Moon’s dangerous perspectiveNorth Korea’s nuclear weapons target South Korea, but few of President Moon Jae-in’s aides seem to agree. They are mostly from liberal groups or were involved in inter-Korean summits. They are vehemently against the idea of rearming South Korea with tactical nuclear weapons to ratchet up deterrence capabilities against North Korea’s alarming nuclear threat. They simply do not believe North Korea would use nuclear weapons to attack or threaten South Korea.
These aides believe that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are aimed at the United States. They think North Korea has developed nuclear weapons to defend the regime from the United States and does not have any plan to use them against South Korea. They are appalled by my argument that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a means to cut off U.S. reinforcements in times of crisis and facilitate an invasion or occupation of South Korea.
It is no wonder that the president and Democratic Party act as onlookers and hardly show any kind of urgency to defend the country from the imminent danger of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. They are optimistic about a dramatic peaceful settlement in the face of a nuclear crisis through some kind of deal between Pyongyang and Washington by year’s end. They do not mind if Seoul is left out as long as a war can be avoided. They predict Washington will trade an end to North Korea’s weapons program for the normalization of diplomatic ties.
At the end of the day, these complacent aides are willing to settle for a moratorium on North Korea’s weapons program instead of the full dismantlement of weapons. They talk as if the affair is that of another country, as if a nuclear freeze would be the end of the negotiations. But we will have to live with the status quo of a constant nuclear threat. Moreover, Seoul cannot argue against a settlement over a nuclear freeze because it would be excluded in the negotiating process between Pyongyang and Washington.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is different from his father. He finished the weapons program his father started. Suspension of a program under development would probably work, but a moratorium on a finished program is meaningless. The freeze, in other words, is recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. The United States would be content with removing the danger of nuclear-tipped missiles flying toward its mainland. It can condone the threat residing in Northeast Asia.
There is a serious gap between the ruling party and the people in their sense of awareness of the gravity of the situation. Among the ruling party, we cannot find any will or strategy to defend the nation from the North Korean threat. They do not see the need since they do not find the nuclear threat that menacing. They are more fretful about the United States’ aggressive response to North Korea.
A Gallup Korea poll of Democratic Party supporters showed that more than 50 percent of them believe the country should aim for nuclear deterrence. The presidential office and ruling party’s relaxed attitudes toward the nuclear threat — and their harsher reaction to Washington’s approach — will cause a serious rift in a nation where a majority of people are fearful of North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Things could work out as the ruling forces hope. But a deal between Pyongyang and Washington has no place at the table for Seoul. The reconciliatory gestures and offers of dialogue have been mocked by North Korea’s Kim, and the rapprochement strategy has received sneers from U.S. President Donald Trump. Without any stake or contribution in the deal, South Korea will end up as the odd one out. It must do all it can to get into talks from the beginning to reflect our interests and voices on the fate of the peninsula.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 11, Page 34
*The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.