Actions speak louder than wordsForeign affairs and defense strategy ministers from Seoul and Washington stood side-by-side at the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom on July 21, about four months after a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean naval ship.
After the unprecedented meeting, the four officials held a symbolic press conference in which they urged Pyongyang to cease its provocative acts against South Korea and warned of serious consequences for any further reckless actions.
But North Korea struck back by flaunting a new uranium enrichment plant that could increase its nuclear arsenal. Then it fired artillery shells into South Korean civilian territory.
Where did all of that strong rhetoric from the top foreign and defense officials go? What actions did they take to back their resolve? Resolutions without follow-up and warnings that fall flat are not worth much.
After their “landmark” meeting in Washington, the foreign ministers of South Korea, the United States and Japan condemned North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island and flatly rejected China’s proposal for a high-level six-party meeting. It is meaningful that South Korea and the U.S. displayed a strong alliance in the wake of the heaviest post-war attack in our history.
But they must answer several questions if they don’t want their words to end up as empty promises. They must come up with concrete measures to preempt further provocations. Do they have the leverage to persuade Beijing to contain Pyongyang? Do they have an alternative plan if their approach to North Korea based on “strategic patience” fails? If they can’t provide answers to these questions, they are crying wolf again and in fact offering North Korea another motive for future provocations.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is vowing to retaliate if North Korea strikes again. He has warned that he will move the military without a thorough consultation with the U.S., which still holds wartime operational control of South Korean forces. Both Washington and Tokyo officials are said to have told their counterparts in Seoul that they will understand if South Korea mounts an aggressive military response to future North Korean provocations. The scale and details of that response will be discussed in a high-level defense meeting between South Korea and the U.S. Defense leaders in South Korea and U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed ways to improve interoperability. We hope the meeting will show that actions speak louder than words.