[EDITORIALS]While Seoul sleptTension on the Korean Peninsula escalates daily. North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane in international airspace over the weekend; U.S. President George W. Bush mentioned a military option for dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. The Pentagon dispatched bombers to Guam to send a warning to the North. Pyeongyang threatened to pull out from the armistice agreement if the U.S. and South Korea continue joint military exercises. Foreign investors in Korea are afraid and foreign businessmen are canceling their visits to the peninsula. Koreans, meanwhile, are yawning.
North Korea is obsessed with talking to the United States directly and bilaterally while Washington prefers a multilateral resolution. To resolve the current situation, we have said that it is not a matter of selecting one alternative. We agree with Seoul’s view that any dialogue is better than armed conflict. We worry that the North’s unreasonable demand and the U.S. military-backed hard-line policy would raise the possibility of the destruction of both Koreas. The situation grows serious and we are to be victimized first, but the government seems to have no plans and Koreans do not feel the gravity of the situation because they lack a sense of concern about national security.
There should be no difference in opinions that armed conflict on the peninsula must be prevented. The private contacts between Ra Jong-yil, a senior aide of President Roh Moo-hyun, and North Korean officials in Beijing is a good step to maintain a channel between the two Koreas. Any contact with the North, however, must be coordinated with the United States. Seoul must study the structure of the tension at this point. Pyeongyang and Washington’s stances, their calculations and possible strategic judgments must be looked at. The recent deteriorating situation makes it prudent that we prepare for the worst.
In addition to developments here, the United States is leaving all options open, including military force. At the same time, there were reports that it has begun to accept the idea of nuclear-armed North Korea. Seoul seems not to be aware of what is going on. It offered no explanation to the few Koreans who are agitated and showed no sign of consulting with our neighbors. We were also unable to get any signs of thought being given to the possibility of coexisting with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Seoul has made it a principle that it will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. The principle, however, is crumbling fast. It is urgent for Seoul to consult with Washington on what the U.S. reaction will be when Pyeongyang resumes operation of its reprocessing plant. Through all possible channels, South Korea must warn the North that serious consequences are awaiting any further challenge. Wait-and-see is no longer an option.