[OUTLOOK]Fear of attack sways NorthAs the U.S. presidential election draws closer, its outcome is anxiously awaited. The new United States administration has the potential to bring about a catastrophe of human suffering and destruction on the Korean Peninsula if it decides to solve the North Korean nuclear problem using preemptive strikes.
Moreover, we have already seen how even a superpower, such as the United States, can, if it has the wrong information, start a war. Weapons of mass destruction ― the United States’ justification for launching a war against Iraq ― have not been found yet and it it is highly probable that they do not exist.
To predict how the next U.S. administration might deal with North Korea, it is necessary to figure out how much weight North Korea is given in the United States’ view of the world.
Documents disclosed so far indicate that China is a “mid-term potential enemy state” of the United States. North Korea is connected to China and Russia by land. This fact has a great significance, militarily and politically. Also, North Korea has a powerful military.
In addition, the country has plentiful mineral resources including magnesite, gold, silver, copper, uranium, zinc, nickel, coal and iron ore. North Korea’s magnesite reserves account for more than half of the world’s deposits. This shows that North Korea has a great deal of military and geopolitical value.
The United States’ hard-line policy toward North Korea is having the effect of pushing North Korea further into the arms of China and Russia. This does not fit the United States’ long-term national interest ― and herein lies the reason why we cannot conclude that China wants the North Korean nuclear issue to be resolved by North Korea-United States bilateral talks, although it is mediating the six-way talks.
Even since the days of former head of state, Kim Il Sung, North Korea has consistently wanted to improve its relations with the United States. North Korea knows that the country cannot be assured of security and can hardly establish diplomatic relations with Japan, receive compensation for Japan’s colonial rule or gain economic support from other countries, in the absence of the support of the United States.
But after being characterized as one of the three countries that made up the “axis of evil” by U.S. President George W. Bush, North Korea has feared that it could be attacked by the United States at any time.
In a country’s decision-making processes, perception can often be more critical than facts. North Korean leaders appear to have the following perception of the United States:
“The United States’ goal does not seem to be the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem. The United States constantly raises new questions, including the enriched uranium issue, which has no clause in the Geneva Agreement, as well as issues of human rights, religion and drugs that are unrelated to the nuclear issue. Under the pretext of our threat, isn’t the United States attempting to establish a missile defense system aimed at China, reinforce the military strengths of itself, Japan and South Korea, and promote the defense industry and export weapons?”
If the new U.S. administration puts more emphasis on making North Korea surrender than on opening a dialogue with the country, North Korea could well act unpredictably. If North Korea launches a preemptive attack in “self-defense,” North and South Korea face mutual extinction. If the United States attacks North Korea preemptively, the result will be similar.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said, “Thanks to the Geneva Agreement of 1994, we succeeded in preventing North Korea from producing a few nuclear arms every year.” The new U.S. administration should pursue a dialogue with North Korea. The package deal proposed by North Korea could be a solution.
South and North Korea are responsible for the critical situation on the Korean Peninsula and its resolution is up to them. But the surrounding powers are also responsible for the division of the peninsula and subsequent sacrifices that followed.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States had constant dialogue with the former Soviet Union, later called the “Evil Empire,” and opened diplomatic relations with China, the scene of the chaotic Cultural Revolution. Is there any reason, then, why the United States should reject talks with North Korea? We can only guess which side has a greater sense of crisis ― the United States’s fear of North Korea, or vice versa. But a preemptive attack by either side would devastate the Korean Peninsula.
I await some genuine leadership in the United States that will bring peace to this small Korean Peninsula, which, surrounded by the powers, has suffered so many hardships and tragedies.
The essence of human rights and humanitarianism is respect for others’ lives and peace.
The basis of democracy is freedom and autonomy ― not coercion.
* The writer, a former major general and director of strategic planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Korea, is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of North Korean Studies, Kyungnam University.
by Son Jang-rae
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action