[GLOBAL EYE]No time for nuclear blame gameThe head of the National Intelligence Service recently made public new information concerning the state of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program.
Nonetheless, the citizens of South Korea display no signs of stir or unrest. Why? In a nutshell, the attitude is caused by a sense of unfounded optimism stemming from powerlessness that permeates the minds of the Korean people.
Pyeongyang’s reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods has been a point of fierce contention and keen observation since the North Korean nuclear issue resurfaced last October. It has been regarded as a barometer to judge whether the reclusive regime is determined to go nuclear.
Therefore, nuclear experts called it a “red line” which the North should not cross, and they have been working hard on countermeasures if Pyeongyang went ahead. Still, the Korean people prefer not to think about the worst situation they can imagine; that the South could not deal with North Korean nuclear threat on its own and that a war on the peninsula, even if it is not nuclear but a conventional one, would bring unimaginable devastation to the South.
The sense of self-pity that few if any solutions can be mustered by our own hands, coupled with the vague expectation that the international community, including the United States, will intervene at an appropriate stage seems to be feeding our sense of tranquility.
The reason foreign media chose to emphasize the information revealed by our intelligence chief has to do with the interest of the international community, which is keeping an eye on South Korea to see how we, the player now notorious for undermining efforts to pressure the Pyeongyang regime, will shape our own policies.
Some question the timing of the release, synchronized with the China-Korea summit meeting and preceding the inter-Korean ministerial conference. Such queries, unfortunately, are simply overestimations of our policy-making procedures. Korean authorities seldom deserve credit for choosing the timing of their announcements and fine-tuning the level of rhetoric in full consideration of the repercussions. If they had the finesse of strategic thinking and calculated positioning, the situation would not have gone as bad as is now.
The American intelligence establishment, during a recent visit by the Korean intelligence chief, is said to have briefed its Korean counterparts on the urgency of the North Korean nuclear issue, displaying solid information that the Korean intelligence team could not refute or play down. It was a textbook case of the pivotal importance of erecting national security policies based on concrete information, apart from the arbitrary decision-making process of any single elected official.
The major challenge is yet to come. As was seen in the Iraq war, the U.S. pressed ahead with its military campaign even though it remained unable to provide justification for the attacks. Washington’s assurances of the existence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been backed up by only scant evidence. The Bush administration’s foreign policy is drawing increasing criticism both from the international community and domestically.
However, once executed, the effects of a military attack are difficult to erase. What’s more, no one can deny North Korea’s self-proclaimed intention to develop weapons of mass destruction. And it is not surprising that the North Korean regime, having witnessed the demise of Iraq, is increasingly intent on acquiring nuclear warheads and long-range missile systems to deliver its arsenal.
So, it all boils down to our own decisions. South Korea’s unwavering opposition to North Korea’s weapons program is a position that cannot be compromised. But we must prepare ourselves for the unwanted scenario of having to confront a nuclear adversary to the north. Dismissing American nuclear intelligence as a conspiracy and basking in a groundless aura of dangerous optimism are both positions that need to be avoided. Only when engagement is found to be the only feasible alternative after all other options and recourses have been examined and exhausted, should the administration attempt to persuade its electorate and its allies of our position. If South Korea has a limited capability for military deterrence, soliciting assistance from our allies and friends should be a top priority.
Without doubt, we need to lock ourselves in aggressive negotiations with North Korea’s guardian states, but as has been confirmed, the Chinese act in accordance with their own balance sheet. The most plausible reason for China’s recent active stance comes from Beijing’s realization that the level of North Korea’s nuclear development seems to be crossing a Rubicon. And China realized that, if the North were left alone, there is no way for China to prevent Washington from taking military action.
The Korean government is keen on blaming the press and the divisions in public opinion for its stumbling policies. Those officials must also realize, though, that the media and the public would be quick to back any coordinated and logical policies.
When it comes to our national security issues, there is neither the time nor the luxury to play the blame game.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kil Jeong-woo