Global Policy Forum

Seeking to Prevent a North Korean Missile Test


By Kim Dae Jung

Global Viewpoint
August 30, 1999

Seoul - Today, the Korean Peninsula remains the last area of Cold War tensions. The ostensible peace on the peninsula is dangling precariously from the armistice agreement that dates to the end of the Korean War. Seeking a solution to the situation, I made a three-point pledge to North Korea when I was sworn in as president of the Republic of Korea. First, any armed provocations by North Korea will not be tolerated. Second, South Korea will not try to absorb North Korea. Third, South Korea will seek reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea.

A test of my pledge came in June, when the South Korean Navy had to fend off intruding North Korean ships in the Yellow Sea. As tensions rose, I gave clear instructions to navy commanders to firmly defend South Korea's northern limit line but not to open fire first under any circumstances. I further instructed them to respond resolutely if the North Korean gunboats started shooting, but to use wisdom in not escalating the situation. The result was the avoidance of a potentially greater tragedy. Even in the face of such crises, I made decisions based on my vision for the long-term development of friendly relations with North Korea.

The fact remains, however, that despite South Korea's genuinely friendly gestures, Pyongyang has not indicated that it is changing its hostile ways in any fundamental sense. A case in point is the suspicion that North Korea is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile. This missile development must be dealt with seriously because it disturbs peace on the peninsula and in all of Northeast Asia. There is no solid evidence that a test firing is imminent, but there is no denying that Pyongyang is equipped with the technology and capability to launch a long-range missile.

Considering the ramifications of the North Korean plan, it is incumbent upon South Korea to wage a diplomatic effort to preclude the missile launch. To deter the test firing, we have to try to both persuade and pressure the North Koreans. We are making it clear to the authorities in Pyongyang that they will pay a high price for such provocations while, on the other hand, a shift toward reconciliation and cooperation would bring them benefits.

In close coordination with the United States and Japan, South Korea is at the forefront of the effort to preclude a test firing by the North Koreans. In addition, China has expressed opposition to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the Korean Peninsula and has said publicly that Beijing would play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. Russia, too, supports Seoul's gradual engagement policy toward Pyongyang.

Recently, North Korea has responded positively to South Korea's offer of talks, and that is a very desirable change. Nonetheless, we have to prepare countermeasures to take when and if North Korea actually launches its missile. When that happens, South Korea, the United States and Japan will have to come up with strong and effective diplomatic as well as economic sanctions against Pyongyang, including suspension of material support. For North Korea, the heat generated by the international outcry will be unbearable and the pain of being further isolated from the outside world will be deeply felt.

We seek to avoid confrontation with North Korea. We are willing to reward Pyongyang accordingly when it ceases production of weapons of mass destruction and stops pursuing military conflict with the South. When and if North Korea decides to take a course toward peace, there will be a guarantee of North Korea's security. Second, its economic reconstruction will be actively supported. Third, it will be treated as a respected member of the international community.

South Korea will do everything it can to prevent Pyongyang from launching its missile. If it proceeds with the launch, however, Seoul's efforts to freeze nuclear development on the peninsula will continue through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. South Korea will maintain its efforts to talk the North out of developing missiles, and will keep trying to engage it constructively in the peace process. We are determined to dismantle the last vestige of the Cold War. We will not give up under any circumstances. I am firmly convinced that the two Koreas will eventually be reconciled, grow together and contribute to world peace.

The writer is president of South Korea.

More Information on Sanctions in North Korea


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