[OUTLOOK]How to evaluate Roh’s speech

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[OUTLOOK]How to evaluate Roh’s speech

The domestic situation is once again agitated, this time over President Roh Moo-hyun’s speech in Los Angeles on Nov. 13 regarding the North Korean nuclear problem. Now that the speech is over, our urgent task is to calmly analyze what was the matter with Mr. Roh’s speech and suggest the direction that Korea should follow in the future, rather than making his speech a political issue.
To analyze the problems with his speech, we should assess whether the president spoke with the Republic of Korea’s interests in mind, whether he considered the interests of our ally, and whether he suggested the proper strategy to protect the national interests with a clear grasp of the situation.
First of all, did the president speak with the Republic of Korea’s interests in mind? The full text of his speech shows the president had very clear and specific perceptions of the national interest. In his speech, the president set the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear ambitions as policy goals, and he spoke on behalf of South Korea’s interest in clearly suggesting that Koreans’ lives should be protected in any case.
In the meantime, he framed the national interest of the United States, our ally, as protecting the American people from North Korea-aided terrorism. But he mentioned that while such an event was unlikely, unexpected things could happen if the North Korean regime were in jeopardy. This left room for misunderstanding, as if the South Korean president was speaking on behalf of the interest of the North Korean regime. What he should have done was show firm determination that he would make sure no North Korean nuclear material would fall in the hands of terrorists.
Second, was President Roh’s assessment of the situation precise? His situational judgment can be broken down largely into two categories: One concerns the possibility of North Korea’s giving up of its nuclear program and opening its doors to the world. The other concerns the direction of the United States’ North Korea policy. It’s difficult to judge the accuracy of his assessments of the situation, because they should be judged based on speculation and superficial material only. Still, it should be evaluated whether his assessments were so absurd as to damage Korea’s national interests.
As for the possibility of the North’s giving up its nuclear program and opening its doors to the world, Mr. Roh believes that the North would do so in exchange for security guarantees for its regime. He also believes that the North has adopted the principles of a market economy to a substantial degree, reaching a stage in which more reforms and greater openness are inevitable.
This assessment is not so absurd in theory. Its logical validity can be found in existing studies that have analyzed the deterrence theory of international politics and the power of the capitalist market. There are also other theories and studies that can rebut such logic, but their supremacy has not been verified yet. Regarding the North Korea policy of the United States, Mr. Roh seems to have judged that after his re-election, U.S. President George W. Bush will have a tougher stance toward the North than before. There is nothing to explicitly indicate this in his speech, but we can read President Roh’s views between the lines. Considering the foreign policy pattern of the Bush administration and experts’ predictions, this judgment of Mr. Roh does not seem preposterous either.
Finally, will these assessments and solutions of the president and the contents of his speech further Korea’s national interests? The answer could be found in the assessments and solutions contrary to those of Mr. Roh’s.
Suppose North Korea never changes and ends up with nuclear weapons. That will inevitably lead us to form a blockade policy together with the United States. In the best case scenario, this solution might lead North Korea to give up nuclear aspirations, but it could also cause the unwanted rapid collapse of the regime or increase provocation. It would not only threaten the people’s lives but also make it possible to transfer nuclear weapons material to terrorist groups.
Therefore, we cannot conclude that the president’s assessments and solutions are inferior to alternative ones, considering all this from the perspective of national interests.
The problem is the expression and timing of his speech. Because his speech weakly expressed his concern for the national interests of our ally, it could have sent a negative message to the United States. Now the speech is over and we should unite to reduce the negative effect of the speech. I hope the Blue House will also show a mature attitude in considering the national interests of our ally as well.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Geun
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