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[Editorial] Hoping for regular defense talks

Posted September. 24, 2000 20:28,   


The inter-Korean defense ministers' talks, the first such meeting since the national division, has not only a profound historic significance but also represents the most important channel among others to deal with pending South-North issues.

The people in the South, though beset by economic uncertainties, may feel favorably disposed toward the administration's North Korea policies if and when there is any assurance of securing peace on the peninsula in return for Seoul's aid for Pyongyang's economic development, as well as the South's food and fertilizer assistance to the North.

It is no small progress that the South's military authorities are now holding direct talks in their capacity as independent delegates with their Northern counterparts, who used to flout the presence of Seoul's delegates at the Military Armistice Commission's meetings by refusing to recognize us as an independent delegation but only as part of the MAC delegates. This is well becoming of the spirit of independent resolution of inter-Korean issues free from any external interference.

Some concern was raised as to whether the South and the North have the same agenda in mind for the defense ministerial meeting. Many tend to foresee that the North's most likely position is to discuss only matters related to mutual cooperation and the installation of direct military communication lines in the Demilitarized Zone for the Gyeongui railway restoration. In this case, the significance of the defense ministerial meeting could be reduced to a meeting solely for the coordination of the railway reconstruction needed for Pyongyang's economic development.

Seoul, on the other hand, has prepared for the meeting to discuss matters related to easing tensions and the building of a lasting structure of peace as well as arms reductions.

Included in the South's agenda are reportedly the redeployment to the rear areas of the concentrated arms of both sides deployed near the Demilitarized Zone; mutual advice on any military drills and mutual inspection of such exercises, as well as exchanges of military information. These will represent a basic step toward building inter-Korean trust and confidence.

Of more importance here is the political and economic judgment to recognize that any inducing of foreign investment needed for the North's economic development will be almost impossible if there is no peace on the peninsula. Equally needed is the recognition that economic powers can build military powers, but not vice versa.

Any immediate expectations of fruitful results from the first defense ministerial talks may be rather hasty. The least we can ask for here is the mutual recognition of the need for the activation of an inter-Korean military committee and the holding of defense ministerial talks on a regular basis in order to discuss military issues on an on-going basis.

The first step to realize an inter-Korean framework for peace management on the peninsula is the holding of the South-North defense ministerial talks as well as the meeting of the two Koreas' military committees for the discussion of mutual arms control.

If such processes proceed successfully, the two Koreas can first come to an agreement for a peace framework and this framework can subsequently be endorsed for its safeguard by the United States and China. This will then be a so-called two-plus-two formula to dismantle the peninsula's Cold War system.

The key for the success of such agenda will by and large depend on Pyongyang's sincerity and authenticity. There may be some discontent or anxieties within the North Korean military over the sudden inundation of inter-Korean exchanges. But, we should like to urge them to understand that the world will not spare its full support for the two Koreas' reconciliation and cooperation as was exemplified by the thunderous applause for the unified Korean team at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. Any inter-Korean military confrontations, however, will only accentuate our apprehensions and uncertainties.