Between war and peace

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Between war and peace



The Korean Peninsula and the entire northeast Asian region is swept up in war-like tensions, facing a crossroads between peace and full-fledged conflict. UN sanctions have done little to humble North Korea under its belligerent leader Kim Jong-un and its former socialist allies, China and Russia. Frustrated Washington under impatient leader Donald Trump has slapped unilateral sanctions on the recalcitrant regime and is constantly talking about a military option. A solo military operation by the United States can hardly be dismissed.

Through a show of nuclear and missile strength, Kim manifested an ambition to solve some longstanding aspirations — permanent insurance for the totalitarian regime and economic aid — on equal footing with Washington. While warning that there cannot be another war on the peninsula, South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed to solve the North Korea nuclear and missile problem through dialogue and compromise. But things are going entirely in the opposite direction.

And yet people in the South are stunningly calm. They seem to believe that war will never happen here. What scares the older generation is that the country was equally obtuse when North Korea invaded in 1950.

Liberals and conservatives are poles apart in their views on security. A country on the brink of a military conflict is usually divided into doves and hawks. But in South Korea, the division is based on their ideological differences on North Korea.

We must give up three misconceptions. One, that North Korea won’t attack us; two, that China will interfere to stop North Korea and make it give up its aggressive ambitions; three, the U.S. will no doubt come to South Korea’s rescue. Naïve complacency could bring about our doom.

A war must be avoided. But we can hardly expect from Trump and Kim the subtle and crafty statesmanship deployed by U.S. and Soviet leaders — John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev — to avoid a full-fledged conflict during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. This is why we must dread the possibility of war.

War and peace are two sides of a coin. Forces of alliances, a united people, farsightedness and boldness from leaders can prevent war and maintain peace. “Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, and peace will not be kept unless a large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe,” Winston Churchill said before the invasion of Germany.

Peace also cannot be ensured by words. In the Song dynasty (960-1279) of ancient China, the court was sharply divided between doves and hawks before the invasion by the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115-1234). The emperor of Song at the time chose to take the doves’ advice to make peace with the Jin in exchange for gold and treasures, which led to a peace agreement. But Jin did not keep its promise and attacked Song, which was eventually forced to flee to the south. Our president too is entirely surrounded by dovish aides.

We stand at a critical point with our security at risk. That calls upon us to place the country before our individual interests. The Constitution defends the basic civilian rights of every individual. Many young people in countries around the world have gone to battlefields to defend their countries and universal values and did not return home. Parents endured their losses with a belief in the honorable sacrifices of their children.

When a country is at risk, the nation becomes the highest value. That makes us think. How many young people in our country will be willing to stop what they are doing to respond to the nation’s call when a war erupts? It is not difficult to imagine how the pampered young — whose parents taught them to seek self-interest — and the soldiers used to comfortable conscription will react when war becomes a reality.

Korean politics are dominated by the progressive camp. But in the face of a war, the argument that the rights of each individual should come before the nation cannot stand. The president must declare to the people that the country’s viability is as valuable as individual rights and plead for their understanding and sacrifices.

President Moon Jae-in must establish quick and thorough contingency plans under all possible scenarios, including a military conflict. He must include both dovish and hawkish crew on his ship to navigate the perilous sea with balance. We must all ask ourselves whether we have the bold spirit of sacrifice to yield our selfish interests when it is pitted against national and communal interests.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 27, Page 28

*The author, a former minister of commerce, industry and energy, is chairman of the North East Asian Research Institute.

Chung Duck-koo
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