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Gov`t unveils official position on NMD

Posted March. 04, 2001 17:41,   


The Seoul government voiced its official position on Washington`s proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) for the first time Friday in a bid to end suspicions both at home and abroad that South Korea sympathized with Russia`s anti-NMD posture. The announcement came three days after President Kim Dae-Jung and Russian President Vladimir Putin released a joint statement on Feb. 27, after their summit in Seoul, that was interpreted as a thinly-veiled condemnation of the NMD plan.

The government apparently made the announcement with the aim of defusing the controversy ahead of Wednesday`s summit in Washington between President Kim and U.S. President George W. Bush.

The government did not expressly state its support or opposition to the NMD in the announcement. But analysts interpreted the statement to mean that Seoul sympathizes with U.S. efforts to erect an anti-missile shield.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from inside and outside the government for violating the government`s previous tight-lipped stance. The government had maintained that the later South Korea expressed its position on the sensitive NMD issue, the better.

Loss of `strategic ambiguity`:

Taking into consideration relations with North Korea and the situation in Northeast Asia, South Korea was thought by many observers to be better advised not to issue its position on the plan. With this in mind, the government had refrained from making any statement whatsoever.

The government twice cast blank ballots on United Nations` resolutions calling for ``thorough conformity to the convention on the restriction of air-to-air ballistic missiles (ABM)`` that Russia and its supporters forwarded against the U.S. NMD in 1999 and last year.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it preferred to maintain ``strategic ambiguity`` on the issue. However, the government said upon making the announcement that keeping silent amid the controversy ran the risk of causing another misunderstanding.

A government official said, ``In international politics, the timing at which one expresses an opinion on a sensitive issue can become a lever of negotiations. It is true that the announcement has drastically narrowed our position.``

Can Seoul turn misfortune into a blessing?

The government virtually admitted its blunder but there are some observers that feel it is not necessarily bad for the government to have aroused international concern over its position. There are those who feel that the controversy may serve to boost Washington`s understanding of the security situation here.

Boo Hyung-Kwon bookum90@donga.com