Identifying our enemyIn Wednesday’s televised debate among five presidential candidates, the question of whether North Korea is our main enemy cropped up. In the second TV debate organized by KBS, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, the frontrunner of the pack, avoided answering the question by saying such a definition is not the role of the president. Moon’s fuzzy response has triggered questions and criticism that he has unreliable views on our national security and that he lacks the qualifications for being president.
As Moon said, our National Defense White Paper has not described North Korea as South Korea’s “primary enemy state” since 2004, when a liberal administration decided to stop using that phrase amid a rapprochement with North Korea. Since 2010, however, the paper singled out the North Korean regime as our “primary national security threat” because it poses a serious threat to our security through military provocations, including its development and reinforcement of weapons of mass destruction, the attack on our naval warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. At the same time, the paper stipulates that our armed forces must prepare for ongoing military threats from the North first and foremost. In other words, North Korea remains our primary enemy.
Moreover, the Kim Jong-un regime’s nuclear and missile developments pose an international threat way beyond the Korean Peninsula. It will soon be able to attack even the U.S. mainland with long-range ballistic missiles. In an interview with a foreign media outlet in Pyongyang, Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol used such belligerent rhetoric as “a preemptive nuclear attack,” “an all-out war” or “much more nuclear tests.”
Why was Moon so opaque on the concept of our main enemy? We can get a clue from his claim that we need an inter-Korean summit in the future. It is true that North Korea is both our immediate threat and negotiation partner.
A big problem occurs when a candidate refuses to give a clear answer to the definition of our main enemy. If Moon continues to turn a blind eye as elected commander-in-chief, it could fatally affect the preparedness of our military.
With four more debates before the election, our presidential candidates must present realistic solutions to the North Korean problem rather than resorting to a sentimental approach toward Pyongyang or pummeling their rivals for their ideological inclinations.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 21, Page 34