[Viewpoint] Let’s revive the 1992 nuclear pact

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[Viewpoint] Let’s revive the 1992 nuclear pact

On Aug. 6, 1945, the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, dealing a crushing blow to imperial Japan. Days later on Aug. 15, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, World War II ended and Korea was liberated from colonial rule.

So thrilled by the joy of liberation, Koreans did not realize the great changes that were taking place in global politics, including the coming of decolonialization and the start of the nuclear arms race. These would present new challenges to the establishment of an independent government in Korea.

In the 65 years since liberation, Koreans have had to endure the frustrating and unstable situation of lacking a unified territory, a unified society and a unified government.

The controversy over the legitimacy of or justification for the nuclear bombing, which directly contributed to the defeat of Japan 65 years ago, still continues. Many Japanese probably believe that the nuclear bombing was an act against humanity and a violation of the rules of engagement under international law as the attack resulted in indiscriminate mass casualties of civilians.

In contrast, most Americans believe the bombing was an appropriate decision that was necessary to quickly end the war with Japan, while it also served as retribution for Japan’s starting of the war in the Pacific with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Having experienced the catastrophic situation first hand, how did Koreans feel about the atomic bombing?

In March 1942, Syngman Rhee delivered “good news” in a broadcast message to Koreans through Voice of America. He said that Japan had committed an offensive act by attacking Pearl Harbor and would be “stricken with flames” in the near future, adding that Korea would soon gain independence. It is not clear if he had foreseen the atomic bombing project. Nevertheless, it must have been the wish of Dr. Rhee and the Korean people to support any means to punish Japan and bring Korea’s independence.

However, before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, no one knew for sure how extensive the damage would be. It was also unexpected that 10 percent of the 250,000 victims that perished in attack were Koreans. The Cenotaph for Korean Victims in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park records that over 20,000 Koreans were among the victims of history’s first nuclear strike.

Most of those who died had been conscripted by the colonial government for forced labor at munitions factories in Japan, and their deaths marked a tragic chapter in Korean history, written in the shadow of colonialism and nuclear weapons.

In the 20th century, the Korean people have experienced the loss of independence and colonial suffering, devastation of World War II and the Korean War, and the threat of nuclear conflict on the nation’s soil.

So a national consensus arose to create a powerful country whose sovereignty cannot be taken away by another country - a country that takes the lead in preventing wars, establishing peace and working actively to eliminate destructive nuclear weapons.

In order to respond to the wishes of the people and the call of history, the two Koreas agreed to the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in 1992 as a promise to the Korean people and the international community.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed that the best option to guarantee the safety of the 70 million people on the heavily armed Korean Peninsula was denuclearization, which was an inspiration both to the nation and the international community.

Therefore, we need to put aside the entanglements of the past, and Seoul and Pyongyang should work together again to revive the Joint Declaration. North Korea has no reason to be reluctant to revive the declaration since it is one of the major accomplishments of Kim Il Sung. It could serve as a shortcut to a successful six-party talks and a peace treaty.

China might welcome Seoul and Pyongyang’s reaffirmation of the Joint Declaration the most. Korea, Japan and the 10 members of Asean all recognize China as the only nuclear power in East Asia, but Beijing is creating confusion in the power politics of East Asia as it shows an ambiguous attitude of not protecting its exclusive regional status as a nuclear power when it comes to North Korea.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama wants to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, so he would certainly welcome a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons as the first step to realizing his grand objective.

The next Nuclear Security Summit is scheduled to be held in Seoul in 2012, and we need to pull together our strategic goals to make the meeting a constructive opportunity for the destiny of the Korean people.

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

By Lee Hong-koo
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