[Viewpoint] Cool heads vital in facing the North

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[Viewpoint] Cool heads vital in facing the North

One feels terrible when his brother is criticized by others or beaten up. When one receives criticism and beatings along with his brother, it is even worse. But if one’s brother breaks the rules of decency in the community, one feels obligated to join the mob and condemn his brother.

The United Nations Security Council has decided to adopt a resolution to put pressure on North Korea, which has conducted two nuclear tests and launched missiles like a kid playing with fireworks, threatening the peace of the neighborhood. While we welcome the move by the Security Council, we do so with a heavy heart.

The United States and Japan drew up a draft, South Korea supported it fully and China and Russia weakened it a little because of their traditionally close relations with North Korea. The resolution is so powerful that we cannot possibly hope for more under the current circumstances. If UN members faithfully abide by the resolution, North Korea will lose nearly all of the channels it uses to get cash from outside the country. If the communist country cannot make financial transactions it cannot export weapons, the country’s thin lifeline, and that will make it difficult for the country to earn vital dollars.

According to the resolution, a vessel suspected of containing North Korean weapons may be inspected on the high seas when the government of the country to which the vessel belongs issues a permit to do so.

Because of China’s stubbornness due to its long-standing friendly ties with North Korea, the word “decide” has been toned down, changed to “call on.” But really, how many countries would refuse to cooperate with inspections for any reason other than to become a nuisance to the United States? The biggest merit of the UN resolution is that it has all the force of international law, citing Article 41 of Chapter XII of the Charter of the United Nations.

What is worrisome is North Korea’s possible resistance once the resolution is adopted. Within days, something else could arise to aggravate North Korea further. At a summit meeting between Seoul and Washington scheduled for June 16, the United States will reconfirm its nuclear umbrella for South Korea. The Rodong Sinmun, the North Korean state-run daily, warned on June 8 that if the United States were to offer its nuclear umbrella to South Korea in writing, the danger of nuclear war would increase accordingly.

The background to the North Korea issue, including the country’s nuclear tests, has changed. Once the UN resolution is adopted, North Korea is likely to cling to its current policy against efforts to get it to denuclearize. Meanwhile, South Korea has declared its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative.

Although it is more of a symbolic move, South Korea has decided to impose sanctions on three North Korean weapons exporters and has reported the decision to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee. These moves are powerful enough to make North Korea tremble in fear.

International society’s sanctions on North Korea will operate fairly well in general. Dangers arise only when the sanctions and South Korea’s hardline stance anger North Korea to the extent that it explodes. In that case, South Korea will be the first outlet for the North’s rage. There are plenty of ways for it to take out its rage over the sanctions on us, such as making threats toward the Kaesong Industrial Complex and along the truce line in the Yellow Sea.

The defense minister of South Korea has said that once North Korea attacks South Korea, the latter will attack the North in return, in accordance with the rules of engagement. His words are not prudent. What if North Korea attacks a vessel in the Yellow Sea with guns on the shore? If we do as the defense minister says, our vessel would need to mount an attack on North Korean territory. That scenario is too appalling even to think about.

While leading the call for a UN resolution, the U.S. sent messages through Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, that the door to dialogue with North Korea was open. Dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang may start with negotiations over the release of two female American journalists detained by the North.

We need to set clear objectives to prevent physical clashes, maintain the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism on Mount Kumgang and resume dialogue between the authorities of South and North Korea. Bearing these goals in mind, we need to restrain ourselves from using provocative words unless it is absolutely necessary. Cooling periods and explicit incentives are vital, not for the grand goals of reunification or peace in Northeast Asia, but for the urgent objective of preventing another war.

Sanctions are tools, not goals. Sanctions against North Korea have the effect of isolating the communist nation. We must not forget the paradox that the more isolated North Korea gets, the more numerous and sophisticated its missiles will become.

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

by Kim Young-hie
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