We must reinforce our fortressThe scuffle with residents of Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, who vehemently oppose the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Defense (Thaad) in their neighborhood, may ease as defense authorities are considering whether to take the anti-missile battery to a nearby golf club. The U.S. missile system is being brought in amid escalating provocations by North Korea. The United States has decided to deploy the system to protect its forces in South Korea and the people here.
The primary purpose of the Thaad system, however, became eclipsed by a contest of pride between Washington and Beijing due to opposition to the deployment in the region by China. South Korea, which falls under direct threat from North Korea, was placed in an awkward position between the United States and China.
The protest by Seongju residents is partially understandable despite the importance of the system in terms of national security. But some of the intelligentsia and former ministers have publicly expressed their opposition to it on Chinese media outlets.
In a free democracy, people can differ in belief and action based on their individualistic concept and commitment to the nation. But patriotism shines most when people become united in their resources to fight a common threat.
Americans combated their worst nightmare after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by becoming one and transcending ideological and political differences in the face of a national crisis.
Before we fight, we must build and reinforce our fortress first. We need to coolly ruminate over the causes of the conflict involving the Thaad deployment in order to learn to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
The government, first of all, was poorly prepared. Residential opposition (Nimby, or not in my back yard) or solicitation (Pimby, or please in my back yard) relies upon self-serving interests. This is true anywhere in the world.
The government has intensified the controversy by keeping politicians, residents and local governments in the dark and by failing to make persuasive endeavors through hearings and public discussions before announcing its plan.
Also, before its sudden announcement, polls showed that the majority of the people had favored Thaad deployment. The mishap clearly stemmed from a lack of awareness regarding the importance of public opinion and the capacity of policymakers to deal with conflict.
Such errors are caused by an excessive concentration of power in office of the president. In the current presidential system, governance hinges entirely on decision-making by a single leader.
This is why the entire government and the ruling party battle it out in a loyalty contest and run state affairs in the service of the president rather than in the service of the people. And so it goes, from the day a president is sworn in to the day he or she steps down.
Such a system is a major stumbling block to healthy governance. The country therefore should embark on public discussions to reach a consensus for constitutional reform in order to revise the single five-year presidential system so that power can be balanced between the chief of the state and the deputy or prime minister.
The Thaad fiasco underscores the fact that the government lacks a formal cooperative and coordinative channel with other government offices. For example, when the defense minister was announcing the decision to deploy Thaad, the foreign minister reportedly had been in a department store. This suggests that some of the key members for policy decisions could be excluded because there is no formal procedure or channel. The government should consider institutionalizing a red team to challenge the government in its decisions and aid arbitration.
American political scientist David Easton defined politics as “the authoritative allocation of values for a society.” When the Thaad system is deemed a national value, the decision of its deployment would be an “authoritative allocation.” Political actions inevitably would have to take account of various domestic and external factors, but they must nevertheless consider national security above all else. The rivaling political parties must address national interests first and foremost, regardless of party interests or ideologies.
The Roman Empire crumbled because the elites were more engrossed with their own selfish interests than those of the community. The ancient Chinese sage Mencius said, “wars are won not by advantages of landscape and climate, but by the unity of the people.”
We must contemplate these wise words.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 25, Page 29
*The author is the fellow researcher of the Korea Institute for Crisis Management Analysis.