A new team
President Moon Jae-in reshuffled his diplomatic and security aides last week. He replaced his Blue House National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong with former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon, his Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul with Rep. Lee In-young, former floor leader of the ruling party, and his NIS chief with Park Ji-won, a former lawmaker who paved the way for a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and President Kim Dae-jung in 2000.
Moon’s shuffle was aimed at putting deadlocked inter-Korean relations back on track after North Korea demolished an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong last month. Given the tensions raised by Pyongyang, including a threat to take military action against South Korea, Moon’s action seems appropriate. And yet, we are still concerned about the North’s nuclear threats.
Moon puts top priority on improving inter-Korean ties in his remaining two years in office. Over the past three years, he had several summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and mediated the historic U.S.-North summits. However, no progress was made in the denuclearization of North Korea and inter-Korean relations.
North Korea puts all the blame on Moon. As seen in the past, denuclearization and improving inter-Korean relations are not easy. Pyongyang believes that if it gives up nuclear weapons, it cannot ensure its regime’s survival. That’s why negotiations to denuclearize North Korea failed in the past. Moreover, the North Korean economy has been suffering from international sanctions to the extent that Pyongyang citizens have trouble getting food.
The new security team must find realistic ways to address the North’s anxieties and the South’s security concerns instead of taking an emotional approach. We have high expectations for Moon’s nominations of Suh as National Security Advisor and Park as NIS chief. Suh has long dealt with North Korean affairs in the spy agency and Park often met with North Koreans to promote his boss’ Sunshine Policy. The new aides need to benchmark the CIA’s role in the denuclearization of Libya. Lee should find ways to promote inter-Korean cooperation while not violating UN sanctions on North Korea.
But national security comes first. With nuclear arms, North Korea can threaten us at any time. The new security team must design strategies to promote denuclearization and improve inter-Korean relations at the same time. As Sino-U.S. rivalry has reached the level of a new Cold War, South Korea could be headed for a cliff if it makes a mistake. We urge the government to wisely tend to denuclearization, inter-Korean ties and U.S.-China conflict in the remaining years of its term.