[Viewpoint] Time to pluck the porcupine’s quills

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[Viewpoint] Time to pluck the porcupine’s quills

In early winter, a porcupine wandered around in the woods shivering in the cold and snowy weather. All other animals had their winter quarters prepared, but the porcupine did not even have a place to rest. It found a hole, but a snake was already in it preparing to hibernate. The porcupine pleaded with the snake, “I think I might freeze to death. Please let me rest for a while.”

“Come in,” the snake replied. “It might be uncomfortable because the space is small, but we can try to make it work.”

However, the snake could not bear the prickly surface of the porcupine’s quills, which was poking its reptilian flesh. Every time the snake curled up to avoid the quills the porcupine took up more space. In the end, the snake was pushed into a corner and the porcupine slept comfortably with all four feet stretched out. The porcupine did not think about moving out even after the snow had stopped. The snake finally said: “Porcupine, I’m sorry, but can you please leave? Your quills are hurting me.” The porcupine said angrily: “Why don’t you leave? I’m not uncomfortable at all.”

This is one of Aesop’s fables, but doesn’t it sound familiar to us? Yes, the porcupine is just like North Korea. It is difficult even to maintain the existence of the regime without the help of the international community, but it pricks up its quills whenever it faces difficulty. It broadens its range of activity each time its neighbor curls up. It is just like a porcupine.

In 1993, it fired a Rodong-1 missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers and was rewarded with the promise of two light-water reactors as long as it never did such a thing again. But the Unha-2 fired on Sunday was the fourth rocket. Each time, the amount of assistance it receives grows. And the range of the missiles has doubled. If it loses face because of the failure this time, it will go ahead with a nuclear test - as though, if the quills don’t work, it feels it must pass gas. This was what it did when a Taepodong-2 failed in 2006, and it is highly likely that it will be the case this time, too.

I compared North Korea to a porcupine in 2006 when it test-fired a nuclear bomb. This is why North Korea looks upon itself as a porcupine: It takes pride in that not even a tiger can touch it. Now, two years since then, North Korea has grown from a small porcupine into a large one. It has failed to launch a satellite into orbit, but it cannot be seen as a total failure because this was not the purpose from the beginning.

All it needs to do is gradually increase the range and accumulate know-how. The North already has the technology to enrich uranium and detonate a bomb. It only needs to develop the technology to make smaller nuclear warheads and deliver them long-distance. It does not have the money to carry out this research quickly, but it doesn’t mind taking things slow.

Even if the United Nations Security Council calls a meeting and makes a fuss over sanctions, there is no effective means of punishment. If you poke an angry porcupine lying down in a warm spot, you’re the one who will be hurt. And in the end it will only give more room for the porcupine to roll around in.

The difference between fable and reality is in the ending. In reality, it would not be a happy ending for the porcupine. Even if the porcupine grows in size, it cannot become a landlord. The snake would not just sit there and allow itself to get poked. It would at least go outside and push rocks into the hole.

This is why the rearmament of Japan is seen as imminent. The reason Japan has made such a commotion lately is the expression of the Japanese honne - basic wish - to become a military power befitting its status as an economic power.

The Japanese used the launch of Taepodong-1 in 1998 to get itself a longer sword, and this time it will surely grow sharper. Japan’s far right, who welcomed North Korea’s rocket firing, looked overjoyed. The rearmament of Japan, justified by a wish to become an “ordinary country,” will be a seed of misery and the source of many woes for us.

Once Japan grabs a gun it will certainly want to shoot, and targets lie in only one direction. Misery does not travel alone. There is no way China, which dreams of becoming a great sea power, will overlook this situation. Inevitably, the arms race will repeat itself. To Korea, stuck in the middle, it is not just a challenge - it’s a disaster. This is why we cannot write off the missile test as a failure and put it aside.

In Korean, porcupine means “crazy mountain animal.” The only way to deal with a crazy animal that runs around not even caring if it hurts itself is to be firm. There is no need to overreact, but we should not just sit idly by, either. The North should be told that all its quills could be plucked out if it continues to act provocatively. Of course, a few should be plucked as an example first, in whatever area.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom

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