[VIEWPOINT]Burying our heads in the sandThe nuclear threat from North Korea is pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula toward the brink. The National Intelligence Service told the National Assembly on July 9 that the North had conducted 70 nuclear-related explosives tests and might have finished reprocessing a small quantity of its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, creating a controversy over the North’s nuclear abilities and intentions.
Three days after that National Intelligence Service report, we learned that North Korea had notified the United States on July 8 that it had completed the reprocessing of 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods at its nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon.
It is not necessary to discuss whether North Korea actually has nuclear weapons. More important is that the North continues to take steps toward becoming a nuclear state, which means our “sunshine policy” toward North Korea over the past years was greatly off the mark.
The Roh administration should not talk further about keeping up the failed policy, but should immediately prepare for a more realistic and effective policy to tackle the nuclear crisis. Despite a U. S. report that air samples collected from the vicinity of the Yeongbyeon nuclear facility contained traces of krypton-85, critical evidence of the North’s reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods, the 11th North-South ministerial meeting, which ended last Saturday, surprisingly emphasized in its joint statement that both sides would solve the nuclear dispute peacefully through an appropriate form of dialogue. I cannot help doubting whether our government understands the seriousness of the problem at all. North Korea has already crossed the “red line.” Whereas North Korea has strived to develop small, light warheads and attempted to deploy nuclear weapons to prepare for a war, South Korea sticks with the complacent and irresponsible countermeasure of “peaceful resolution through dialogue.”
The North Korean nuclear problem is dividing South Korea and the United States at this moment when cooperation between the two countries is most urgently needed. The United States is asking the United Nations Security Council to adopt a statement that censures the North Korean nuclear development programs, trying to stop the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization’s nuclear reactor construction project and pursuing the Proliferation Security Initiative with a specific objective of trying to counter trade in weapons of mass destruction by North Korea.
On the other hand, South Korea gives the impression that it is busy dissuading the United States from taking any action against the North, when it should dissuade the North from holding on to its nuclear ambitions. Not only that, the Roh administration has positively supported the ground-breaking ceremony of constructing an industrial complex in Gaeseong and sticks to the position that at least engineering works should go on for the light water nuclear reactor project. I am worried that only our government will be irrevocably isolated from the expanding anti-nuclear, anti-Kim Jong-il international alliance led by the United States.
North Korea’s nuclear threat toward the international community created a situation never acceptable to the United States, which declared war against terrorism; and to Australia, Japan and England, which agree with the United States.
This implies that if the North continues to use its nuclear development as a card in negotiations with the United States, the U. S.-led international coalition could even take military action. The scope of our choice gets narrower. Our government’s embracing attitude toward the North will run the risk of leaving the nuclear problem alone and at the same time weakening South Korea’s status in the international community.
During his visit to China, Mr. Roh said, “The time is nearing when North Korea has to make a decision.” The problem is that the North seems to have already decided to be a nuclear state. The party that has to make the decision that President Roh mentioned is our government. There could be various forms of decisions, but most important decision for the Roh administration to make is to distinguish the Kim Jong-il regime from the North Koreans. The Roh administration should also make a decision to see that as long as Pyeongyang does not give up its nuclear program and does not base its position on mutual interests, cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan is the only way to solve the North’s nuclear issue.
The peaceful resolution of the nuclear problem through dialogue is what everyone wants. The problem lies in our continued expectation that North Korea may be persuaded through dialogue to give up its development of weapons of mass destruction, its means of survival. Pyeongyang is not likely to easily abandon its means of survival.
Therefore, to make the North to give up, our government should send a resolute signal that if the North keeps developing nuclear arms, it will face economic collapse. Our government should also make the North recognize that North Korea can resolve its economic problem only by scrapping its programs.
I wonder if the insensitivity to safety, a chronic Korean disease, has developed into an insensitivity to national security. To identify the causes of the disease and heal it, we have to cool-headedly judge what is in our national interest on both a medium- and a long-term basis.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Jung-hoon