[OUTLOOK]If terror recurs, North is targetFor the last 30 years or so, there had not been much change in the atmosphere surrounding the White House. Everything, however, changed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. In the past, I used enjoy after-lunch strolls around the vicinity of the White House, which was located five minutes from my office. These days, the road in front of the White House is completely blocked, and the pretty little park in front of it is also closed to pedestrians because of security-related construction.
The leaders of the United States are tense as never before. The U.S. security budget, including the national defense budget, has increased 50 percent since the Sept. 11 terror attacks to reach $550 billion, an amount 30 times bigger than the gross domestic product of North Korea. As the threat of terrorism grows larger inside the United States, the security of the Korean Peninsula, especially of North Korea, gets more precarious.
Because the United States is a democratic country that is ruled by public opinion, American society is sensitive to many sources of public opinion and sometimes even appears to be vacillating indecisively between opinions. If we didn’t understand the United States correctly, it might even seem that it was a “paper tiger.”
A U.S. foreign affairs document that was made public last month reported that in August 1990, shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Sad-dam Hussein met with a senior U.S. official in Baghdad and proclaimed that he was absolutely confident that the United States would not intervene in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As proof, Saddam Hussein gave the example of how the United States gave up on the Vietnam War halfway through and how the U.S. Marine Corps in the Lebanese capital of Beirut retreated after just one terrorist truck bomb explosion. The United States, in Saddam Hussein’s opinion, was not a country that was prepared to shed the blood of 10,000 soldiers on the sands of the Middle East.
But the Sept. 11 incident changed everything and the “paper tiger” turned into the belligerent people that once conquered the West by driving out the American Indians. The United States is, these days, especially vigilant against terrorist attacks by weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs rather than terrorist attacks using airplanes or trucks. Every time the possibility of such a terrorist attack is brought up, many Americans think of North Korea as the origin of those weapons.
North Korea holds the third-largest stock of biochemical weapons in the world and many experts in Washington predict that Pyeongyang has already developed two or three nuclear weapons and could develop five or six more by the end of this year.
The problem is not whether this is true or not, but that the U.S. government and the leaders of public opinion in the United States believe it to be true. The first scene in a recently-aired CNN special program on nuclear weapons terrorism was footage of a North Korean agent in a darkened bar in Macao handing a small bag containing a nuclear weapon to an international terrorist before disappearing into the night. Behind this CNN program is the belief that first, North Korea already has nuclear weapons and second, that a foreign currency-starved North Korea would not hesitate to sell these weapons to international terrorists for big money.
This belief is held not only by CNN but among research institutes, government agency experts and scholars such as Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and author of “Nuclear Terrorism.” This is where the seriousness of a security crisis on the Korean Peninsula and especially in North Korea lies. There is no guarantee that there won’t be another terror attack in the United States within the next two or three years where thousands, even tens of thousands, could be killed or hurt. Many experts even see a high probability of such an attack occurring.
If a terrorist attack of a similar or larger scale than that of the Sept. 11 attacks occurred within the United States, the U.S. government would without doubt attack a country in retribution as it attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. And we cannot but help worrying that the No. 1 country on the list of potential targets is North Korea.
Before the Sept. 11 incident, third-world countries such as North Korea could secretly develop nuclear bombs and do surprise nuclear testing that would leave the world with no choice but to accept it as a nuclear state. Such “Pakistani-style” security-building was possible then. But the development and possession of nuclear weapons by third-world countries such as North Korea, or just the hinted possibility of that, would act as a catalyst in a security crisis as in the case of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
North Korea should resolve its nuclear issue cleanly and reassure the United States before any large terrorist attack occurs in the United States.
When the nuclear issue is solved, diplomatic relations with the United States and entry to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would become possible and this would lead to a flow of foreign technology and capital that could, in combination with North Korea’s fine human resources, enrich the economy and establish a true security.
* The writer is a professor of international banking and finance at George Washington University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Yoon-shik