[EDITORIALS]Focus on national securityBefore North Korea conducted a nuclear test, President Roh Moo-hyun said North Korea’s nuclear development and the transfer of the wartime operational command of our military were separate matters. But yesterday, he said he will examine what relationship the North’s nuclear test has with wartime command, while closely consulting with military experts. However, he added that this does not mean he will change his policy but he will study what changes might be needed in this new situation. Although this is a vague remark, it does take one step backward from his former firm stance.
The Roh administration’s claim for sole exercise of wartime control was hard to realize and it has now lost ground because the North turns out to have nuclear weapons. South Korea’s military sought to purchase conventional weapons. But only nuclear weapons are good enough to keep military balance with a country with nuclear weapons. This is a balance based on fear ― “If you explode a nuclear bomb, you will be doomed as well.” Thus, the fact that the North has nuclear weapons while South Korea does not creates a serious national security crisis. However, because South Korea cannot develop nuclear weapons, it cannot overcome this crisis on its own. As a result, having a U.S.-guaranteed nuclear umbrella has become our most important task. When South Korea’s military has nothing to deter a war, it cannot perform effective strategies in case of a war. The government should bear this in mind and abandon its plan for the transfer of wartime command. The United States’ unclear stance on the issue of wartime control is also worrisome. Richard Lawless, the deputy under secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, also said the North’s nuclear test and the transfer of wartime control of South Korea’s military have nothing to do with each other. The United States should understand that the national security situation on the Korean Peninsula has been drastically changed due to the nuclear test and should thus drop its rigid plan to hand over wartime control to South Korea by 2009, no matter what.
U.S. President George W. Bush said during a telephone conversation with President Roh that cooperation with South Korea is most important. We hope that this remark will be reflected in the issue of the transfer of wartime control. The forthcoming annual meeting of senior military officers of the two countries should focus on enhancing national security in order to block the North’s nuclear threat, instead of on the transfer of wartime control.