Peace for our time
Such ambience is created by the liberal president and ruling party and played up by some media and intelligence groups. Some even float the idea of suspending the joint military exercises with the United States.
North Korea’s state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, scoffed at Seoul’s warning in a July 4 editorial following its test launch of a functional intercontinental ballistic missile: “Talking tough about military action when it does not have a single weapon they claim their own is ridiculous.”
North Korea called the South foolish to think Pyongyang will “abandon self-defense deterrence and [nuclear] weapons of justice” and told Seoul to make its stance clear whether it wants “dialogue or confrontation.” North Koreans therefore seem to view the South Korean government’s proposal for dialogue and restraint as cowardly, pretentious and evasive.
Recall the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signing off on the Munich Pact, a settlement reached with Germany’s Adolf Hitler by handing over portions of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This has been often cited as a cautionary tale of a naïve leader believing negotiation could stop confrontation. Chamberlain declared he had secured “peace for our time.” But he was so wrong that the expression itself is now a common way of saying no real peace at all. Good intentions alone cannot ensure peace.
We can hardly compare our situation to the British one of 70 years ago. But there are ample examples in history that war is not stopped by words, but by force and will. President Moon Jae-in confidently assured us in a press conference marking his 100th day in office that “there will never be another war in the Korean Peninsula.”
He assured us that no others will be able to take military actions on the Korean Peninsula without prior consent from South Korea. He sounded resolute in his promise to safeguard the nation and people from the dangers of war. But he did not explain what he means or how his government can back up his strong words.
The same declaration, “there will never be another war,” was made by former President Kim Dae-jung after the landmark summit talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il in June 2000. Kim and Chamberlain had summit talks and joint statements. Their euphoria was understandable, as they had brought home promises from war-threatening leaders. But summit talks and treaties had not prevented a war in Europe or nuclear weaponization in North Korea.
Moon’s confidence is more questionable and dangerous because he has no assurance from Pyongyang. It would have been more assuring if Moon had vowed to protect South Korea’s freedom, justice and democracy and not to tolerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, no matter what.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 21, Page 30
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.