[FORUM]The enemies withinPresident Roh Moo-hyun had a luncheon talk with scholars specializing in international relations and North Korean studies in August 2005. Some participants in the luncheon apparently tried to criticize the president directly. Their remarks were something along the line that the president did not know what to say and what not to say on pending diplomatic issues, and that when the president publicly mentioned something first, it became difficult to fit his words into government policy. Those words were bitter reactions to the president’s utterance in Los Angeles that “there is reason in the North Korean statement that its possession of nuclear weapons is for self-defense” and the theory that South Korea should play the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia.
The Blue House official who was presiding over the event then came forward and said, “Some scholars may have a critical view, but if you ask the people, there are more people who support the government policies than those who do not.” After that, the atmosphere became awkward, and apparently the scholars stopped making “controversial remarks.” We can imagine that what the official presiding over the meeting probably meant to say was, “Policies devised by the president and presidential advisers on diplomatic and security affairs under the flag of ‘independence’ are supported by the people, so what is the problem?”
One of the characteristics of the current administration is that it does not listen to opinions that seem to differ from its own. So, although the comment of the Blue House official was inappropriate, let’s leave it for now.
There is still one thing that needs to be looked into. That is whether those who share the same beliefs get along well with each other. The leaking of confidential documents at the Blue House clearly showed us that even among the “independence group” there is harsh infighting. It was hardly possible for the government to establish a solid executable diplomatic policy because they were not only not listening to the specialists’ opinions, but they were also fighting among themselves inside the same group. A good example is the “balancer of Northeast Asia” theory that was first announced as if it were a great political theory, but became vague in just a few months. The issue of the strategic flexibility of the U.S. forces in Korea also wasted a lot of precious time due to conflict within the administration. It would not be too much to say that it was “three years of lost diplomacy.”
Of course there are things that are commendable too. The attempt to change the fundamental basis of South Korea-U.S. relations to an “equal bilateral relationship,” or to solve pending issues like the old problem of relocating the U.S. military base from Yongsan were meaningful accomplishments. The problem is that the government focused too much on the idea of “independence,” whilst failing to properly understand our capabilities. Being a country that lacks the strong independent means to resolve a regional conflict, such an attitude from the government not only obstructs the implementation of its own policy guidelines but also brings about unnecessary discord with its neighboring countries.
South Korea and North Korea are probably the only two countries in the world that have declared independence as a diplomatic route. It might not be necessary to explain what kind of a situation North Korea is in now after focusing on independence as its foreign policy as if it were a treasure box. Moreover, it was because of a dispute between China and the former Soviet Union, the two giant socialist leaders at the time, that North Korea chose independence as its foreign policy. What about the situation surrounding us now? Our traditional allies, the United States and Japan, enjoy “great harmony” and even the relationship between the United States and China is friendly.
Considering the situation of our surrounding countries, our principles of diplomacy need to be adjusted. First of all, the practical benefit of “national interest” should be the topic of diplomacy, rather than the justification of “independence.” In addition, the administration needs to be changed so that rackets such as the conflict between the “I Love President Roh Group of the Foreign Ministry” and the “Independence Group” will no longer be heard. In this respect, the roles of Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok and the senior presidential secretary for security policy, Song Min-soon, are greater now than ever before. Whether or not Minister Lee, who majored in North Korean studies, and chief presidential security adviser Mr. Song, an expert negotiator with the United States, can work together to bring about change is the touchstone that will determine the success or failure of Korean diplomacy.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ahn Hee-chang