Action, not words, Mr. PresidentIn an address to the nation yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak said, “Now is the time for action, rather than words.” In fact, that’s exactly what the South Korean people have been asking from the government all along. Although President Lee vowed to make North Korea pay for any future provocations, the public can hardly trust his words unless they are backed by real action.
Deterrence against aggression comes from action, not words. As Lee said, we have faced repeated attacks by North Korea, ranging from an attempt to attack the Blue House (1968), a terrorist bombing in Burma (1983), an explosion of the Korean Air passenger plane (1987) to its killing of a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang Resort (2008) and the sinking of the Cheonan warship in May.
But the government never made the culprit pay the price. The North’s latest attack on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea is the natural conclusion of the government’s lukewarm response to the North Korea’s aggression.
In his speech, Lee said, “We have endured the North’s provocations again and again ... Our people came to realize that more tolerance only leads to bigger provocations.” Does that mean the administration has finally realized what the people already knew? Since the Cheonan tragedy, the president has shown almost no action, except for the ongoing ROK-U.S. joint drills in the Yellow Sea, which had been postponed, but are now back on.
As the president said, we need to have an expectation that “the North will change one day,” together with a strong will to seek peace on the Korean Peninsula. But the North waged the first sea battle near Yeonpyeong Island in 1996 when President Kim Dae-jung aggressively pursued reconciliation with the North, and again waged the second sea battle in the same waters in 2002 when the South increased aid dramatically after President Kim’s summit with Kim Jong-il two years earlier.
North Korea has persistently provoked the South under the guise of peace offensives. The Roh Moo-hyun administration also tried to establish a “joint fishing zone” in waters around five islands.
Genuine courage to confront threats and assaults, not rhetoric, can only bring peace and resolute retaliation and is the only way to deter war and protect our security. The more we balk at demonstrating such a reaction, the more difficult it will get to draw support from the international community.