[VIEWPOINT]Time to change security actThe National Security Act is a byproduct of the Cold War era, a law symbolizing the history of Korea’s division. Historically, the law has gone through changes reflecting the spirit of the times and the environment.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the international community was reshaped under a post-Cold War world order. The inter-Korean summit in 2000 started the process of bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula and developing inter-Korean relations through reconciliation and cooperation. Such changes surrounding the Korean Peninsula called for a revision of the National Security Act.
The act has been amended 15 times since its enactment in 1948. Although the act was loosened somewhat in recent years, in most cases the revisions toughened the thrust of the law through the Anti-Communism Act, the Social Security Act and the Special Measures Act to Punish Traitors. Prior to all other laws, the National Security Act specifically aims to curb pro-North activities.
The National Security Act is grounded on two premises - national security and North Korea as an anti-state group. This act is certainly a defensive security law that ultimately tries to safeguard the nation and ensure Korean people’s survival and freedom by regulating anti-state activities that threaten national security.
As we are well into the post-Cold War era, however, the call for revisions is mounting because the nature of some of the clauses are unrealistic and liable to be abused. In reality South and North Koreas are both members of the United Nations. Since the inter-Korean summit in 2000, exchanges and cooperation such as reconnection of the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad and construction of the Gaeseong industrial park and tourism in North Korea became active. In view of such a reality, the security act is far removed from our reunification policy and is legally in conflict with the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Act that calls North Korea a partner.
The act is also prone to violate human rights. Article 7 of the act, on encouragement and praise of North Korea, and Article 10, on false charges, are not only susceptible to arbitrary interpretation, but also in violation of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly Article 18 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion and Article 19 on the right to hold opinions and freedom of expression. Although foreign invasion and high treason may fall under the penal code, and Article 6 on infiltration and escape and Article 8 on assembly and communications under the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Act, they are in the National Security Act, raising the likelihood of human rights violation.
Despite these problems, the revision of the act is rendered difficult by the existence of a similar law in North Korea. The covenant of the Labor Party, the constitution and the penal code of the North stipulate that South Korea needs to be freed and revolutionized. Above all the ultimate goal of North Korean laws is the guarantee of its regime. Such hostility in the laws of two Koreas bars the unification-oriented legislation of the two sides.
The National Security Act is certainly outdated under the new world order and rapidly changing inter-Korean relations. According to a poll conducted by a daily newspaper, 60 percent of the lawmakers elected in the 17th legislative elections said that the act should be loosened through revisions. It is especially encouraging to see that the Roh administration appears firmly committed to revising it.
However, its revision has already caused a division in public opinion. Under the Kim Dae-jung administration, the debate on the abolition of the act raged on at the time of the inter-Korean summit. Heated debates went on between the anti-revisionists, who argued that even bad laws need to be observed, and the pro-revisionists asserting otherwise. The matter was exacerbated as the debate led to internal turmoil and eventually a split in public opinion.
The revision of the National Security Act is important. We need to amend the act first to suit reality, if only to promote inter-Korean relations, as well as to convince the North to revise its own laws. However, the revision issue should not cause any more internal conflict or division in public opinion.
In order to prevent the fragmentation of public opinion, national consensus and bipartisan collaboration are required prior to the revision. Furthermore, close cooperation and discussions among relevant government organizations, such as the Ministries of Justice and of Unification, and the National Intelligence Service, are needed. The Unification Ministry, in particular, should convince the North to exert mutual efforts to revise the “hostile law” in preparation for reunification and strive to set up an institutional mechanism where all legal issues between the two Koreas could be discussed. I expect to see inter-Korean relations develop further with the revision of the act and responding measures from North Korea.
* The writer, a former minister of unification, is the president of Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Jae-kyu