[OUTLOOK]It’s up to Seoul to act on nuclear issue

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[OUTLOOK]It’s up to Seoul to act on nuclear issue

Pyongyang has declared it possesses nuclear arms, and all it needs is a nuclear test to prove it. When Pyongyang tests its nuclear weapons, the world has no choice but to officially recognize North Korea as a nuclear power.
What we must do now is decide to either let North Korea test its nuclear weapons or to take all possible measures to prevent it. The time has come for Koreans to make up our minds about whether we want to live with a nuclear North Korea or not.
The United States has made it clear that the issue would go to the United Nations if Pyongyang crosses the line. The situation does not allow any more dithering. The time has come for South Korea to express its opinion clearly. The negotiations over ending North Korea’s nuclear project have virtually failed. I personally feel that Seoul is largely responsible for the collapse of the talks.
In a negotiation, there is always a main player. Naturally, Seoul should have negotiated with Pyongyang. However, if you look at its past behavior, the Korean government has been negotiating with the United States, not North Korea.
If we were to prevent North Korea’s nuclear development, we should have delivered our intentions to Pyongyang. Instead, we have been telling Washington that its hard-line policy might provoke North Korea. It’s as if we had negotiated with Washington on behalf of North Korea.
Of course, we are more familiar with North Korea than the United States is with the North, so we could justify our actions as trying to help Washington to understand the situation. But let’s be honest. Has this administration been dissuading Washington from eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program or Pyongyang from going nuclear?
In a situation that would have been difficult even if South Korea and the United States had fought together as a team, Washington must be perplexed at South Korea’s attitude.
In a negotiation, there must be a clear goal. We need to know why and what we are negotiating for. Seoul did not have a clear objective. The Korean government never clearly expressed that North Korea’s nuclear program is intolerable. Even after Pyongyang acknowledged its nuclear possession, Seoul said economic cooperation would continue.
Some in Seoul are already discussing whether to officially recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. They say Pyongyang would not use the nuclear weapons on us even if it possessed them, and we should learn to live with a North Korea with nuclear weapons.
Just imagine what would happen when North Korea is recognized as a nuclear power. We will have to follow the demands of North Korea forever. As far as security is concerned, South Korea’s lifeline is at the hands of Pyongyang.
This is not a matter of conservative versus liberal, or pro-American versus anti-American. Even if we armed ourselves with the latest conventional weapons, they cannot match North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Once the balance is broken, we will be under the North’s thumb.
At a negotiation, it is important to have the right cards on hand. We have to use a trump card that the other side fears. We can only win negotiations when we know how to use these cards.
When the North says it is making nuclear weapons, we have to say, “We will risk our lives to prevent it.” Once Pyongyang threatens that it would consider any effort to bring the issue before the UN Security Council as a declaration of war, we can’t even mention it to the United Nations. Pyongyang has learned that the South is terrified at the mere talk of war. Knowing Seoul’s weak point, Pyongyang won’t listen to us.
For a successful negotiation, we need to know how to use both peaceful and forceful measures. By reiterating peaceful measures only, we are fighting with one hand tied in the back. Pyongyang is willing to risk its survival, so the calls for peace fail to persuade them.
The most urgent task is to prevent North Korea’s nuclear program. However, the administration is talking nonsense. The president claims to play the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia, and the National Defense Ministry wants to have a joint military training with China and Russia. Turning away from the impending crisis and looking at the Northeast Asian region, they might paralyze the nations’ efforts to defuse the North Korea threat.
We have no time to waste. If we don’t make ourselves clear, North Korea’s nuclear armament will become a fait accompli. We have to go back to the principles. Our objective is obviously the removal of nuclear weapons. so we have to make clear that we will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea.
We are negotiating with Pyongyang, not Washington. Korea, the United States and Japan have to be on the same page. In order to prevent nuclear development on the peninsula, we have to be determined to take all necessary means.
If we display a resolute attitude, we will win. The Korean government, not Washington, should declare that if North Korea does not give up its nuclear program, the only thing left to do is to go to the UN Security Council.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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