Northern limits

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Northern limits

It seems that President-elect Lee Myung-bak takes national security seriously. Some 10 days ago he visited an army division on the frontline and yesterday he visited the Defense Ministry, the first president-elect to do so.
Intensifying national security doesn’t mean Korea should neglect reconciliation efforts with North Korea, Lee said. Senior military officers nodded their approval. Lee’s comments denote a significant shift away from the approach adopted by the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
Relations between South and North Korea boast two traits: confrontation and cooperation. This year alone, the government has allocated 26 trillion won ($28 billion) to the military budget. This is because we are confronting North Korea. But South and North Koreans are the same nationality, and will coexist eventually. That is destiny.
An effective policy on North Korea needs to take into account both pull and push.
The Kim and Roh administrations failed to understand this twofold relationship. The Kim administration insisted that security was at the heart of the Sunshine Policy. But such a policy contained only empty words. This was shown when North Korean warships attacked the South Korean Navy in the Yellow Sea, leaving six South Korean sailors dead. If the Kim administration had stuck to its guns, it would have demanded North Korea apologize and punished those responsible for the naval attacks.
Instead, the administration accepted the North’s “expression of regret” and let the situation diffuse. Funerals for the South Korean sailors were carried out in haste, as if they had done something wrong.
Meanwhile, the Roh administration said the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea was not a territorial border. This comment hurt the pride of the nation, since South Koreans had died defending that line.
In essence, both administrations pursued policies of appeasement, fearing that upsetting the North would jeopardize the peace process.
President-elect Lee must learn from the mistakes that the last two administrations made. It is self-evident that we can’t have peace if we ignore the reality of two heavily-armed militaries eyeballing each other over the border. That’s why we need to seek ways to intensify our national security and expand engagement with North Korea at the same time.
Considering that the North needs the South’s economic aid, this policy is feasible.
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