[Outlook]South Korea faces a tragic spring

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[Outlook]South Korea faces a tragic spring

The agreement produced at the six-party talks on Feb. 13 is bringing spring fever to the Korean Peninsula. President Roh Moo-hyun said that providing aid to the North would always be a profitable policy. The minister of foreign affairs maintained that a bold strategy is more desirable than being obsessed with minor matters in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear issue when he visited the United States. The president defends the North’s nuclear weapons saying that they are not meant to be used for offensive purposes. To ensure the abolition of nuclear arms is certainly not a minor matter.
The February agreement was the fruit of Washington’s failed strategy even though it has been touted as a diplomatic achievement. The long and tedious journey toward denuclearization that resulted in the 1994 Geneva agreement was reproduced after 13 years. During this period, North Korea conducted a nuclear test and is now behaving like a nuclear state. While in possession of nuclear arms and materials, the communist regime has received all that the joint declaration of Sept. 19, 2005 promised to give. It has successfully opened doors for bilateral talks with the United States and Japan. It is understandable that North Korea is overly proud and praises the guts and courage of its “dear leader.”
Abolition of nuclear weapons is at the core of North Korea’s nuclear issues. But the Bush administration was so desperate to reach an agreement that it failed to clearly stipulate the abolition of nuclear capabilities. Instead, the agreement adopted the softer expression, “to disable such facilities,” and had a roundabout statement that North Korea will faithfully carry out the promises of the 2005 joint declaration. Even if North Korea freezes its reactor in Yongbyon as it promised, the status of North Korea as a nuclear state will remain unchanged.
When faced with the request to abolish its nuclear arms, North Korea counters with a nuclear disarmament demand. There are no signs that North Korea genuinely wants to abandon its nuclear weapons. Some even suspect that North Korea will break the agreement after receiving initial rewards, a worst-case scenario.
Meanwhile, Japan was deeply disappointed with the February agreement. That was not only because of the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea. Japan insisted on the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, but the clause was not included because of pressure from the United States. As for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, Washington and Tokyo have subtle but strikingly different views. President George W. Bush’s desire to make North Korea abolish its nuclear weapons is suspected.
As North Korea and the United States are to resume talks on normalizing their relations, South Korea is unreasonably excited. Beginning a certain process is one thing, changing policies is another. Inter-Korean relations must be improved in line with North Korea’s implementation of its promise to abolish its nuclear arms.
Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has dreadful military power and missiles positioned near the border. Because of the plans to transfer wartime control over the Korean army, the Korea-U.S. alliance is seriously damaged. If the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command is dismantled, U.S. troops can withdraw at any time. If there is no trust between the two countries, there is no guarantee that more U.S. soldiers will be dispatched to support South Korea in case of an emergency.
We have witnessed that the United States withdrew its troops when a war was prolonged and casualties increased even when the cause for the war was clear. The transfer of wartime control also must be considered in line with North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. Even when the United States seems not very trustworthy and tries to step back, keeping it next to us is a safety device.
South Korea’s engagement policy has been criticized for delaying North Korea’s decision to open its doors, aggravating the despotic regime and making South Koreans less cautious about national security issues and inclined to leftist thoughts. But the government shows no self-reflection. It has presented the card for aid at the six-party talks regardless of the North’s response and now hurries to discuss a peace system without any guarantee of the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Does the administration believe that short of there being a war, there are no problems with North Korea’s nuclear arms and the regime after reunification? If the administration pursues peaceful coexistence with a North Korea that possesses nuclear weapons, what kind of peace is that?
If we become overly excited about the water resulting from melting ice, the country will find itself adrift. We should be careful, otherwise spring could be tragic.

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

by Byun Sang-keun
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