[EDITORIALS]Time for weapons actionReports suggesting that North Korea has started reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods to produce weapons-grade plutonium showed that the nuclear situation has entered a new phase. Seoul and Washington are postponing any final conclusion whether reprocessing actually has begun. The U.S. intelligence community, however, reportedly said there is no longer a real question.
After debates between the hawks and doves, Washington reportedly adopted a two-track policy of dialogue and pressure toward the North. If so, Seoul will face a situation in which its two principles ― zero tolerance of a nuclear-armed North Korea and absolute objection to a war here ― are contradictory.
Cooperation with allies is necessary in resolving nuclear issues and in improving our military power to deter the North, and so we believe that the relocation of the U.S. troops in the South must not be discussed until after the North Korean nuclear situation is resolved. Still, it is possible that Pyeongyang does possess nuclear weapons and that the problem will defy a quick solution but Washington still decides to relocate its troops. Facing a re-election campaign next year, U.S. President George W. Bush is probably looking mostly at domestic U.S. political concerns.
Seoul’s objections to both a nuclear-armed North Korea and to a war on the peninsula creates a dilemma. If it becomes clear that Pyeongyang no longer will respect the inter-Korean denuclearization agreement, the North must be warned through multilateral talks and diplomatic channels, including taking the matter to the UN Security Council. Seoul should support such actions. It should no longer display a lukewarm attitude; that is why the South needs close cooperation with its allies, including the United States.
At the same time, we must seriously consider reinforcing our military capabilities. Reviewing our long-term defense strategy and implementing a plan cannot wait. It is possible that Washington would enter negotiations with Pyeongyang without seriously considering the South’s security. The Washington summit next week should address such issues.