Politics must stop at the water’s edge

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Politics must stop at the water’s edge

Yeh Young-june

The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Politics stops at the water’s edge,” says one of the most famous quotes in the history of diplomacy. In 1948, Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, made the comment to support the Truman Doctrine, the foreign policy of the Democratic Party. He meant that a political fight between the two parties must not spread to the realm of foreign and national security affairs. With his cooperation, the Truman administration was able to push forward the Marshall Plan and establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The tradition of bipartisan cooperation for an important foreign policy in Congress was established through such experiences.

The national security situation of Korea today requires the philosophy of Vandenberg for political cooperation at times of crisis. Facing the unceasing North Korean missile threats, rivaling political parties must refrain from debating whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-un really has an intention to denuclearize or not. Given the surprising insensitivity to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use tactical nukes in the Ukraine war, they may have forgotten that Kim could follow Putin’s path.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping made public the option of using military force to annex Taiwan. And the threat is not someone else’s business. If China’s invasion of Taiwan actually happens, a significant portion of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea could be mobilized due to their principle of strategic flexibility. That could trigger a situation Kim has long hoped for.
Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung speaks at a meeting on security countermeasures in the National Assembly, October 11. In the meeting, Lee continued criticizing the recent South Korea-U.S.-Japan maritime drill in the East Sea to cope with North Korea’s nuclear provocations as a “pro-Japanese” move of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]

In 2022, the developments in South Korea teetering on the edge of a new Cold War is completely opposite of the U.S. Congress and administration in 1948 at the beginning of the Cold War. Instead of stopping their political battle, politicians are even drawing issues from outside the country to start new fights. A frequent issue, as always, is the policy toward Japan. As we experienced in the past, stirring up anti-Japan sentiment always gets involved in the internal battles.

Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Jae-myung condemned a South Korea-U.S.-Japan military exercise in the East Sea earlier this month as an “extreme pro-Japan national defense posture.” In fact, it was largely an anti-submarine drill to effectively counter North Korea’s growing military threat from its imminent development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. If its submarines armed with nuclear warheads move to the East Sea, that poses a threat we have never seen before. Our military must detect and track down the North’s submarines at all cost. As many people know, the Japan Self-Defense Forces has the world’s best ability to deal with such submarine attacks. What should we do? A Gallup Korea poll conducted from Oct. 10 to 13 showed that 49 percent of the people supported military cooperation with Japan while 44 percent said it is unnecessary. We must think deeply what this poll outcome means.

It is desirable to have a constructive discussion on the direction and methodology of foreign policy. But picking a political fight over a military drill directly linked to national security and public safety and weakening our defense must not be allowed. Lee’s qualification as a leader is questionable as he continues making controversial remarks that fall short of the common sense on security by being blinded by a narrow perspective of history. During the Moon Jae-in presidency, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan was on the brink of being thrown away. We cannot afford another such experience solely based on anti-Japanese sentiment.

To stop such wasteful in-house battles, President Yoon’s party — the People Power Party (PPP) — also must make efforts. Sen. Vandenberg made the decision on his own, because he was not bound by the Republican Party’s isolationist tradition. But President Harry Truman also made persistent efforts to persuade him. Counterattacking the DP’s move by criticizing its “extremely pro-North stance” is actually the easiest thing to do. But that does not help strengthen our national security.

Yoon, his government and party must put efforts to share their awareness of the grim situation by explaining it to leaders of the DP and offer information up to a certain level. The administrations of Roh Tae-woo and Kim Dae-jung offered enough explanations and sought cooperation before implementing important foreign and North Korea policies. The only exception was the Moon administration.
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