[OUTLOOK]All paradigms destroyed by testI visited Pyongyang early in June. After a quick sightseeing trip to Mangyeongdae, which had an artificial atmosphere, I sat down in a cafeteria. A smartly-dressed young man came near to me. Disguised as a guide, he restricted the area where we could move around freely. He was actually a North Korean secret agent. When he came near to me I felt it was a good chance to talk to him. He was a member of the elite and had graduated from the economics department of Kim Il Sung University. As I had studied economics myself, I asked him, “Who do you like most between Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky?” He gave me a simple answer. “We are not interested in any of them. Our juche [self-reliant] economy is good enough.”
This answer blocked any chance of a debate. I then spotted a pack of Marlboros from which he lit up. I gave him a catty response, “Was there nothing about foreign cigarettes in a juche economy?” He gave me a flat answer this time, also. “Juche economy has nothing to do with products of our choice.”
Between him and me, there was a discrepancy which was further apart than the 60 years of the Korean truce. The two of us were as different as the way of living between the two Koreas, which have struggled to survive in turmoil for more than half a century.
The night was very dark in Pyongyang. The capital of North Korea is quite majestic for being a city in a third-world country, but it totally disappeared into stark darkness as night fell. A little bit of flame at the Juche Tower remained. Other than that, people went into buildings with broken windows and cement that exposed frames and beams.
I recalled another guide who had graduated from Kim Il Sung University and spoke in a determined voice. I met him in front of the People’s Culture Palace. Cocooned inside the juche ideology which fabricates and distorts the sense of time, territory and history, he regarded economic sanctions by the United States as an ultimatum designed to oppress and crush the North Korean people. The guide said, “We will never kneel down, even if the United States keeps on crushing us.”
This reminded me of a cloud of praying mantises who prepare to fight against giant wheels by holding up their claws. I was not convinced that North Korea would actually carry out a nuclear test until then. Darkness at night in Pyongyang showed the country’s lack of energy and the South Korean government confirmed repeatedly that there would be no such dangerous prank.
When Pyongyang test-fired a Taepodong-2 missile in July, the South Korean government told its people not to make a fuss over it. It said the North’s missile launches were not a physical provocation but a political incident and the North had no intention to threaten the South. Back then, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, made it clear that the North’s Rodong and Taepodong missiles were weapons of revolution to destroy the United States.
However, South Korea’s president tried his best to persuade his allies to try to understand the reason North Korea wanted to have nuclear weapons.
On October 5, Juche 95 (2006), North Korea’s foreign ministry announced its plan to carry out a nuclear test. North Korea issued a statement that said “The United States’ extreme threats of a nuclear war and sanctions to crush us prompted us to carry out a nuclear test as a defensive measure.” However, the South Korean government said, “We won’t let it happen,” and that was that.”
A nuclear test took place yesterday. The North said it was a scientific nuclear test that guaranteed safety but this is hard to believe. A nuclear bomb was exploded on the Korean Peninsula. The dream of non-proliferation and peace came to an end yesterday.
This means the utter destruction of all paradigms. Flexible approaches toward North Korea by the United States, the United Nations, Japan, China and Russia have now gone. As a nuclear bomb exploded on the Korean Peninsula, nobody can predict how the United States and the UN will change their stances and how the structure of the four powers will drastically change. Unpredictability brings in strategic contingencies.
This state of unpredictability, which should have been feared most, was brought on by the South Korean government, which has abided by its naive idea to have similar ideology to that of the North to earn its trust.
The South Korean government has now lost its trust from international society and its diplomatic status. South Koreans feel hopeless for this diplomatically-crippled administration. They feel very insecure knowing that a worst-case scenario is being conceived somewhere on our peninsula where a nuclear test has taken place.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.
by Song Ho-keun