The threat before us

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The threat before us

Two North Korean agents attempting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect to the South, were arrested. Disguised as defectors, they turned out to be majors of the North Korean Army reconnaissance bureau. With South Korea still grieving the Cheonan incident, the North has committed an unconceivable act against us.

In reality, North Korea has never stopped sending spies. It was the same under President Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy. The first clash in the Yellow Sea also occurred during the Kim administration. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, North Korean agents even infiltrated a major political party.

North Korea has a long history of provocation, especially during periods of succession. They are again provoking the South with a nuclear test and other actions at a time when Kim Jong-un is likely to succeed his father Kim Jong-il. Their aim seems to be to quell internal chaos by creating external tension. Therefore, our security will likely continue to be threatened.

We are facing a critical moment. President Lee Myung-bak said that, 60 years after the Korean War, we may have become complacent. Some members of the young generation even regard the United States as our primary enemy. The Roh administration changed the assessment of North Korea from “our primary enemy” to a “direct threat.” And the Lee administration only made a slight change in the defense white paper, from a “direct threat” to a “direct and serious threat.”

Of course, we should seek coexistence and co-prosperity with the North through reconciliation and cooperation. But peace cannot be bought with money nor guaranteed with a collective note. Therefore, it is right for us to have a certain amount of suspicion about our counterpart. Mutual trust is a necessity but we should also be able to defend ourselves against any threats.

In that sense, the recent assassination attempt calls for a thorough re-examination of our counterintelligence system. North Korean agents no longer cross the physical demarcation line, nor do they use semi-submersibles any more because now they brazenly use Incheon International Airport.

The number of defectors from the North is expected to top 20,000 this year, and the number of ethnic Korean migrant workers from China stands at around 300,000. The North’s assassination attempt was thwarted - this time. But it’s too early for us to sit back and feel secure. We should take this as an opportunity to tighten our security systems and improve our intelligence collection capabilities. The most belligerent forces are right before our eyes.

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