The Thaad dilemma
Amid rivalry and security threats posed by North Korea, Koreans as a group, as a people, experienced a kind of compromised liberty and partial human rights before democratization took place.
Due to these memories and emotions, we often find the classic dilemma of democracy and security to be an uncomfortable one.
Even the Greek historian Thucydides, who wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, agonized over the harmony of democracy ruled by the citizens and the trappings of security policy, which require quick decision-making.
But the complicated debates and controversies that have evolved over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system over the last few weeks do not allow Koreans to neglect the Gordian knot of democracy, national security and factional politics any more.
First of all, some people prioritize democracy. They say that there was not an appropriate and open discussion in the National Assembly or with local residents before the decision on the Thaad deployment was made.
They champion the Athenian democracy where key elements of security policy had to be decided democratically. They argue that transparent and open decisions bring unity, which is the foundation of security.
However, advocates of security claim that Thaad is crucial for defending Korea from the North’s missiles and nuclear threats. They feel that considering the complicated international politics involving the United States, China, Japan and Russia, it is necessary to make a quick and efficient decision on the matter.
This argument is based on the tacit understanding that a democracy based on transparency cannot be prioritized over military issues like Thaad.
In the face of the classic dilemma between democracy and security, politicians have revealed their shallowness. Ruling and opposition parties perceive the crisis as leverage for a factional fight rather than seeking a solution.
The Minjoo Party criticizes the government for bringing chaos to the Thaad site decision, but it is taking its time to decide whether it supports or opposes the deployment itself. As always, the ruling Saenuri Party is caught between the angry sentiment of Seongju residents and President Park’s emphasis on unity against a possible North Korean threat.
When the Thaad controversy started, Ahn Cheol-soo hastily proposed a national referendum, but public response was lukewarm. Citizens may have wanted a more serious handling of the controversial case and hoped politicians would prepare the ground for compromise.
In other words, the ruling and opposition politicians chose a path to reduce their roles rather than playing the role of mediator between the champions of democracy, who demand transparency, and the supporters of a government that emphasizes security and quick decisions.
When the power games among superpowers escalate and the North threat intensifies, another Thaad crisis will undermine Korea’s democracy and security. When pressures from outside grow, can Korea find a formula to resolve the dilemma between democracy and security?
I believe that a grand compromise is desperately needed now.
The first step in this grand compromise is to set the “domain of joint governance” for ruling and opposition politicians in order to plan security policies together and share accountabilities.
Regardless of party affiliation, vital security issues should be in the “domain of joint governance.” Different administrations should pursue consistent security interests. The highest priority of the Korea-U.S. alliance should fall into this domain.
Other security issues not included in the domain of joint governance should be left to the domain of debate, where politicians and citizens may discuss issues. This distinction would allow us to pursue a consistent security policy while promoting discussion in democracy.
It does not take advanced knowledge or expertise to agree on the domain of joint governance in security. Anyone who has seriously contemplated peace can determine what constitutes a vital issue based on experience, emotions and sentiment.
Ruling and opposition politicians can define the vital security interests in the domain of joint governance through persistent dialogue and with common sense.
When we break out of closed factionalism and move forward with common sense, we can hope to resolve the dilemma of democracy and security.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 23, Page 31
*The author is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University.