Realign policy toward NorthAt Friday’s forum on the Korean Peninsula, a panelist proposed that the South Korean government policy making denuclearization of North Korea its top priority in inter-Korean relations should be reviewed. Given the North’s adherence to nuclear weapons despite Seoul’s proposal of an economic quid pro quo for denuclearization, Pyongyang has no intention of abandoning them. The panelist asserted that the matter should be dealt with over the long haul and not hamper resolution of other issues.
The North’s nuclear threat, our biggest security concern, must be addressed no matter what. But the international community, including the United States, has been approaching the issue with so-called “strategic patience.” Our government, too, has failed to come up with new strategies. With the North’s alarming nuclear buildup, as seen in the increase of nuclear weapons from three to five in 2001 to 10 to 30 in 2013, according to reports by Military Balance, Pyongyang also reactivated its five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon last year, which would allow the regime to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. The recalcitrant government stipulated its possession and use of nuclear weapons in the law following the proclamation of a two-track policy of pursuing economic development and nuclear arms at the same time.
Sanctions levied by individual countries and the UN Security Council have failed to induce any change from the North. Instead, they helped reinforce its nuclear stance. To find creative and realistic solutions, the global community needs to discuss the suspension of its nuclear development and disclosure of nuclear weapons from the beginning. Unless Pyongyang stops nuclear development, its status as a nuclear power will be consolidated.
The suspension and unveiling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons can pave the way for peace on the peninsula. The timing of the North’s complete denuclearization also needs to be realigned to the moment when a system for permanent peace and mutual prosperity has made substantive progress.
To resolve the nuclear conundrum, our government must take a leadership role rather than simply nodding to Washington’s “strategic patience.” With President Barack Obama’s term over in about two years and a midterm election in November, the possibility of Washington aggressively engaging in resolution is very low. Our government must take the initiative. At the same time, we must seek improved ties by easing our heavy-handedness on the issue. The government first needs to lift the May 24 sanctions it imposed after the Cheonan sinking in 2010.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 29, Page 30