South Korea should consider nuclear option
This is the seventh in a series of interviews with women politicians ― ED.
By Lee Tae-hoon
When North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the world labeled it as a brazen act that threatens international peace. At the same time, it had to mull over whether the global denuclearization movement was effective against Pyongyang.
When the North pushed ahead with its second nuclear test in 2009 amid repeated warnings of further economic sanctions, the world had to realize that the hunger-stricken communist regime wouldn’t give up its nuclear ambitions so quickly.
Now, few would deny that the North will exploit the growing fears of a possible nuclear strike as a bargaining chip to extract major concessions and massive economic assistance from Seoul and Washington.
So what should South Korea do to tame its belligerent northern neighbor and bring about a peaceful unification with the North?
A female lawmaker at the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee says Seoul should not idly sit back any longer and live in constant fear of a nuclear warfare until Pyongyang decides to completely disarm by itself.
Rep. Song Young-sun of the Future Hope Alliance sat down with The Korea Times Friday to share her insight and wisdom in helping to make a breakthrough in the progress of the North’s nuclear disarmament.
Time to consider nuke option
“It’s high time for South Korea to seriously take into consideration a nuclear option,” the 57-year old, the two-term lawmaker, said. “Many politicians share the need to discuss the matter, but no one dare break the taboo of silence on nuclear development.”
The hawkish lawmaker is well aware that her remarks may trigger controversy and even surprise many of those who have considered her as pro-American, given that Washington is strongly opposed to Seoul’s nuclear push.
Song is widely known as one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S.-Korea alliance and South Korea’s deploying troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to assist the U.S. efforts to rebuild the two war-torn countries.
She has a good command of English and a strong network with American politicians and defense officials as well as Washington opinion leaders.
With a U.S. State Department-sponsored scholarship (the East-West Center Scholarship), the lawmaker earned her master’s degree in mass communications and a Ph.D. in politics at the University of Hawaii. She later served as center director of security policy in the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis for almost two decades.
“I still strongly believe the government should place a top priority on the U.S.-Korea alliance,” the legislator said. “But we also have to be realistic. Six-party denuclearization talks are highly unlikely to succeed in making North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
The six-party meetings have been stalled for more than two years after the North walked away from the negotiating table in protest against international condemnation of its test-firing of a rocket.
Song argued that Seoul’s developing nuclear weapons will be the only plausible pressure on the North to dismantle its nuclear program and other concerned parties, especially China, must actively engage in the North’s denuclearization.
“I’m absolutely against having nuclear weapons to rival North Korea, or disrupt the U.S.–Korean alliance, but to make North Korea give up nuclear weapons, Seoul should actively pursue outnumbering the nuclear capability of Pyongyang’s,” she said. “Negotiations can be made only when two parties are on an equal footing.”
In pursuit of making proud citizens
Song underlined that she has an abiding passion to make South Koreans proud citizens.
“Before I entered politics, I pledged to wipe the tears of our citizens and alleviate their pains by nursing their hurt pride,” she said.
The lawmaker said she does not want to see South Korean citizens swallow their pride because they have to beg China and the United States to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula whenever the North poses a nuclear threat.
“Why should the citizens of the world’s 13th largest economy and a host of a G20 summit be constantly frightened by nuclear attacks?” she asked.
“I don’t understand why a country with the 6th largest armed forces in the world should be intimidated by the North.”
She pointed out that the government’s failure to receive any apology from Pyongyang for its two deadly military provocations last year largely attributes to its weak nuclear deterrence.
Despite evidence produced by a multinational investigation, Pyongyang has adamantly denied any involvement in the torpedoing of the frigate Cheonan, which took the lives of 46 sailors last March.
The communist North also insists that its deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea, which killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians last November, was legitimate because Seoul provoked it by holding a live-fire drill near the island.
“With a nuclear arsenal at hand, the North blackmails both South Koreans and foreign investors. It is hurting our pride as well as our political, diplomatic and economic prowess,” she said.
“But the North would no longer dare to employ its brinkmanship tactic if we become capable of countering the North with nukes.”
Peace through strength
Song said a balance of power on the Korean Peninsula can be achieved through a balance of terror, a phrase often used to describe the paradoxical nature of deterrence in reference to the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
She firmly believes that one of the most important pillars of national security policy should be “peace through strength,” a popular campaign slogan that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan came up with.
The phrase describes peace that existed between the two super powers upon the realization that a nuclear war would likely result in the complete destruction of both countries.
She said it is natural for the U.S. and China to strongly oppose the South’s move to develop its own nuclear weapons, but Seoul may have much to gain from it.
“Once South Korea starts deliberating on the nuclear option, it will be easier for the country to secure a permanent nuclear umbrella from the United States,” Song said.
“Seoul will also be able to gain leverage to receive a firm promise from Washington that it will quickly address the issue of dismantling the North’s nuclear program.”
The lawmaker noted that Seoul’s toughened stance toward the North’s nuclear capability will also make China deal more seriously with the North’s nuclear ambition for fears of a possible nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia.
Experts say South Korea has the capacity to produce a nuclear arsenal in a few years, whereas Japan is capable of doing so in six months.
However, she emphasized that Seoul should promise neighboring countries that it will immediately abandon its nuclear development program, should those nations actively engage in a complete disarming of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and the North actually verifies the dismantlement of its nuclear capabilities.
“That’s why I call it ‘peaceful nuclear development,’” Song said.
Who is Song Young-sun?
Song Young-sun, 57, is a two-term lawmaker of the minor opposition Future Hope Alliance.
She remembers her parents as always hardworking and refusing to compromise their principles.
Though her father was a police officer, her family was quite poor as he never took bribes or used his authority for his own gain, which was common in the mid-1900s to compensate the low wage.
During her childhood, she was physically weak as she suffered from an eating disorder that made her legs so fragile that she could not walk until she was 3.
The handicap, however, made her determined to build up her physical strength through exercise and excel at her studies.
In her college days, she competed in major athletic competitions and always got top grades.
The lawmaker is fluent in both English and Japanese.
She completed her undergraduate and master’s degree in English at Kyungpook National University, in North Gyeongsang Province.
Song earned another master’s degree in mass communications at the University of Hawaii in hopes of becoming a journalist.
But she later changed her career path to become a security expert after meeting an academic advisor, who served as the chief advisor of the Ronald Reagan administration.
She completed her Ph.D. in political science at the University of Hawaii and flew to Japan to study her post-doctoral degree at Keio University in Tokyo.
Song worked as a director of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses for nearly two decades until becoming a lawmaker in 2004.
She is serving as the chairwoman of the National Assembly’s Security and Prevention Forum and general secretary of the International Parliamentarians' Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights.