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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 51 (April 23, 2009)

All Headlines 11:18 April 23, 2009


S. Korea's Joining of PSI Is Not an Issue in Which N. Korea Can Meddle

By Kim Tae-woo, Vice President of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, Seoul, Korea

Although North Korea launched the Kwangmyongsong-2 on April 5 under the pretext of "space development," everybody knows it is only a "missile game" to oppress the United States by developing a long-range missile. Further, North Korea openly tried intimidation, saying, "If the U.S. or Japan tries to intercept our satellite, we will immediately counterattack with forceful military means." In addition, North Korea called the U.N. Security Council chairman's declaration denouncing the rocket launch an "unpardonable crime." Then, North Korea banished IAEA inspectors who have stayed in Yongbyon since 2007. The North also menaced South Korea, saying, "South Korea's affiliation with the PSI will be deemed a declaration of war."

Thus far, North Korea has dashed this way and that in international society while developing weapons of mass destruction. Finally, it intervened with South Korea's affiliation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which is presumptuous. In South Korean society, many people sympathize with the intimidation of North Korea, saying, "Affiliating in the PSI at this time will cause tension." However, thinking rather deeply, we can see that the issue of joining the PSI is not related to either denunciations between South and North or pros and cons for South Korea.

Performance of Obligations in International Society

Established under the initiative of the U.S. in 2003, the PSI is a kind of coalition of will by which member states, exercising their sovereignty, implement interdictions of vessels that transport problematic objects like missiles to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and related materials. In the six years since its founding, 94 states have joined the PSI, which means there is a large international circle formed to check and seize weapons and materials that may harm international peace and order. The PSI only intends to block problematic trade without targeting any specific state. Unless North Korea is involved in "problematic trade," it has no reason to pay attention to the PSI. The fact that North Korea has virtually become a target state of the PSI -- because it was determined to be a state that trades WMDs and exports terror -- is a problem that should be solved by North Korea. North Korea has no right to meddle in the issue of South Korea's affiliation with the PSI.

From South Korea's perspective, affiliation with the PSI is an obligation to international society. During the Korean War, South Korea was considerably aided by international society. Since then, it has grown to be a large economic state, with the 13th-largest GDP and 12th-largest trade volume in the world because of constant economic growth. Thus, sharing the effort and cost of international activities for peace is the international obligation of South Korea that cannot be delayed further. Moreover, a trading country like South Korea can expect economic prosperity only when safe trade is ensured by preventing proliferation of WMDs and terror. After all, the participation of South Korea in the PSI includes the aspect of fulfilling international obligations and pursuing diplomatic interests, its national position and economic prosperity. It is in the same context that South Korea sends peacekeeping forces to Lebanon and participates in defeating pirates by dispatching the battleship Munmudaewang to Somali seas. It is incomprehensible why North Korea meddles in this issue.

On this occasion, domestic opponents need to reflect on their assertions. They must know that the South Korean government considered joining the PSI before North Korea launched its rocket. They must ponder whether reducing the issue of joining the PSI into an issue of "confrontational policy against North Korea" and impeding the government by saying, "The affiliation in PSI will cause military collision" contributes to the national interest. Their assertions mean that any issue North Korea considers sensitive and delicate must be waived. In the existing situation in which North Korea intimidates South Korea one way or another, this logic of defeatism only instigates the provocation of North Korea against South Korea without contributing to the change of North Korea.

Everything Depends on the Behavior of North Korea

As a sovereign state, South Korea is entitled to take necessary action on any vessels that harm security within South Korean territorial waters. Such sovereign rights are not abolished if South Korea does not join the PSI. On the contrary, it would not be excessively misused in case of affiliation with the PSI.

Based on the agreement on inter-Korean maritime transportation concluded in August 2005, South Korea permits North Korean vessels to pass through its territorial waters, including the Jeju Strait. This is a renunciation of the former concept of "naval operation water areas," which is virtually a considerable concession to North Korea. Instead, it is stipulated that North Korea can be called or checked in case of suspicions related to security. However, North Korean vessels have never responded to calls. Notwithstanding, South Korea has not put this matter on the table as a controversial issue in order to protect relations between South and North Korea. South Korea has not asked whether soldiers are actually onboard. Although empty vessels pass through the Jeju Strait, South Korea has not questioned whether they were collecting information. This means that the South Korean government deals with North Korea with a prudent and flexible posture, considering the special situation of the Korean Peninsula. This time, the government also announced that the agreement on inter-Korean maritime transportation will be given priority in spite of affiliation with the PSI.

Pursuing economic prosperity in stability, South Korea does not want tension on the Korean Peninsula in any case, doing its best to avoid unnecessary collision between South and North Korea. Affiliation with the PSI is also considered an international activity for peace rather than for oppressing North Korea. If North Korea assumes a defiant attitude against South Korea, alleging that“the PSI is a confrontational policy against North Korea”and provokes battle, South Korea has no other alternative but to cope with such provocation resolutely. However, if North Korea stops problematic trade and participates in international society as a responsible member, South Korea and North Korea will someday jointly perform international activities of peace in the PSI. Everything depends on the behavior of North Korea.

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