Nuclear Security Summit
It was reported last week that Korea's current account fell into a deficit in January for the first time in 23 months. Experts interpreted that Korea’s trade deficit in January was due to the slowed growth of the global economy in the wake of the eurozone crisis.
The Bank of Korea attributed the deficit to a slump in exports and a sharp rise in imports of commodities such as crude oil. It was also predicted that Korea’s current account would worsen if the current trend of higher international oil price continues. We have already witnessed domestic gasoline prices skyrocketing since early January.
Tension in the Strait of Hormuz is partially affecting the global crude oil market. According to Fars News Agency, the deputy head of Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee warned, “If there is any disruption to the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed.” Geopolitical risks in the Middle East are rising, owing to the possibility of an Israeli military response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
With regards to the nuclear ambitions, it has been suspected that North Korea is closely cooperating with Iran. President Lee Myung-bak has said that Korea has been “under direct nuclear threats” from across the border and that the North Korean nuclear issue is a global problem. Under these circumstances the biennial nuclear security summit is slated for March 26 and 27 in Seoul.
The heads of 50 states and four major international organizations are expected to attend. The summit is expected to pave the road for a more stable and peaceful world with less nuclear threats. Measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, to protect nuclear materials and related facilities, and to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear materials are expected to be discussed. The summit itself would also relay a serious message to North Korea on the importance of denuclearization.
The meeting is now just two weeks away. It is reminiscent of the G20 summit held in Seoul in November, 2010. Prior to the G20 summit, for about a year, the Korean government enthusiastically publicized the historical importance of the meeting. Korean news media also reported that the event created a new leadership role for South Korea in the global arena. Compared to the G20 Seoul Summit, the nuclear security summit is a much more significant gathering in terms of scale and timing given the urgent situation surrounding nuclear issues. Nonetheless, coverage by the Korean news media and public debate over the prospects and significance of the meeting have been mediocre so far.
On the other hand, North Korea has been denouncing the Seoul meeting. In addition, several left-wing groups and political parties in South Korea launched an anti-nuclear security coalition last week, and scheduled to hold protest activities until the end of the summit. Rebuttal from the Korean government is inaudible. Those who are organizing the event and the national security public officials seem to be less active in heralding the significance of the nuclear security summit. They should not be withered by the declared opposition of the left-wing coalition.
Politicians in the legislative body are also not actively voicing their opinions on the significance of the meeting. All the representatives in the National Assembly, with election terms ending soon, seem only obsessed by the upcoming National Assembly elections in April. Both the ruling and opposition parties are occupied with realigning their campaign strategies and battle lines. All that the readers and audience of Korean press and media are facing everyday is reporting on who the candidates are for each district. Selection methods of those candidates are also controversial. However, without national security guaranteed what is the significance of their political fate?
Press coverage of the upcoming summit seems to be less enthusiastic than domestic political elections and developments. Is the government publicity drive for the summit active enough? Rhetoric corresponding to the G20 Seoul Summit is still quiet. Korean government officials, members of the National Assembly, opinion leaders and scholars are all obligated to call people’s attention to the importance of this summit.
Is the nuclear security summit taking place as scheduled? It should be. The meeting is for the sake of the safe use and management of nuclear weapons. It does not warrant any protest or opposition. Before the end of this year, given the series of important elections across the globe, significant political changes will happen in many countries that have keen interests in the Korean peninsula. The Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul will surely help Korea elevate its prestige in the international community again, and therefore, will make 2012 a special year for Korea.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu. He previously headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.