[OUTLOOK]Don’t use a poll to decideKorean society is divided in a heated debate over whether to send troops to Iraq at the request of the United States. It has asked other countries for troop help as well. The government has avoided any action so far, only promising to “collect public opinion.”
Of course, as President Roh Moo-hyun has pointed out, there are many things to consider in this decision to deploy Korean troops to Iraq. It is not a decision to be made hurriedly. The problem, though, is whether it is appropriate to decide a national security-foreign policy issue in accordance with public opinion.
It is quite apparent that public opinion is divided. In that case, does “collecting public opinion” mean that the government will side with the majority opinion in a poll?
Should the government make its decision based on the fact that it was a majority opinion rather than evaluating the policy itself?
Are we not excessively worshipping “national sentiment?” A particular case is the all-too-frequent argument against educational policies that would favor the gifted, saying that such policies would go against national sentiment.
But education itself is a concept that involves distinctions among students. The educational system of a society that cannot do the things it should do because of national sentiment that demands equality at all costs can hardly be expected to function well.
The fields in which a devotion to public opinion would bring the biggest danger are national security and foreign policy.
This is because, first, many things happen in the fields of national security and foreign policy that the people are not aware of; nor would they find them easy to comprehend. Also, the effects of decisions and actions taken in these fields take, in most cases, a long time to show.
Finally, there are matters that require secrecy in the fields of national security and foreign policy. Many people today argue that all negotiations with foreign governments should be conducted in the open, but there are definitely times and issues that require discreet negotiations.
That is why there is a problem if the policymaker relies too much on public opinion in making a decision.
Leaders in history who left exceptional achievements in the field of diplomacy, Winston Churchill, for example, or Harry Truman, were all figures who acted according to their beliefs, unbending before public opinion.
In the end, the issue of whether to send troops to Iraq or not is an issue that can only be solved when the leader leads. Therefore, our leader should announce his personal belief and persuade the people to follow his decision. And we should be a people who respect the motives of each other. It is time that we graduate from the foolish practice of slandering even the well-intentioned motives of others with rash expressions like “submissive diplomacy” and “treasonous acts.”
Even if the president’s final decision on the troop deployment is different from his personal opinion, he should remember that it was a decision formed by using the legitimate procedures of our free democratic society and respect it as such.
There are many things that we have to ask the United States regarding the issue of sending troops to Iraq. But one important question that we have to contemplate ourselves is what would happen if the Korean government refused to send troops.
It would be a most grave mistake to think that U.S.-Korean diplomatic and security relations would remain just the same even after we had decided not to deploy any troops to Iraq. Should the Korean government refuse, we should expect a considerable chain reaction of changes.
There must also be a clear agreement with the United States on the withdrawal timetable of the Korean troops sent to Iraq. If not, the Iraq situation could turn into a bottomless pit.
In conclusion, our government should not wait for “public opinion” to point to a solution, but rather show a more proactive attitude in solving the problem itself.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is president of the Institute of Social Science. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won