Internal unity is the priority“When I say I will stop a war at all costs, I face criticisms that it is against sanctions on North Korea and international cooperation to deter the North. But when a foreign leader says so, why does it become a great remark?” President Moon Jae-in recently asked. He was complaining about criticisms of his trying to initiate inter-Korean dialogue in order to fulfill the basic duty as the president — to prevent war and maintain peace.
He is right. If we have the ability, we must be in charge of our fate. But as long as the conservative opposition parties do not trust Moon’s government and the ideological split in the South continues, it won’t be easy for Seoul to take the driver’s seat for Korean Peninsula affairs. The United States, China and the North are looking down on us.
Internal conflict is the trigger for a war and the ruin of a country. Poland used to be a strong power in Europe until the 16th century. But its territory was divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria over three times and eventually disappeared from the map for 123 years. The problem was internal discord. While the conservatives brought in the Russian military to quiet internal resistance, Prussia sent the military and surrounded the legislature. It was eerily similar to the humiliating history of the late Joseon dynasty, which became a colony of Japan after the Sino-Japanese War. We must never repeat this.
The Moon administration needs to study the appointments of past liberal governments. President Kim Dae-jung appointed Kang In-duk, a conservative and a former head of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, as his first unification minister. From his early days in office, Kang boldly pushed an engagement policy by offering rice aid, arranging Mt. Kumgang tours and holding high-level inter-Korean talks to open a path for the historic inter-Korean summit. President Kim reportedly shed tears when he excluded his lifetime political partners from top posts. But without such conservative officials as Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil, Chief of Staff Kim Joong-kwon and National Intelligence Service chief Lee Jong-chan, the soft landing of a liberal president would not have been possible.
President Roh Moo-hyun was attacked as being an anti-America leader, and he appointed Han Sung-joo, former foreign minister from the Kim Young-sam administration and a U.S. expert, as his first ambassador to the United States. Whenever Roh was attacked in Washington for being anti-America, Han persuaded U.S. leaders that it was actually easier for the Roh administration to push forward a cooperative policy with Washington because his political background was not pro-American. Appointing Han to the post also helped calm conservative critics at home. However, the Moon administration’s foreign affairs and national security officials do not seem to have the exceptionality and pragmatism to be considerate of the opposition parties and the conservatives.
The Korean Peninsula’s situation is so grave that the president had to stress that he will stop a war at all costs. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that we did not respond more actively to the changed landscape when the signal for the end of the Cold War was made with German unification in 1989. South Korea established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1990 and with China in 1992. As Pyongyang worried about its isolation at the time, we should have helped it form diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan to open up the country and reform it. If we had done so, North Korea would have not made the drastic move of developing nuclear weapons.
At the time, South Korea ended the annual Team Spirit joint military drill with the United States — which involved 200,000 forces from both sides — in return for the North’s acceptance of nuclear inspections. Seoul also used diplomacy to sign the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement and the joint declaration of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The North, in despair, took a path similar to that of Germany after World War I. After the victors forced Germany to pay excessively high reparations in order to prevent its recovery, Hitler provoked the German people and started World War II.
Although North Korea is making threats of a war, its actual situation is quite different. The unofficial incomes North Korean people earn from markets comprise about 70 percent of their total incomes. Their reliance on trade is over 50 percent. In 2004, each farm household was allowed to work 100 square meters (1076 square feet) of land, but the size expanded to 3,300 square meters now. State control appears to be weaker than market power.
Former Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan focused on the process of Libya’s decision to abandon nuclear development in his book. Because Libya was largely dependent on the outside world for its oil exports, Muammar Gaddafi concluded that the cost of sanctions was larger than the gains from nuclear development. He made the decision in 2003. Yoon said we can try a Libyan method by making the North deeply involved in the outside world and the network of mutual economic dependence so that at some point, it has to respect international society’s regulations.
The top priority is that we fight North Korea’s nuclear threats with strong sanctions in alliance with the United States and China. Of course, a strong security posture is a must. We must make the North join negotiations. And then we should have steady talks and exchanges to make the North believe that dismantlement of its nuclear weapons helps its interest and pushes forward the integration of the two Korea’s markets. The existing U.S. approach of denuclearization has its limit. We need to find a creative way to include the North in the global economic system. That is true engagement.
This new and creative way is only possible when we persuade the conservatives at home and convince Washington and Beijing. That is why Moon needs to hire people like Kang In-duk and Han Sung-joo. For us to lead the initiative to stop a war and bring peace, internal unity is a must. To this end, the president must change.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 35
*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.