Diverting the North’s nuclear aims

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Diverting the North’s nuclear aims

Whenever an incident takes place between the two Koreas, Korea experts in China are frequently quoted by South Korean media. Because they often receive assistance from South Korean think tanks and companies, they seem to understand how they should behave. They all make comments that please the South - and their comments are often different from what they say in China.

“South Korea tried to resolve the inter-Korean issue through China,” said a Chinese official while dining with me at a Hong Kong restaurant specializing in Teochew cuisine in the summer of 1990. “China, however, has never intervened in another country’s affairs.”

And a few days ago, someone else told me the same thing.

In 1960, France succeeded in its first nuclear test and the United States dismissed the significance of it, calling its effectiveness as nothing more than a bee sting. Eight months ago, North Korea successfully conducted its third nuclear test, and the Pentagon called it a “serious threat to the United States of America.” It seemed that the North actually owns weaponized nuclear bombs capable of attacking the U.S. mainland.

And we may soon hear news about the North’s fourth nuclear test. The time has come for South Korea to deal with a nuclear-armed North. Experts say three nuclear tests are enough to allow a country to own nuclear weapons when it has missile capabilities. It is a different matter from miniaturization of nuclear bombs.

Avoiding reality is a kind of mental disease. When the condition is mild, we call it a cognitive disorder and when the condition is severe, we call it schizophrenia. Whether we like it or not, we must accept the reality that the North is a nuclear-armed country. Currently, the general public as well as South Korean leaders are suffering from mental diseases.

Whenever grave incidents take place - like the Cheonan sinking, Yeonpyeong Island shelling and nuclear tests by the North - the government disappointed the public.

It merely repeated the same remarks and counteractions: its officials went to the United States and China for consultations, had telephone conversations with their counterparts in Washington and Beijing for close cooperation, and decided to slap additional sanctions on the North. The South clearly lacked a strategy because it had been ignoring reality.

The North is not a normal state. It’s like a 13-year-old boy who grew up in fear of being beaten up by global superpowers while watching others get pummelled. It actually would be strange for the North to act normal.

And the North’s internal system naturally reflects its sense of crisis. When the security climate worsened, the system became reinforced, and when the situation got better, it only acted normally. During the U.S.-China detente in 1972, the North improved its exchanges with Western countries. At the time of the Inter-Korean Summit in 2000, when its relationship with the United States improved, it presented some reasonable measures, including “new thinking” and the “July 1 economic reform.” Although it’s difficult and unappealing to make an effort to understand the North, sometimes we need to put ourselves in the North’s shoes.

The North is obsessed with nuclear weapons.

“We need the atom bomb. If our nation does not want to be intimidated, we have to have this thing,” Mao Zedong had said, and the North trusted it at all costs.

It focused all its power on developing nuclear weapons.

Taking into account its decades of living in fear, the North’s obsession is somewhat understandable since there has been no war between nuclear-armed countries since World War II. Only when the North feels that the security climate has improved, its internal system will change and its nuclear obsession will be weakened. In other words, the North will not give up its nuclear programs without feeling that the security situation is better.

A fundamental change in the situation of the Korean Peninsula is necessary for normalizing the North. If the North can fixate on other things, including the economy, it will gradually give up its nuclear obsession and eventually denuclearize. Therefore, it is our job to see to it that the North’s nuclear obsession comes to an end and is diverted to something else.

“A noble man finds fault in himself, a small man finds fault in others,” Confucius said.

We must abandon this attitude of dependence on our neighbors to resolve nuclear issues. The North-U.S. talks, the relationship between the North and China, and the six-party talks are all meaningless unless we change. We must seriously think about what we can do in our reality. It may sound simple, but it’s not.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor at Sungkonghoe University.

by Kim Myung-ho
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