[OUTLOOK]National security heads concernsComplicated issues abound as the first Korean president of the 21st century takes office. The new administration’s national security policy direction is likely to determine the destiny of not only South Korea but the entire Korean Penin-sula. President Roh Moo-hyun has the task of handling tense North Korean issues, our relationship with the United States, modernization of the military and establishing a longer-term policy for the reunification of the peninsula based on free democracy and market economy. In reaffirming our relationship with the United States, the administration must recognize that, however important it is, national sentiment cannot replace national interest as the most important determinant. In this respect, Korea faces two ominous concerns to our national security.
First, while there is an increasing mood of cooperation and reconciliation between the two Koreas, we face military and national security threats from the North. North Korea has violated the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States, the 1991 declaration for the nonnuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, safeguard agreements with the Inter-national Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Nonprolifera-tion Treaty. The North Korean nuclear problem must of course be resolved through peaceful means and dialogue. But we should recognize the reality that, with the survival of its regime directly at stake, North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear program easily.
Some people in the public and even certain specialists believe that a nuclear North Korea would not use its arsenal on the people of the South, who share the same heritage. They go further to say that North Korea, with nuclear capabilities, will give the unified Korea that much more in leverage and diplomatic strength with neighboring countries. But if it is allowed to possess nuclear capacity, we will be forced to suffer enormous economic sacrifice, and Japan will be prompted to arm itself with nuclear weapons or massive conventional forces; neighboring countries are also likely to come out actively opposing the unification of the Korean Peninsula.
The new administration must stand ready to shore up cooperation from the international community and the alliance with the United States within the context of the United Nations Security Council to calmly resolve the second nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is fully capable of going ahead with extreme measures, including suspension of the moratorium on long-range missile tests and beginning the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and underground nuclear testing. If North Korea attempts any of these moves, the deterrence of the U.S.-Korea alliance needs to be stepped up with a stern warning to the North Korean authority. China and Russia are also not going to stand and watch as North Korea arms itself with nuclear weapons.
The second aspect of concern for our national security is the status of the U.S. military presence here. A significant portion of the public believes that the 37,000 American troops are stationed here first and foremost for the strategic interest of the United States. It is not an entirely inaccurate statement, but the United States has maintained a consistent position on this since the late 1980s: that U.S. forces will be in Korea as long as the Korean people want, and the United States is prepared for a pullout or a reduction any time circumstances prompt the Korean people or the government to see it otherwise. This position was perhaps reinforced after Sept. 11, when homeland security became the highest national security priority for the United States. The end of the Cold War led to the reduction of U.S. military personnel but the operational tempo has been turned up. The Pentagon is planning to bring back the forces stationed in Europe and Asia for homeland defense if the need arises.
Establishing mature relations with the United States is clearly a desirable policy. But it is also an opportunity for the new government of President Roh Moo-hyun to assess whether we have the ability to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and inter-Korean relations without help of the United States.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University.
by Lee Chung-min