[Viewpoint] Science is a national security issue

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[Viewpoint] Science is a national security issue

In the aftermath of North Korea’s provocative strike on Yeonpyeong Island, the rules of engagement are not the only things that need to be changed. We need a whole new framework for our national security strategy. We also need to re-establish national security and relationships with other nations and communities. Moreover, the way national security and science regard each other has to change.

How is national security connected to science? In the United States, the Clinton administration was the first to present a strategy that integrates national security and science. President Clinton announced the National Security Science and Technology Strategy in September 1995. According to the initiative, science and technology are the engines of the three main elements of national security, namely military strength, diplomatic caliber and economic capacity.

The United States provides solutions to pressing security threats through investment in science and technology. The Obama administration has also emphasized science, especially fundamental science, in the National Security Strategy announced in May. The strategy defines the largest investment in pure science research in the history of the United States as the stepping stone for national security.

The artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island makes us ponder the relationship between national security and science in South Korea. The prospect is not so bright for now. In October 2006, North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, but we were unable to independently determine whether Pyongyang’s test had actually succeeded. Seoul had to wait until the U.S. detected radioactive substance in the airspace over North Korea and conducted a precision analysis.

At the time, South Korea did not have the equipment and technology to pick up the extremely small radioactive substances on its own. Advancements in fundamental sciences such as nuclear physics are necessary for defense science activities such as radiation detection.

Until recently, South Koreans paid attention to the development of pure science not to enhance national security but to accelerate economic growth.

The International Science Business Belt is one of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s major campaign promises, and the original intention is to boost economic development by attracting and nurturing high-tech companies. By developing basic sciences, the project hopes to come up with original technology for a new growth engine.

The rare isotope accelerator, to be installed in the International Science Business Belt, is a necessary facility to investigate the secrets of the creation of the universe. It will also be an essential tool in developing environmentally friendly nuclear energy, new material such as bulletproof paper and a method to prevent self-duplicating cancer cells.

But the North’s provocations shift attention to the use of the rare isotope accelerator for national security. One of the major motivations for investing in an accelerator is for national security in the U.S. as well. According to “Accelerators for America’s Future,” published by the U.S. Department of Energy in June, national security is one of the top five applicable fields for accelerators, along with energy and environment, medicine, industry and discovery science.

In South Korea, in order to launch the International Science Business Belt, which is a must both in terms of the economy and national security, the “special law on the creation of and assistance for the international business belt” - which had been presented to the National Assembly in February 2009 - has to be passed.

The assembly is likely to pass the bill, considering a series of comments from politicians. President Lee urged the National Assembly to immediately consider the pending legislation on the International Science Business Belt during an administrative policy speech read by Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik on Nov. 25.

At a National Assembly committee meeting on Nov. 24, Representative Lee Sang-min of the Liberty Forward Party asked the prime minister whether President Lee intends to keep his campaign promise to build a science business belt in the Chungcheong region. Kim responded that the project was meant to be implemented.

However, factional and regional interests are coming into play over passage of the special law.

On Nov. 27, Representative Kang Seung-kyu of the Grand National Party said that 10,000 scientists and engineers signed a petition urging passage of the special law. But as Kang said, science is not a political issue.

The latest security threat has pushed science further into the arena of bipartisan national security. The ruling and opposition lawmakers must show bipartisan support for the special law.

*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Kim Whan-yung
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