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[Opinion] Hotline

Posted April. 12, 2007 07:57,   


In 1962, the former Soviet Union was in the process of building a missile base in Cuba located right next to the U.S. That was shortly after Fidel Castro’s communist government was established in Cuba. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who came to realize the construction of the missile base via air photographs, informed the U.S. public of the matter in an address broadcast nationwide right away and ordered a sea blockade against Cuba. It was the President’s firm determination to be willing to wage a nuclear war against Cuba. With the eyes of the whole international community focused on the development of the matter, the Soviet Union’s then-General Secretary Khrushchev eventually gave in to U.S. pressure. A fleet of 16 ships from the Soviet Union heading for Cuba turned around.

After this had happened, a hot line was set up between Washington and Moscow in the following year. This was the outcome of an agreement by the two countries to prevent a nuclear war resulting from a disruption in contact. Their communication method was a teletype that uses two telegraphic circuits, both wired and wireless. During the third Middle East war in 1967, the Soviet Union even asked the U.S. for help using this hot line. The Soviet Union moved on to set up hot lines with France and Britain in 1966 and 1967, respectively.

The navies of South and North Korea also established a hot line in 2004 to prevent accidental clashes from spilling over into a bigger-scale military conflict. However, it seems that both sides don’t have enough confidence to operate a hot line right now. It is often said that when North Korea’s naval vessels or fishing boats cross the Northern Limit Line (NLL), Korea’s navy immediately tries to start communications with the North but, North Korea often fails to reply, or even if they do, they respond at a later time. A military official noted that the North’s old communications system could be one reason for the problem, but added that the North could be intentionally unresponsive in order to invalidate the NLL.

President Roh Moo-hyun and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao agreed to set up a hot line between the two countries’ navies and air forces at a summit the other day. The West Sea is a place where fishing boats from many countries, including North Korea, do a lot of fishing. This is in addition to the military activities of the two countries’ navies and air forces. A hot line is expected to be of great help in maintaining stability and peace in the region. However, mutual trust is the key to a hot line. Countries that operate hot lines should take extra care not to misuse a hot line as a weapon to disturb the other side.

Yook Jeong-soo, Editorial Writer, sooya@donga.com