Seoul needs grand plan for a peaceful Korea
President Lee Myung-bak’s belated speech demonstrated his resolve for an eye-for-eye retaliation against North Korea’s future provocations. He did not demand an apology from the North and ruled out engaging Pyongyang for what he called a humiliating peace. His unwavering message lacks the grand design for a war-less Korea.
Timing is more important than the message itself in times of crisis. It took only 26 minutes for U.S. President George W. Bush to condemn the 9.11 attack in 2001.
It was not only President Lee himself who was not swift and decisive in coping with the most serious external attack on the country’s mainland since the Korean War (1950-1953). Then Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was at the National Assembly. He left the legislative chamber after the North’s shelling of the island off the West Coast was almost finished.
Initially, people were shocked and terrified after Pyongyang’s unprovoked attack on civilians. Later, their nervousness heightened as the two main commanders, namely the President and the defense minister, were sloppy in handling the post-attack crisis. People were puzzled over conflicting and incoherent messages initially coming out of the presidential office following the attack. Adding insecurity to the people’s anxiety was the malfunctioning of radar and artillery. For almost 38 minutes, the South’s military was disoriented in identifying where the shells were coming.
President Lee Monday admitted responsibility for his failure to protect lives and property of the citizens. He pledged to provide measures for the livelihood of the residents on Yeonpyeong Island. He was right in categorizing the attack on civilians as an inhumane crime which is prohibited even during war. He said he came to reach a conclusion that the South can no longer expect Pyongyang’s giving up military adventurism and nuclear weapons. He said it is the lesson of history that humiliating peace in the face of threat will invite additional harm.
The President made it clear that the North will pay a corresponding price without fail for its future provocation. Lee noted that true peace will be only possible when the South does not move an inch from the North’s threats and provocations.
He expressed appreciation for the people’s unequivocal rallying against the North. This is in sharp contrast to the division of opinion when it torpedoed a South Korean warship eight months ago. He vowed to implement strong reforms to make the military stronger than ever.
The North must pay attention to Lee’s message that Seoul’s patience is running out. Lee has yet to outline a grand blueprint on how to create a peaceful Korean Peninsula. He does not consider inter-Korean dialogue at least for the time being. He did not define whether the nation is either in a semi-war state or not. He did not say anything about preventing a war. History shows that an ugly peace is better than a victorious war.