An overstepping of bounds

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An overstepping of bounds

Won Yoo-chul, the floor leader representing the 157 members of the ruling Saenuri Party, demanded the country consider arming itself with nuclear weapons in a speech at the National Assembly.

“We should think about conditional nuclear armament by offering to dismantle the weaponry as soon as North Korea gives up its nuclear program or the United States redeploys tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea,” he said.

The floor leader of the ruling party can influence the making of laws and policies. He or she must be careful in both words and actions.

Won, however, floated the idea even though neither the government nor the ruling party had formally discussed the sensitive issue. It has never been addressed in the legislature. Nuclear weapons have been unthinkable for South Korea ever since it joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1975 and jointly declared denuclearization with North Korea in 1992.

President Park Geun-hye also never considered the option, claiming that as soon as South Korea is armed with nuclear weapons, it loses the ability to demand North Korea cease its own cherished nuclear program. The call for our nuclear armament would also risk serious diplomatic and military fallout with the United States and sanctions from China, Japan and Russia.

We are all frustrated about being deceived and intimidated by Pyongyang’s nuclear development for nearly three decades. But it is wrong for a public official to suddenly propose nuclear armament in the legislature, where policies and laws are decided, without going through the formal procedures of reasoning and attempting to persuade the public.

We can only suspect that there is a political purpose behind it, as the April 13 general election is drawing nearer. If the ruling party is serious about the issue, it must discuss it first within the party and vote on it. Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung said that the call for nuclear armament is purely Won’s private opinion and is unrelated from the party.

But Won maintained that it was both his and the party’s belief. It is lamentable that the leadership of the ruling party can be incongruous on such a grave national security matter. The government and ruling party must straighten it out and speak their official position on the issue.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 17, Page 30

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