[Outlook]More important than missiles

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[Outlook]More important than missiles


North Korea seems once again poised to launch a missile. While the Obama administration, which started just a month ago, is still striving to build a new U.S. diplomatic team, the North is seen preparing to fire its long-range Taepodong?2 missile.

America faces myriad urgent issues to resolve besides the current North Korean nuclear issue. Against this backdrop, North Korea is threatening that it will not remain silent if America lays aside the North Korea issue. In addition, the North is trying to make an ostentatious display of another card they have to lead the six-party nuclear negotiations in a direction more beneficial to them.

North Korea’s missile threat also conveys a message to the South. The North has recently issued a series of strong, belligerent messages to the South. Its intention seems to be to flaunt its strategic power by using the missile launch in a psychological fight with the South and stir up divisions within South Korean society.

Seoul has clarified its position to pursue a North Korea policy based on sound principles, while the North seems to be striving to shake the South’s resolve by bringing about a belligerent atmosphere. Of course, the North is also trying to strengthen its internal unity and enhance its capability to conduct missile development.

How then can we effectively cope with the North’s recent moves? Above all, what we should bear in mind is that the existing North Korean nuclear issue poses far more of a threat to our security than missiles. The North’s technological capabilities for a long-range missile launch still leave a lot to be desired. However, whether North Korea can develop a lightweight nuclear warhead that can be loaded onto a long-range missile is a more important question to be answered.

Therefore, the complete dissolution of nuclear programs and weapons is more urgent than ever, so we should focus our energy on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, rather than obsessing over the North’s missile launch.

What is more important than anything else is the establishment of an international alliance. No matter how amicable inter-Korean relations were in the past, the North has paid no attention to our advice regarding resolving military and security issues, such as missiles and nuclear programs. Global alliances and pressure are the best means that we can rely on.

The North’s missile launches in the past have led to a stronger global alliance against the North than expected. The Taepodong?1 missile launched by North Korea in 1998 frightened Japan and caused it to fortify its military preparedness and bolster U.S.?Japan military ties. The North’s missile launch in 2006 prompted China, despite its special relationship with the North, to join stringent United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

The newly appointed U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is scheduled to visit South Korea, China, Japan and Russia this week. His visit to Asia looks set to contribute to accelerating international collaboration measures. Our government should actively engage in establishing an international alliance in this regard.

Achieving a sound global alliance depends, first and foremost, on China’s role. It is imperative to encourage China to actively participate in a global effort to tackle North Korea problems and convey a powerful message to the North.

As North Korea becomes totally preoccupied with dangerous military gamesmanship, China will soon reach the limits of its patience. In particular, if the North maintains its hard stance regardless of pragmatic changes in the U.S. attitude under the Obama administration, China will not stand for it any longer.

The government in Seoul should be the catalyst for an international alliance on North Korea policy by capitalizing on the changing international situation.

Regardless of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, it is imperative that we cope with the North’s moves, through well prepared negotiation strategies in terms of military security.

But we should not think that this will be the end of North Korean problems. The urgent task is to make a fundamental change in North Korean society. Such changes in North Korea should be made through strengthening economic exchanges with the outside world.

The North Korean economy and society have seen continued meaningful changes in the last decade, although such news has been deemed too insignificant to attract Western media attention.

Perhaps such changes may provide a clue to how to resolve the North Korean problem in the future. The reason we should be earnest in devising concrete measures for a North Korean engagement policy based on principles lies here.


The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

Yoon Young-kwan

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