Great crises require great care

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Great crises require great care

The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system is a decision that will have a tremendous impact on the destiny of the Korean Peninsula. A decision about security by a president elected by the people should be respected. While maintaining a solid Korea-U.S. alliance, Korea needs to prepare a multi-tiered defense system against North Korea’s nuclear threat and make sure at the same time that the friendly relationship with China is unharmed. That is the only way for Korea to survive. But some are enraged at the decision and wondering what Korea’s real intention is. The government should ask itself if it has truly done its best.
On the day the Korean and U.S. authorities announced the Thaad deployment, July 8, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se went to a department store in Gangnam to have a suit mended. As North Korea launched submarine-based and Scud missiles — and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement — Yoon was tending to the most domestic of chores. This is not a normal behavior coming from the usually meticulous minister. He may have wanted to make a silent protest against the decision-making process in the Park Geun-hye administration.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn became the victim of outbursts by angry farmers in Seongju, where the Thaad system will be deployed.

The incident exemplified the absence of rule of law when the government loses public trust. The farmers’ actions were clearly wrong. But if the government had provided sufficient information in advance and went through the process of public consultation, the good farmers wouldn’t have resorted to violence. It is shocking that the self-proclaimed Park loyalists from Daegu and North Gyeongsang — which is supposed to be the stronghold of the president — betrayed the president by arranging the Thaad deployment to protect their own interests.

If a lack of communication caused such schisms within the ruling camp, it is farfetched to believe we can persuade China and Russia about anything to do with the deployment.

The Korean peninsula situation and the Thaad deployment in 2016 is reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis a half century ago, as they are both fights for hegemony among powerful countries. The Cuban missile crisis was far more intense, as a third world war was looming. U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Union First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev represented each side. That was a game of chicken. But the two ended up choosing compromise and peace, and humanity was saved on the verge of Armageddon.

The figure who brought calm to the touch-and-go crisis was American poet Robert Frost. The writer of “The Road Not Taken” visited the Soviet Union on September 7, 1962 as Kennedy’s special envoy. The idea was conceived by Stewart Udall, Frost’s friend and secretary of the interior in the Kennedy administration. Udall invited Frost to Kennedy’s inauguration to recite “The Gift Outright.” He accompanied Frost on his “last adventure.”

When the 88-year-old poet arrived in Moscow, he was fatigued and had a fever. Khrushchev sent his personal physician and went to Frost’s room to have an hour-and-half long conversation. Frost insisted that the United States and the Soviet Union were “laid out for rivalry in sports, science, art and democracy.

“A great nation makes great poetry, and great poetry makes a great nation,” Frost said.

Khrushchev added that the two countries should be rivals in “peaceful economic competition.” The Soviet leader said, “You have the soul of a poet!” Frost presented a book of his poems inscribed, “To Premier Khrushchev, from his rival in friendship, Robert Frost.”

Khrushchev spoke with Udall separately and conveyed a secret message to Kennedy that the tension in Berlin would not escalate until the midterm U.S. election in November was over. He also sent Georgian wines to the President and said, “You tell the president I want him to be my guest right here soon — and I want him to bring Mrs. Kennedy and the little girl, too.” Later that year, Kennedy officially lifted the U.S. naval quarantine of Cuba, and Frost sent a wire to Stewart Udall, which read, “You and I saw that Khrushchev was tipping westward with all his heart. His be some of the praise.” When Robert Frost passed away on January 30, 1963, “The tributes of Kennedy and Khrushchev dominated the news stories as final eulogies were pronounced,” Udall wrote.

54 years ago, Kennedy worked hard to get through his biggest crisis. Is the Korean government doing its best to control its crisis in 2016?

Lack of communication and unilateralism have failed to spark the energy necessary to talk persuasively to the outside world. After the government kept claiming there had been no discussion about Thaad with Washington or formal requests from the United States, China and Russia were understandably jarred when the Thaad deployment was announced so suddenly. Nine days before the announcement, Prime Minister Hwang met with President Xi Jinping in China, but he missed the chance to tip off Beijing. The foreign minister went to a department store to fix his suit. A heavyweight of the ruling party even signed a petition criticizing the government. Unlike Robert Frost’s final effort to prevent the annihilation of humanity, the Park government’s handling of the crisis is irresponsible and careless.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 20, Page 31
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