[GLOBAL EYE]South needs to evaluate itself

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[GLOBAL EYE]South needs to evaluate itself

There are signs that the problems between North and South Korea will become political, with the opening of the 17th National Assembly ahead.
Despite the fact that the problems between the North and South are primarily military issues, they are seen as an object for political negotiations, while the greater problem of North Korea’s threat to the South’s national security is being cast aside.
The truth is that in a recent poll, it was revealed that South Korea, the country that should be most threatened by North Korea, was actually most indifferent to the problem in some dimensions. Looking back on the past year, America, China, Japan and other surrounding countries have been beyond our control, but North Korea has been comparatively cooperative in dealing with inter-Korean issues.
Also, the North has approached us with an attentive attitude. Over the course of last year, under the participatory government, a total of 38 talks between authorities of the North and the South were held. Conferences took up a total of 106 days during the year, which means that the North and the South sat opposite each other an average of once every three days.
There have been more and more personnel exchanges, and economic cooperation has also made steady progress.
If things continue to go this way, the people of South Korea will find it difficult to consider North Korea an actual threat.
In addition, military issues cannot help but gradually become an object of political negotiations. It is no coincidence that such phenomena are accelerated with the change in domestic politics.
Confusion is likely now, with some politicians wanting to abolish the National Security Law and others suggesting that the National Assemblies of the North and South get together for talks.
All these will take place at the same time with the inter-Korean military talks, making the atmosphere of the talks complicated. Eventually, the time to broach the nature of inter-Korean relations in one way or another is approaching.
Moreover, the domestic politics of South Korea encourages the tendency to solve military issues politically.
Indeed, there is no reason for us to decline efforts to politically solve military challenges. As the military theorist of Prussia, Clausewitz, once pointed out, even war, an extreme military action, is a continuation of political actions.
However, we need to evaluate our capabilities first. We need to check whether our national security will be in jeopardy if the American military changes its position on automatic intervention in response to aggression from the North.
Also, we need to discern whether our political statements will carry enough weight to elicit a response from the North under such circumstances. We also need to address the North Korean nuclear issue.
If inter-Korean talks and economic cooperation worked as a deterrent to prevent the North Korean nuclear issue from getting worse, it must be studied how far will such a deterrent be effective.
Moreover, if we do not have the expertise to independently judge information on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and we have to rely on unsatisfying information analyses from the United States, we have to keep in mind that until we find a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem, the relationship between the North and South itself is not enough of an “independent variable” to effect change.
Former President Kim Dae-jung once strongly stated that Korea should “leave the nuclear matter to be solved between the North and the United States, but we must take the lead in the matters that concern the Korean Peninsula.”
He knew that the South did not have enough capability to take care of the nuclear matter independently.
Politicians who, with fumbling remarks, try to encourage the trend of turning inter-Korean problems into political issues need to share the strategic thoughts of Mr. Kim, who understands the power of the United States more than any other leaders we have had in the past.
We have to also point out that those people, the ones who try to turn inter-Korean problems into political issues, are liable to be ruined, if they continue to rely on the younger generation’s soft perception of North Korea.
The high unemployment rate of young men and women has already been identified as a serious social problem. If the economy doesn’t improve soon, it is questionable whether these youths will remain as sympathetic as to give consistent support to the North Korean policies that came about after inter-Korean problems were turned into political issues.
Since our military capacity is limited, we desperately need keen political insight and strategic contemplation concerning the issue of leadership in the Korean Peninsula, and strategic contemplation needs to start with an overall evaluation of our capabilities.

* The writer is an editorial writer and director of the JoongAng Ilbo Unification Research Institute.

by Kil Jeong-woo
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