[OUTLOOK]Blind to the North Korea crisisOur country’s response to North Korea’s declaration that it has nuclear weapons is strange, indeed. Our government officials merely say that we should wait and see if the North does truly have nuclear weapons and that the North has made such remarks many times before.
I don’t know why our country works so hard to play down the matter when all we need to do is just take North Korea’s words at face value and prepare accordingly.
But instead, the South Korean government went a step further to say that regardless of the North’s declaration, inter-Korean economic cooperation will go on and that the construction of the Gaesong industrial complex in the North will continue as planned. They are busy telling the North, “Whatever you do, we will keep helping you.”
But what about our people? According to an opinion poll, nearly 60 percent said that despite the nuclear declaration, they did not feel any threat to their security.
On the other hand, the United States and Japan are agitated. The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency testified that North Korea has developed missiles that can reach the continental United States, so the North’s declaration that it has nuclear weapons constitutes a direct threat. Japan, which has experienced the horror of atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is in constant fear.
In contrast, we are busy underestimating the declaration, saying that the North’s nuclear weapons are ineffective because they are in a primitive stage and too big for strategic purposes and that they are nothing much because the North’s bombers are too slow. Just think, who would be the most vulnerable to a nuclear attack by North Korea? Would it be Japan across the sea, or the United States across the Pacific Ocean? Naturally, it would be South Korea.
Isn’t it a strange country that South Korea should be least worried of all the nations? Would the North give the South some consideration because we are part of the same nation?
The Wall Street Journal said in a recent editorial that there were some people in the South Korean government who see the United States as more of a threat to its security than the North. Is this the reason our country is so permissive with the North?
Our senses have become numb. As an entomologist said in these pages, even ants discharge some alarm pheromone to alert their family members to a crisis. But our antennae may have already atrophied, thanks to politicians who maintained their power by selling out our security.
Past administrations overstated the threat from the North so that people no longer believed them, just as the villagers stopped believing the boy who cried, “Wolf!”
So why are we still insensitive to the current security threat? It’s part of a trend of ignoring security. Because previous administrations maintained their power on the pretext of security, today’s power elites thought that they should break that security structure to seize power. Perhaps it’s this mentality that keeps President Roh from attending the commencement ceremony of the Korea Military Academy.
The Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations’ North Korean policies and views on national security are linked to the popular trend that enabled them to seize power. Therefore, both people who sold out South Korea’s security to consolidate their positions and people who sacrifice security to create a new power should be equally blamed. National security is a matter that goes beyond power.
With North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, a new world, where the concept of security is completely different from the past, will appear. We have set the standards of security by comparing our aircraft, tanks and warships to those of the North. In other words, we have tried to prevent a war through the balance of power.
But our rival’s nuclear weapons mean that balance of conventional power has been abolished. However big it might be, a bull will die from the bite of a small viper. Even if we buy all kinds of conventional weapons with our economic power, which is 30 times greater than the North’s, we will be ruined by one nuclear attack.
This is why North Korea developed nuclear weapons. Nuclear arms can only be balanced by more nuclear arms. This is the balance of fear. Because both parties know that once a nuclear war gets started, both parties will be destroyed, in this way wars are prevented.
Our primary goal is to remove the North’s nuclear weapons. If we acknowledge the North’s nuclear power, we will have to be at the mercy of the North for good.
We need to be bold. Let’s not be scared about what we should do when a war breaks out ― we’ve got a long way to go before that happens, and there are dozens of steps that must be taken before a war.
We have only to force North Korea to let go of its nuclear weapons. The “sunshine policy” led us to see North Korea as a rational party, but the North did not accept our rationality.
The sunshine policy lost its light. We should admit this. Before the North Korean nuclear problem is resolved, we shouldn’t even mention economic cooperation. We should pursue a North Korean policy that is based completely on reciprocity from now on.
We can also use the balance of fear as a last resort. Now because of North Korea, the denuclearization goal for the Korean Peninsula is meaningless. We might as well try to buy the United States’ tactical nuclear weapons or seek to even out the balance of power in our own way.
China has the most to lose if the nuclear arms race takes over the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, we have a card to play with China. We can press China to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons.
National security is not a partisan matter. Is South Korea becoming a country where we can’t identify a crisis even when it’s right in front of us?
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk