[VIEWPOINT]Take off blinders over the North’s nukes

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[VIEWPOINT]Take off blinders over the North’s nukes

The situation is truly incomprehensible. Is it because the Sunshine Policy is too brilliant to behold, or because we intentionally look away from the North Korean nuclear crisis?
For some reason, our country’s diplomatic and security strategy is almost blind to the North’s nuclear ambitions.
No country except South Korea is actually threatened by North Korea’s nuclear armament. To aim at Japan or the United States, the North would have to make its nuclear weapons small. It would take years to develop. So, at the moment, South Korea is the only place where the North can explode the bomb. In case North Korea is slapped with military sanctions while trying to transfer nuclear substances to other countries, South Korea is also the only possible target of retaliation by the North.
North Korea already threatened the South when it said, “The South will have to pay a dear price if the country joins the sanctions.”
Nevertheless, our response is relaxed and its direction is cloudy. Pressed by the United States and others to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative, the only thing South Korea has made clear is that the initiative can not be implemented on the Korean Peninsula because of the possibility it could ignite a military conflict. How should we understand this situation, in which the most likely victim of a nuclear disaster is passive and cautious about the international sanctions against the North?
Of course, the interests of the United States are not the same as South Korea’s. What then is our national interest in implementing the sanctions against the North? The head of the Security Office at the Blue House contended the starting point is different since our basic premise is “no war,” whereas the U.S. position is “no nukes.”
This is tantamount to picking sides. If he argues that there should be no war to prevent nuclear weapons, is this to say North Korea may have its nukes if it helps avoid war? If we could prevent the North’s nuclear armament without a war, nothing could be better. But we should recall the teachings of history; war can be prevented only when we are willing to fight a war.
Moreover, it’s been assumed that North Korea held some nuclear weapons even before it carried out its test. Will South Korea insist again that North Korea’s nuclear arms are just for self-defense and negotiation and that a misfortune may be turned into a blessing if things go well while our metropolitan area is held hostage? Even if the North has no intention of attacking the South with its nuclear weapons, its possession of nuclear arms itself is a stark and latent threat.
A country without independent deterrence cannot but depend on its ally’s deterrence ― what we call a “nuclear umbrella.”
Since it withdrew nuclear arms from our country in 1991, the United States has pledged the provision of a nuclear umbrella to South Korea, according to the mutual defense treaty between the two countries. There were farcical contortions over an expression in the joint statement from the recent U.S.-South Korea security consultative meeting when South Korea publicized it as a new achievement while the United States refuted it as nothing new. “Reconfirmation of the provision of nuclear umbrella,” as expressed in the joint statement in 2005, was changed to “reconfirmation of extended deterrence by the nuclear umbrella” this year. Our government authorities seem to have regarded this expression as more extended and specific.
The nuclear umbrella is a double-edged sword. We cannot develop nuclear weapons independently in return for being under a nuclear umbrella. If we are passive in imposing sanctions on the North while being unable to develop nuclear arms, and if friction arises in the U.S.-South Korea alliance in the process, North Korea’s nuclear arms can become formidable weapons against the South. The conflict between South Korea and the United States over the transfer of wartime command is a sign of trouble.
No one would oppose the engagement policy in itself. But it is a failure; it couldn’t prevent the North’s nuclear test and could not guarantee strict mutuality. We need to show at home and abroad our determination not to tolerate any nuclear weapons and we cannot improve relations with the North as long as it has nuclear weapons.
We hear some point out that the country that is being isolated from the international community concerning the reinforcement of pressure on the North is not China, but South Korea. The argument that the sanctions against North Korea will bring an economic and security crisis is not very convincing abroad. If South Korea loses the trust of the international community while being pulled about by North Korea and its alliance with the United States is viewed as in tension, the country may find its very foundations shaken by the outflow of foreign capital and declining credit ratings. To prevent North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons, we should take the attitude of Admiral Yi Sun-sin: We will die if we want to live and we will live if we are ready to die. This is the way to peace and prosperity.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Byun Sang-keun
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