barbed-wire Demilitarized Zone along the eastern coast to Mount Geumgang.
Why is there this parade of contradicting events? Is sneaking money to North Korea a bad thing but getting to use a land route for tourism in return a good thing? Are the danger of war and the Mount Geumgang tourism completely irrelevant to each other? How are we to read this? Who or what has created such a bizarre situation?
The task of coping with the reality of the money sent to North Korea poses a baffling dilemma alone. Should the affair be buried quietly for the sake of national interest as some claim? Or should the truth about the show that deceived the entire nation be revealed? Would letting it alone help prevent a war or would only the truth set us free?
The president's idea of the national interest seems to be different from that of the Grand National Party. The conservatives and the liberals are also at odds over what they deem to be best for the country. So, which side's "national interest" is indeed the interest of the nation?
That's not a simple question to answer. One characteristic of democratic countries is that they allow each person to have his or her opinion and ideas on what the national interest is. Those who call for war do so in the name of the country and those who oppose war also do it for love of their country. Nevertheless, what is certain in a sovereign country is that no national interest is more vital than that of self-preservation. We need a nation to talk about national interests. There are national interests that have to be the most important because they concern the very fate of the country. There are interests involving the economy and interests involving culture or the public image of the country. It is the duty of the leader of the nation to prioritize the most urgent and important interest from among these competing interests.
Our society is in confusion right now because we have lost our judgment about this priority of national interests. It is in our national interest to stop the North from developing nuclear weapons. It is also in our national interest to be in good terms with the North. Acquiring project commissions from the North is a national interest as well as freezing financial aid lest it be used for a military buildup in the North. Even with the looming possibility of a war over the North's refusal to give up its nuclear program, we are busing tourists to Mount Geumgang and trying to rationalize sending money to Pyeongyang in secret, claiming that it was in return for large-scale project concessions even while aware of the danger of the money being used for military purposes.
Economic cooperation or even humanitarian concerns such as the reunion of separated families can only come second to the interest of our national security. In the extreme case of our national security being threatened, it is only judicious to consider our security even at the cost of sacrificing these secondary considerations.
President Kim Dae-jung's biggest oversight was to cause the people to lose their sense of judgment about what is in the interest of the country. Before this government came along, we as a nation had a consensus in our opinions of the national interest. Talk and cooperate with the North, but remember that security is the most important of all national interests. No one questioned that wisdom ?that is, until the Kim Dae-jung administration changed the priorities around. Had Mr. Kim been a leader worried about the security of his country, he would not have handed over money that could potentially be used for armaments. He would not have insisted on dialogue after the North Korean attack on our navy off the west coast. For the five years of this administration, conversation with Pyeongyang, rather than self-preservation, has been the number-one priority. It is a poor defense to say that this was done to prevent war. North Korea pursued its nuclear program incessantly, and the ominous clouds of war now approach the peninsula.
People want the truth. Why must it be known? Do we want to send a former president in his 80s to jail? No. We simply want to know. Why did the president compromise our security to cooperate with the North? Why did he switch priorities? Was it a personal ambition to hold the summit meeting? Or was it something else? We want to know because we need to clean up the chaos our national interests lie in now. Without purgatory, our situation could turn into something far worse.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk