[OUTLOOK]Common virtue or new cold war?North Korea’s nuclear test was a dangerous and provocative act that threatens the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the world, regardless of whether it was a success or failure. All will agree that North Korea should take responsibility for all the consequences of its nuclear test.
North Korea says it is pursuing nuclear weapons development because of the hostile U.S. policy toward the North. The communist state claims that the nuclear issue concerns only the United States and itself and has nothing to do with other countries. However, UN resolution 1718 to pressure and sanction North Korea was unanimously adopted, with approval even by friendly countries, China and Russia. This proves that the North’s nuclear issue has become an issue between the North and international society.
North Korea chose to go nuclear because it felt extremely insecure as the political situation in Northeast Asia turned disadvantageous for it; the structure of the Cold War was dismantled as the socialist bloc started to collapse in the late 1980s and the diplomatic and economic gap between the South and the North has increasingly widened even as South Korea built relations with Russia and China.
North Korea perceives that the current situation threatens its security. The North has a deep distrust of the United States because the communist country believes the leader of international politics is at the core of forces that threaten the North.
It is hard to expect North Korea to easily give up its nukes, considering that the North’s nuclear ambitions were conceived from the international political structure. A more realistic task is the stable management of the North’s nuclear issue, as it seems hard to force North Korea to abandon nuclear development programs completely.
North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, and the level of the South’s engagement with the North will inevitably be reduced. But closing down a channel for dialogue with the North or implementing measures that might bring military clashes will not help manage the problem in a stable manner.
We need to formulate a calm and strategic reaction to the North’s nuclear issue. We need to confirm at the forthcoming South Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting that the United States will provide us with a nuclear umbrella. We should design safety measures against the threat from the North, which has now achieved military superiority over South Korea’s military.
If South Korea also wanted to go nuclear, that would create a domino effect of nuclear development in the Northeast Asian region. It would also shake the South Korea-U.S. alliance and thus cannot be an alternative to resolving the problem.
The North’s nuclear test creates cracks in the North Korea-China alliance, which sends a significant message to South Korea.
North Korea should return to the negotiation table to resume the stalled six-party talks, as international society urges it to do. The resumption of the six-party talks is very important for managing the situation in a stable fashion, as well as resolving the North’s nuclear crisis.
The goal of resuming the talks should be to implement the Sept. 19, 2005, joint statement at the six-party talks held in Beijing, which stated that North Korea would abandon its nuclear development.
The other five countries in the six-party talks should make it clear that the North can not use the talks to justify its nuclear development program.
Ban Ki-moon, Korea’s foreign minister, has been elected secretary general of the United Nations by turning the disadvantage of being the foreign minister of a separated country into an opportunity.
Likewise, depending on the vision and actions of the countries involved, the North’s nuclear crisis can be transformed into an opportunity to create international peace and allow the North to abandon its nuclear program.
I hope that Mr. Ban, as the next secretary general of the UN, will play an important role in creating an international political system that will encourage the North to give up its nukes.
Meanwhile, countries implementing sanctions against the North should think and act prudently in doing so, in order to achieve the goal of ridding the North of its nuclear devices.
Depending on how international society handles this crisis, Northeast Asia could develop common virtues as seen in the European Union, or could retreat into a new cold war of jealousy and confrontation.
* The writer, a former Korean ambassador to Russia, is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of North Korea Studies, Kyungnam University.
by Chung Tae-ik