[OUTLOOK]It was money spent unwiselyThirty Millennium Demo-cratic legislators, including Kim Keun-tae, who stood in last year’s primary for the presidential nomination, voiced their criticism that the investigation of the independent counsel into the 400 billion won ($334 million) transfer to North Korea before the inter-Korean summit in 2000 is too tilted to legal punishment of those involved. Complaining that the investigation ignores the political needs behind the cash payment at the time, they stated, “The secret money transfer was made outside the boundaries of existing law, but there was also clearly a political decision to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
It is true that the special prosecutor’s investigation into the cash-for-summit scandal has been limited to legalities. The investigation team of the independent counsel, of course, was formed to deal with the legal problems. The problems raised by the cash-for-summit scandal, however, go beyond questions related to violation of current law. That is why we should consider the political consequences as well as the legal consequences of the spirited money.
First, is a policy decision for promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula always exempt from the law? If that is so, the question is what exactly should be the definition of “political decision to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula”? If an action taken by the head of a government is exempt from the law, when it is claimed as a political decision to promote peace, then the rule of law is doomed.
The next point is apart from the legal issue. Was the decision to remit the money a wise one? As is the case with domestic policy, the result of a policy matters more than the intention of the decision maker in international politics. No matter how noble and pure the intentions of a policymaker are, the policies have failed if the results prove undesirable. Therefore, a rational policymaker refrains from being obsessed with his own intentions when he makes a decision on a specific policy. He carries out a strict analysis of the results that are likely to spring from the implementation of the plan.
Then, how should we judge the aftermath? The secret cash transfer could have made the June 15 summit meeting possible. Therefore, any evaluation of the decision to put the money in the hands of the North should rest on a determination of the results of the summit meeting and the benefits the summit could bring further down the road.
But the June 15 summit meeting, unlike the established perception of summit meetings, which are held according to agreements reached through protocols, happened because money was paid. From the South Korean perspective, the money transferred was the price for the summit. For the North Koreans, the meeting was the price they had to pay for the money. By agreeing to remit a certain amount of money to Pyeongyang to get North Korea to agree to hold a summit, Seoul set its own price. Consequently, the June 15 get-together did not ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula but set the pattern of a sort of commercial transaction that the South and the North could expect of each other in the future.
Of course, inter-Korean exchanges have increased in absolute quantity since the summit meeting. But the exchanges can also be seen as a result of the continuing decline of the North Korean economy. That is why the mistake of giving the North money caused us to lose a historic opportunity to improve our relationship with the North, an opportunity that was created by the North’s internal situation.
Dialogue and negotiations are political acts carried out to pursue the results desired by each party. The North-South summit was a case in which the meeting itself became the venue of bargain hunting. While the meeting should be hailed a success, it nevertheless raised the price of summit meetings we can expect in the future.
South Korea, by giving North Korea the impression that it was willing to pay a considerable amount of money for a summit, has made it even more difficult to meet with the North Koreans on such a level in the future. In this, the decision to pay North Korea was essentially flawed policy.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is president of the Institute of Social Sciences.
by Kim Kyung-won