End doesn’t justify the meansThe controversy over the state intelligence agency’s alleged interference in the 2012 presidential campaign is coming to a boiling point. The matter became too complicated and developed into a political free-for-all after the National Intelligence Service declassified a copy of the transcript of a closed-door conversation between former leaders Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea and Kim Jong-il of North Korea at a summit in Pyongyang in 2007 in which Roh allegedly offered concessions on the sea border in the Yellow Sea.
Then the original transcript of the meeting disappeared in an unexplained way from the national archives, triggering the first-ever legislative investigation into the spy agency and street protests by civilian groups and opposition parties. If the president admitted that the spy agency overstretched its jurisdiction during the campaign and promised it would never happen again thanks to reforms at an early stage, the issue could have easily been resolved without wasting all of this energy on an endless blame game.
The essence of the controversy is simple. The top agency in charge of national security illegally meddled in domestic politics under the order of its chief and linked up with the police to cover up its actions. That would be a serious crime undermining the foundation of the nation’s democracy and constitutional order. In a democratic state, the government and leader become legitimate only through legal electoral procedures. Procedural legitimacy is central to democracy.
If a top intelligence agency in an advanced democratic society illegally interfered in a presidential election and colluded with the police to cover up its actions, and also slipped classified information to a candidate of a particular camp to help his or her campaign, the constitutional and legal procedures of electing the leader could be questioned. That could lead to an impeachment motion and constitutional court review of the election results.
But in reality, procedural legitimacy and constitutional security must be taken very seriously. A constitutional review of election procedures is not a simple matter. And that is why a political approach to the issue - through an apology, punishment, promises of neutrality and reforms - is a more practical route to a resolution.
Korean conservatives often neglect democratic and legal procedures. Key state organizations that should be kept neutral are often exploited for political purposes. Law enforcement and intelligence officers had deep involvement in elections before the country was democratized. The organized police rigging of the March 15, 1960, election led to the April uprising against President Syngman Rhee. There was rampant collaboration among the government, ruling party, intelligence agency, military and police during our military regimes. But even after democracy was established, major scandals suggested that illegal involvement of state agencies in elections to help a ruling government clinging to power has not been done away with.
During the presidential campaign in 1992, heads of state organizations in Busan - the mayor, prosecutors, police, intelligence agents, military and the education office - had a meeting at a blowfish restaurant to discuss how they could help the conservative candidate win. All of the top officials from security to education, which should have been strictly neutral, got involved in the campaign, albeit secretly. In 1997, the National Tax Service joined an organized campaign to raise funds for the conservative presidential candidate.
The problem with the NIS scandal is that a state organization illegally interfered with a procedure to elect a democratic government and therefore violated civilian rights and the constitutional process. The NIS chief placed more importance on protecting the interests of his organization than national interests and ended up disclosing classified materials - the transcript of a summit between North and South Korea no less - to draw attention away from his agency’s follies.
The media got entirely engrossed with the controversial comments President Roh made during his summit with the North Korean leader about the Northern Limit Line. The liberals made a bad choice on that score. In disputes over territory, defense and national sovereignty, the liberals can hardly beat conservatives.
Our society has to seek a solution for the disputed sea border. The NLL needs to be accurately defined based on a rational consensus of the people, including compromise between conservatives and liberals. The government will have to study the background, international legal grounds and the factual evidences about the NLL in order to settle doubts and questions about the de facto sea border. The government, military, think tanks and scholars should jointly launch an investigation in order to wring out the accurate facts about the NLL. The U.S. government and military, who were the first to draw the line, should be asked for help in digging up materials and historical documents.
Niccolo Machiavelli used to say if he was to choose between a just but chaotic society and a society with less justice and more order, he would choose the latter. He was defending politics that values the ends over the means, reality more than morality. But in a democracy, we pursue an orderly and a just society. The rows about the intelligence agency and NLL underscore that just procedures are a precondition to justice and order.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor at Yonsei University and visiting professor of the Free University of Berlin.
by Park Myung-rim