[Viewpoint] Propaganda just isn’t enough

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[Viewpoint] Propaganda just isn’t enough

Three months have passed since the earth shook, a 1,200-ton ship was tossed into the air, split in two and took 46 of our young servicemen to the bottom of the sea. We solemnly held a mass funeral for the men lost in action during what is supposed to be a time of peace. We resolved to avenge their needless deaths. We expected a spectacular military exercise at sea to demonstrate the military capabilities of the joint South Korean and American forces. We awaited a stern reaction from the United Nations, expecting it to condemn North Korea’s crime before the entire world.

It was the government that promised all of this. But time has passed, and we’ve heard little about these promises. The military exercise was quietly called off after China’s protest. The UN, as usual, is taking its time. The military leadership is busy fighting with the Board of Audit and Inspection over the inquest into the Cheonan sinking. We have to wonder if all that hoopla was much ado about nothing.

Let us go back. The initial military response, as evinced by the Board of Audit investigation, was careless. Then the president arrived at the scene to set things in order. The president extolled each one of the 46 men sacrificed at sea and awarded them with posthumous honors. The nation mourned and the young brooded on the tragedy’s meaning to their nation and what they can do about it. Specialists were invited from various parts of the world to lend credibility to a government-led investigation into the sinking. So far, so good.

Then the Cheonan tragedy morphed into an entirely different phenomenon as midterm elections neared. Words of mourning and consolation turned into war talk. The government declared it would stage the joint Korea-U.S. military drill ahead of its previous autumn schedule and erect propaganda loudspeakers along the border for the first time in more than a decade. The North threatened to fire at the loudspeakers if they broadcasted propaganda. The war-sensitive young voters turned against the government. Their revolt at the polls during the June elections helped to defeat the ruling party, a boomerang effect of the government’s war talk.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently ran an interesting feature proposing a 10-year military reform program after examining fundamental problems in our military that were revealed by the Cheonan sinking. It was a fearful and depressing thing to realize that our military capabilities couldn’t prevent the sinking of 1,200-ton corvette by a single torpedo. We had to swallow the reality that our military lacks the capacity to detect a North Korean submarine entering our waters and approaching a naval ship near enough to destroy it with a torpedo.

If the military can fail so easily, despite all of its hype about state-of-the-art artillery at the cost of heavy defense spending, the military leadership should kneel in shame before the public, not complain about the Board of Audit inspection. Instead of broadcasting war-threatening propaganda via loudspeakers, it should begin reinforcing our war deterrence capabilities, starting with the basic equipment to detect underwater mines and torpedo attacks.

The capacity to deter a war - and to unify the land through peaceful means - should be our fundamental policy. In comparison with the North, we are weak in long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. Under the missile agreement with the United States, we cannot develop ballistic missiles that can reach beyond 300 kilometers (187 miles) or carry warheads weighing more than 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). There were rumors that we have developed cruise missiles that can fly 1,000 to 1,500 kilometers, but the government never confirmed the report. We have spent $200 million for a Russian launch platform for a rocket to send satellites into space, but we still can’t determine the cause of its failure.

The government should sit down with its American counterparts to talk about relaxing arms development restrictions so we can boost our self-defensive and war-deterrence capabilities. And if we have carried out missile development, the defense authorities should come out and say so instead of keeping it confidential.

Since we jointly declared with North Korea in 1992 to make the Korean Peninsula a nuclear-free zone, any talk of nuclear weapon development have been taboo in the South. We clung to the hope of six-party denuclearization talks long after the North abandoned the nuclear-free principle and developed six to seven nuclear weapons. By May 2014, our bilateral nuclear pact with the United States expires. We will then be able to demand our rights to recycle used nuclear fuel as Japan and the European Union are doing. The storage of nuclear waste at the reactor in Gori will reach capacity by 2016. Conditions are similar at three other reactors. The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute hopes to test its electrometallurgical pyroprocessing technology to reprocess and divert 10 tons of nuclear waste into sources for civil use starting in 2016. We cannot go on forever deterring against North Korea’s nuclear threat. We must attain the right to reprocess used nuclear fuel earlier than 2014 through talks with the U.S.

We are not saying we want to make nuclear weapons from the extracted uranium. It is an imperative and rightful claim by an exporter of nuclear reactors and an economy that must run mostly on reactor-processed energy. Instead of resorting to antiquated propaganda leaflets and broadcasts, we should turn our attention to making missiles and nuclear processing capabilities to enhance our war deterrence capacity. The earth shook and the much ado should come to something.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is president of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation and former president of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kwon Young-bin
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