The paradox of Article 3Article 3 of our Constitution states, “The territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands.” While the Korean Peninsula is divided, the aim of the Constitution is “the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands.” Therefore, attacking Korean territory, both north and south of the 38th parallel, against Korea’s will, is a challenge to the territorial sovereignty of Korea.
Whether the United States makes a pre-emptive strike, China sends military over the Aprok River or Japan’s Self-Defense Forces land on the east coast of North Korea, any action made despite South Korea’s opposition is in denial of our Constitution. Article 3 could mean that in a critical situation on the Korean Peninsula, no country can exercise military power without South Korea agreeing to it.
Of course, North Korea in reality holds the northern part of the peninsula, and Article 3 is more of a future-oriented statement that does not reflect reality. Yet we need to keep Article 3 in mind as the primary party of concern on the Korean Peninsula is Korea, and our ultimate goal is the peaceful reunification of the peninsula as stated in the Constitution.
Donald Trump is beginning to talk of a pre-emptive strike, and it does not mean conventional attacks. It could be a strategic nuclear attack to disable nuclear weapons hidden in mountainous regions. Moreover, a pre-emptive strike could be a simultaneous operation on not just nuclear facilities and warheads in the North but also ballistic missiles, long-range artilleries, airfields and command systems to prevent North Korea from striking back.
Even if a pre-emptive strike successfully disables North Korea’s nuclear program, topples the regime and attains reunification without bloodshed, it may not be easy for Korea to embrace the North and its human and material devastation. No one can be sure that armed reunification will leave deep wounds between the two Koreas and leave the peninsula with terror in the future.
Of course, a pre-emptive strike is mentioned not because the Trump administration is hostile but because Pyongyang is testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and wants to use them to attack the United States. The Trump administration and North Korea experts agree that Pyongyang will soon be able to attack New York and Washington. It is the solemn reality that the North Korean nuclear threat has reached a critical point where the possibility of a pre-emptive attack is a way to pressure Pyongyang.
Nevertheless, Seoul needs to look at the reality in which pre-emptive strike is considered. We need to calmly review whether pre-emptive strike will help Korea’s future. Preparation for pre-emptive attack is most effective as leverage to pressure the North and move China.
But when it actually happens, it will bring catastrophe to the Korean Peninsula. Pressuring with a pre-emptive attack could be a tactic for denuclearization but never a strategy for peaceful reunification. While Washington may need to mention it as a pressuring tactic, it is uncouth of Korea as the primary party to follow through without much thought.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 30
*The author is the Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.