At a crossroads of war and peace
The Korean people are once again at the crossroads of war and peace. The emergency situation on the peninsula, ignited by North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and long-range missile launch on Feb. 7, prompted the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and a package of fresh UN sanctions.
We are left faced with a crisis that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described as “filled with the smell of gunpowder.”
This situation was triggered by North Korea’s reasoning that the “time of decision” must not be delayed any longer. But it may have been the right timing, as South Korea and other related powers could not continue to neglect the nuclear issue. After the Cold War, North Korea isolated itself from the international community, and by arming itself with nuclear weapons, it has continued to escalate tensions.
North Korea left the Communist bloc, which eventually joined the tide of globalization, and instead adhered to its own way. In the 21st century, it stuck with the utterly exceptional system - and strategy - of fearing peace more than war.
The latest UN sanctions demonstrate how the United States, China, Russia, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are all pursuing a new framework to tame North Korea.
From the 19th century through the independence movement, our visionaries and pioneers have taught us that we have to pursue both self-reliance and peace in order to maintain independence and prosperity.
Korea is sandwiched between superpowers so geopolitically it must maintain peace and balance with these countries, meaning that safety and independence are prerequisites. State administration based on this fundamental understanding is the shortcut to pursuing our principles of self-reliance and a strategy for peace.
If we forget this lesson and are swept up by childish heroism, the stability of our people and state system may be jeopardized all at once.
North Korea does not want to be limited by the international systems or standards set by major nations and aims to become a nuclear power in order to become an equal to the United States and other permanent members on the UN Security Council. Ultimately, it wants to become one of the G-3 together with America and China in the Asia-Pacific region, which is more reckless than bold.
First, it is the shared position of the international community that the balance of fear among nuclear powers does not apply to the Korean Peninsula, while it is the grounds for the North’s ambition to be on par with the United States and China in the region.
In that case, South Korea will be the direct target of the North’s nuclear threat, and Japan is the next target. A nuclear-armed North Korea would only encourage Seoul and Tokyo to build nuclear weapons to keep a balance of fear.
China undeniably has a firm stance on such a possibility. Beijing’s sensitive reaction to the possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in South Korea proves it.
Yet, North Korea adheres to the absurd strategy of becoming a world power through nuclear armament and does not understand the inter-Korean situation in the confrontational structure of a divided peninsula. Now that UN sanctions are being implemented, North Korea continues to make provocative remarks, mentioning the miniaturization of nuclear warheads and their striking range that could reach Seoul, Washington and New York.
As Pyongyang’s continued risky behavior can substantially escalate the possibility of military sanctions on top of ongoing economic sanctions, we shouldn’t take the warning of being at a crossroads of war and peace lightly. Therefore, North Korea must make a drastic change and instead work toward co-existence and peaceful reunification if it wants a normal relationship with the international community.
But despite escalated tensions, we can’t give up hope that one day North Korea may make the brave decision to have peace on the peninsula, because a war using nuclear weapons threatens the very existence of the Korean people.
Today, most South Koreans are willing to endure a peaceful division rather than a unification by war. While the July 4 Joint Declaration, the Inter-Korea Basic Agreement and the Denuclearization Joint Declaration are no longer effective, we still have hope and justifications.
Similarly, many South Koreans also hope that Japan keeps its pacifist constitution to contribute to peace in Asia. How can we give up our vision for peace and reunification? In my Feb. 1 column on this topic, I prayed that the recent nuclear test would be a turning point for peace. I still believe in the Korean people’s desire for peace and reasonable and wise judgment.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 14, Page 35
The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo
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