[VIEWPOINT]For would-be presidents the future is nowThe deadline for South Korea to report to the UN Security Council what sanctions it will take against North Korea, for its nuclear test is only two weeks away. I feel uneasy.
I am reminded of the dizziness that used to occassionally come over me when I was a student; the more anxious I felt, the more I was unable to come up with answers.
Sometimes there seems to be no solution, however hard you study a problem. Then you must read the question carefully one more time and pay attention to other people’s solutions.
At first glance the question at hand seems difficult and complicated. Security Council Resolution 1718, written in fine print, covers five pages of A4 sized paper.
But if you study it carefully, the problem is unexpectedly simple.
It is a statement of resolve that the UN member-states, taking cooperative action, will impose sanctions on North Korea until the country reforms and becomes a non-nuclear state.
It prohibits the provision of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear technology, as well as their means of delivery like missiles, and bans trade in high-end military equipment.
It also intended to stop the flow of money related, directly or indirectly, to the production of weapons of mass destruction.
The most urgent problem that has to be solved is South Korea’s participation in the U.S. Proliferation Security Initiative and whether inter-Korean cooperation projects such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism should be discontinued or not.
Our government is trying hard to find a solution that can satisfy inter-Korean relations and the UN sanctions at the same time. Unfortunately, there is no such solution.
As long as North Korea does not accept denuclearization as a viable choice, our effort to minimize our participation in UN sanctions while giving priority to inter-Korean relations will be in vain.
If we insist on an incorrect solution, there is a danger that we will waste our time and present the wrong answer to the international community.
Although we don’t have much time left, we have to change our approach. We have to reconsider inter-Korean relations while setting a good example by observing the UN resolution on North Korea.
While participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative, we must find a way by which we can adopt it flexibly for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The Mount Kumgang tourism venture and the Kaesong Industrial Complex cannot survive if we fail to prove the transparency of these projects according to international standards.
The government now plans a full-scale reshuffling of the country’s diplomatic and security officials, which is a good plan.
The Blue House, however, emphasizes that there will be no change in the basic guidelines of government policy. That’s right: If the president doesn’t make a strategic decision to change guidelines, even if working level officials are reshuffled, there is no possibility that basic policy will change.
What matters here is that the foundation of international policy on the North Korean nuclear problem is changing. We can feel it clearly in the atmosphere of the Security Council meeting that adopted the resolution on North Korea.
At home, our public opinion is still confused about where to put the blame, on North Korea or the United States; but international public opinion, heard at the Security Council meeting, was unanimous in its criticism of North Korea.
After the adoption of the resolution by the unanimous vote of 15 council member-states, the statements made by each member, including China and Russia, were all in agreement that North Korea’s violation of its own commitment on denuclearization can not be justified by any means.
North Korea’s UN ambassador, Park Kil-yeon, vehemently criticized the Security Council for sanctioning North Korea although, he charged, the responsibility for North Korea’s nuclear test rested with the U.S. - but when he marched from the chamber he was all alone.
As long as there is no strategic decision by President Roh, the gap between the guiding principles of South Korea’s policy toward the North Korean nuclear issue and those of international policy will grow wider. The results will have detrimental effects on Korea’s national interest.
The problem is that it is difficult to expect an outgoing president to make a strategic decision to change the guiding principles of national policy.
What is the alternative? During the foreign exchange crisis in 1997, the president-elect, Kim Dae-jung, practically assumed the role of the president and helped create a consensus regarding the steps that had to be taken.
The nuclear crisis looming over us is even more serious than the IMF financial crisis and we are wasting our precious time in hoping that we will be saved by luck. We must look for a solution by gathering the wisdom of the whole nation as soon as possible.
If the president cannot solve the problem, the presidential hopefuls who dream of taking the reins of power should step forward. The potential candidates for next year’s presidential election should draw up and propose a full-scale solution to the North Korean nuclear issue, one that goes beyond expressing of the simple opinion that the North’s nuclear test was bad and the UN sanctions are good - and that they must try hard to create a basis for national consensus.
The presidential election is still more than a year away, but the restructuring of the political parties is happening now and will have important ramifications.
Politicians are bound to be careful not to make any mistakes that will disqualify them from the race. But the North Korean nuclear crisis will not wait for as long as a year; it marches to its own drumbeat.
In order to overcome the North Korean nuclear crisis as the whole nation and the world wish, we need a new guiding policy. The presidential candidates will win the election race at home, but they and the country will only survive if they win the international race for a solution to North Korea.
* The writer is a professor of international relations, Seoul National University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun
More in Columns
Time for pragmatism
How do we spell relief?
A battle over fiscal control
Time for a ceasefire