[OUTLOOK]Doing what we have to doInternational society is in turmoil because of 0.2 grams of enriched uranium. In order to build a nuclear warhead, one needs 50,000 times as much and the uranium needs to be nine times more enriched. The 0.2 grams of uranium was the product of an experiment to extract radioactive material that some researchers conducted purely out of scientific curiosity. The hullabaloo started when we reported this experiment in an honest effort to uphold the additional safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Perhaps we could say that in this case, honesty was not the best policy. North Korea already has nuclear material enough to make more than eight nuclear warheads. Japan is free to enrich uranium for industrial purposes and supplies its own nuclear fuel for its nuclear energy plants. With this uranium, Japan could make a nuclear weapon in a month if it wanted to. Japan currently possesses 5 metric tons of enriched uranium. That is enough to make 3,000 nuclear weapons.
We created nuclear material in a laboratory in an amount smaller than a sesame seed. As the director of the research institute in question put it, we are being accused of a major crime when all we did was child’s play. One even might wonder whether it might not have been better had the researchers never reported the 0.2 grams. Nevertheless, the researchers did well to report the uranium in good faith. By being honest even with things smaller than sesame seeds that we could have hidden, we showed the world how honest we are and ultimately solidified the international society’s trust in us. For a small country like ours, and a country that lives on international trade as it does, international credibility is a great weapon. However, the problem is how to link this honesty with our national power. We need the wisdom to use the honesty and integrity of our country for our national interests. We cannot let ourselves be dragged around by neighboring countries like a lamb.
We need to take this opportunity to think once more about the nuclear problem concerning North Korea. The reason a mere 0.2 grams of enriched uranium could cause such a fuss is because nuclear weapons are that dangerous. Yet we are too indifferent to ― even to the point of being tolerant of ― the potential nuclear armament of North Korea. North Korea is economically bankrupt and it is difficult for it to survive on conventional weapons only. North Koreans believe that nuclear armaments are the only way to protect their security. North Korea will probably try to hold on to its nuclear weapons until the end. If so, what are we to do? Some people say we will be safe under the nuclear umbrella of the United States. Will the United States protect us? U.S. President George W. Bush, estranged by anti-American sentiment here, did not mention Korea when he narrated the names of the countries that sent troops to Iraq. Our President Roh Moo-hyun promised that within five to 10 years, we would be on equal footing with the United States in our alliance. If so, does that mean we will have a nuclear weapon by then?
There are those who believe that the North could never use a nuclear weapon on the South because we are brothers and sisters. Also there are those who naively believe that with a little persuasion the North can be induced to give up its nuclear weapons. Don’t they say so out of ignorance of North Korea? What would a dictatorial regime that feels no remorse over starving millions of its people not do when driven to desperation? They turn a blind eye to the deaths of their own people. Why would they care about the South Koreans? Those with power will use it when driven to desperation. Israel finished developing its nuclear program in the mid-1960s. It was prepared to use two nuclear warheads during the Six Day War in 1967 and ordered the mantling of 13 20-kiloton warheads when it seemed to be facing defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Who is to say the North is more “ethical” than Israel and therefore would refrain from using nuclear bombs?
This is not to say that we, too, should make nuclear weapons. This is merely to emphasize that those in charge of national security should always prepare for the worst. What are we going to do should North Korea acquire nuclear weapons and threaten to use them against us? We should have autonomous rights over nuclear energy at least for industrial and research purposes. The International Atomic Energy Agency guarantees that.
Japan is one such case. We have 20 nuclear power reactors. Why can’t we produce our own nuclear fuel like Japan, instead of importing it? It is attributed to the Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has completely ignored this treaty and developed its nuclear program. Why are we the only ones holding on to this dead-letter treaty?
We showed our honesty over nuclear matters to the international society this time. We should let this honesty and integrity bear fruit. The country that fears nuclear proliferation the most is the United States because of terrorism threats. If we are to develop our industrial and scientific nuclear program, we must persuade the United States and win its understanding first. The president once boasted on television, “The Korean government says what it needs to say to the United States.” Let’s hope that the president says what is truly needed for the national interest.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk