By Kang Hyun-kyung
North Korea observers in the United States forecast that South Korea's membership of the U.S.-backed effort aimed at terrorism and trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would not have as much of a negative effect on inter-Korean relations as some local experts have predicted.
``The actual effect of Seoul's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) membership on North Korea is likely to be minimal, because its ships are already subject to careful scrutiny when they travel abroad,'' said Prof. David Kang of international relations and business at the University of Southern California.
Under the PSI, which was launched by former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration in 2003, member countries join efforts to prohibit shipment of WMDs and related goods to terrorists and countries of proliferation.
Kang noted that the PSI is aimed at trafficking of WMDs around the world, not just North Korea.
He did not rule out the possibility that inter-Korean relations may get a bit colder if Seoul makes its joining the U.S.-led initiative public, but emphasized that they are still heavily influenced by U.S.-North Korea relations.
``If U.S.-North Korea relations improve, South Korea will have to adjust. If they worsen, South Korea will also have to adjust,'' he said.
Prof. Victor Cha at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., meanwhile, said there are misconceptions about the PSI among South Koreans.
``Proliferation of WMDs and associated technologies and materials is a threat to all law-abiding states and South Korea, as a staunch supporter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime needs to be part of this initiative,'' said he.
``The prior government in Seoul created such misconceptions about PSI that led many Koreans to believe that it was tantamount to a declaration of war against the North. This is flatly wrong,'' he added.
The Roh administration was requested by the U.S. government to join the initiative, but it declined to be a full membership for fear of the possible negative effect on inter-Korean relations.
Cha, who served as director for Asian affairs in the White House's National Security Council during the Bush administration, said full PSI members can exercise sovereignty and choose not to participate in certain activities.
Since the government sent a signal of its joining the PSI soon, a heated pros and cons debate has erupted between conservatives and liberals; and hawks in the foreign ministry and doves in the unification ministry as well.
In the political arena, conservatives called on the government to go ahead with its announcement to join the PSI as soon as possible, especially after the North launched a long-range rocket, April 5.
Liberals, however, expressed concerns, saying Seoul's PSI membership would make the already bad South-North relations worse.
Reports said there was also a deep division over the country's joining the PSI between the foreign and unification ministry as well.
According to government sources, the majority of foreign ministry officials support joining the global program. In an effort to avoid criticism from liberals, they noted that PSI membership was not a countermeasure to the North's rocket launch, but a carefully designed measure aimed at preventing the proliferation of WMD.
On the other hand, unification ministry officials expressed concerns over the possible negative effects on inter-Korean relations, saying now was not the time to join the global effort, as tensions were rising between the two countries.
The government was originally scheduled to announce its joining the PSI Sunday, but delayed the announcement again after Pyongyang proposed Saturday holding an inter-Korean meeting to discuss the joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex in the North.