[Viewpoint] We must rekindle an old dream

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[Viewpoint] We must rekindle an old dream

The issue of the future of the Korean Peninsula has been at the forefront of political affairs news in the international community since North Korea engaged in a series of belligerent moves earlier in the year, including a nuclear test in May and the firing of a series of missiles.

The motive behind the unusually aggressive actions is as yet unclear, but we cannot just sit around wondering what will happen next on our land that is seen from the outside as war-prone and a threat to global peace and security.

The issue of the Korean Peninsula, often misunderstood as primarily involving the North Korean nuclear problem, is a historical product a half century in the making for the two Koreas and other countries intricately associated with the conflict.

Despite its complicated nature, the issue is woven into our national fate. We cannot merely take a backseat as events unfold.

Sept. 11 marked 20 years since the Korean National Community Unification Formula was confirmed as the unification policy of the Republic of Korea. Two decades ago, when the country was brimming with excitement over democracy and the end of the Cold War, political parties agreed on the basic principles of reunification after heated debate. At the time, we were proud of our political maturity. But looking back, we can only hang our heads, facing the rude reality that we have as yet accomplished little in inter-Korean relations.

The North’s unannounced release of dam water along the border that killed six South Koreans drives us beyond mere disappointment to anger and despair. Yet this situation may contain a window of opportunity found in a transitional period in international politics, much like what existed 20 years ago. Our duty is to muster the wisdom and will to make the most of this window of opportunity.

Indeed, comparing the global political dynamics following the end of the Cold War - symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall - to today may seem to be a stretch. But recent developments in the United States, such as the historic election and the Wall Street debacle that set off a global financial meltdown, hint of the end of a one-nation superpower unipolar world and the start of a new era of a global multilateral power structure.

Among the sweeping changes, China and Russia joined the chorus of those pressuring North Korea to disband its nuclear program while the international community hardened its stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The principle of keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free was reconfirmed in recent China-U.S. talks. The North cannot be so reckless as to contradict and challenge such a strong consensus of global power.

So what is the best way to make North Korea abandon its nuclear program? We cannot just wait for international pressure to work. Despite common opposition against the North’s nuclear weapons program, the international community is not unified in imposing tough actions. Many members prefer persuasion and dialogue.

And the North can always manipulate international relations in an attempt to both realize its nuclear dream while improving its status in the global community.

That’s why it is essential for South Korea to show aggressiveness and creativity in policy making and diplomacy.

We must muster public strength from within and reinforce alliances with outside forces to uphold and further the basic ideal of reunification envisioned 20 years ago. That ideal sees mutual respect for political differences in each country while expanding exchanges and cooperation to construct a national community.

For this, we must make North Korea, as well as countries involved in the efforts to dismantle the North’s nuclear program, believe that rethinking its belligerence and cooperating with the South are the only ways to insure the viability of the North’s regime.

We can implement policies and strategies to improve inter-Korean relations toward reunification two ways.

First, we must develop the bilateral relations agreed to 20 years ago. Second, we must prepare for the chance of a sudden unification in case of a drastic change in the North’s internal power structure. We must work on the first matter through public debate. The second matter must be handled discreetly and with care.

Either way, there will be an enormous price to pay. We must seriously ask ourselves at this moment if we are ready to pay that price.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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