[VIEWPOINT]Time for new national survival planA red light of danger hangs over South Korea’s security. Now, South Korea has to confront a North Korea that is armed with nuclear weapons. The inter-Korean summit meeting held on June 15, 2000 may have been a green light for the inter-Korean relationship, but this crisis is a significant and inauspicious sign.
Why did Pyongyang go ahead with the underground nuclear test less than a week after proclaiming its intention to do so? Pyongyang put its pledge into action with the international message and took an advantageous position in the negotiations.
Pyongyang has proven with words and actions that it is not the “shepherd who cried wolf.” It has also secured valuable leverage in the course of resolving the nuclear crisis in the future. Moreover, it made a comeback from being asked to be accountable for the delay of the six-party talks and made a drastic move to put all of the blame on Washington. Taking any more time to make a nuclear test would have only made the situation more disadvantageous for them.
The internal cause is directly related to the extraordinary domestic situation. Though the test lifted the morale of the North’s forces high for the first time since the missile launch on July 5, unexpected flood damage has left North Korea with a severe shortage of food, and even the soldiers were given corn for meals. The flood also resulted in a drastic rise in prices, and the number of North Korean defectors crossing the border soared. The vested interests are abusing their power to accumulate wealth, meaning the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer.
In addition, the North Korean government has not been able to completely shut off information flowing into the country, so North Korean residents are increasingly realizing the situation they are in.
Unless the regime is tightly bound together, Pyongyang could not accomplish the communization of South Korea and have a showdown with the American imperialists, so Kim Jong-il must have been very upset over the domestic instability. So in order to try to maximize the unity of the regime, he played the nuclear test card.
Pyongyang’s praise of the nuclear test as “an historic event that greatly encouraged and pleased the Korean People’s Army (North Korean army) and the people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense” is the proof.
So how will the United States handle North Korea at this juncture? First of all, Washington will establish a frame of international cooperation over the sanctions. Not only will it propose a strong resolution to the United Nations Security Council, but it will also raise the intensity of the economic sanctions.
The justification for the sanctions is so clear that China, Russia and Korea are sure to follow.
However, it is highly likely that the countries will have different positions on the military sanctions. Beijing and Moscow will oppose them first, and the Korean government, which has valued the inter-Korean relationship, will find it hard to join the military sanctions of the United States and Japan.
Meanwhile, North Korea will hint that it will return to the six-party talks if the United States withdraws its hostile policies against North Korea by first lifting the financial sanctions.
Pyongyang must have determined that it would be advantageous to them to provoke the pride of the neocons in Washington, so if the United States does not back down and yield in accordance to their plan, then it will play the missile card again, with the threat that it can carry nuclear warheads. As the situation aggravates, the eyes of the international community are focusing on China’s role. However, unlike its position in the past, we cannot rule out the possibility that China might think a nuclear North Korea is beneficial for the security of China.
Beijing might secretly have a plan that sees cooperating with North Korea, a nuclear power, will effectively set off the restraining influence of the United States and Japan against China.
Pyongyang has read the inner workings of Beijing and precisely detected that it really was its ally, so it notified China of the nuclear test 20 minutes before conducting it.
The Republic of Korea, and its government, finds itself in the most pitiful situation now that a nuclear test has been carried out right under its nose. The steadfast basis of Korea’s foreign policy, security and unification policy has been to never tolerate a North Korean nuclear program.
However, the Korean government has to re-establish its fundamental direction. With North Korea joining the nuclear club, the arms race in Northeast Asia will aggravate and the tension in the Korean Peninsula will elevate. We do not have the luxury to discuss who is accountable for the crisis. It is very urgent that we come up with unprecedented national survival strategies against North Korea as a nuclear power. We cannot add any more burdens on the crisis with internal discord.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-soo