[연구진 동정] 문정인 특임연구원 인터뷰 - 'Flap about THAAD sets cart before horse'

최종 수정일: 2020년 7월 30일

Guru calls for Koreas to resume talk to resolve problems on own initiatives

By Choi Sung-jin(The Korea Times)

The whole nation is seething with the scheduled deployment of a U.S. missile defense system by the end of next year.


People mainly talk about whether the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is environmentally safe, can actually intercept North Korea's nuclear missiles, and how Seoul must not let the missile shield alienate Beijing and Moscow, diplomatically and strategically, in a reversed priority of sorts.


As at least one Korean guru of international politics sees it, however, the entire episode is like putting the cart before the horse, mistaking means for ends.


Moon Chung-in, distinguished fellow of the Institute for Unification Studies at Yonsei University, thinks South Koreans might not have been involved in this dispute had the government genuinely strived to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis through dialogue instead of pressuring and blockading the reclusive regime. And he wonders why the Park Geun-hye administration is making the worst choice while it could make the best one.


Sounds too obvious to be of much realistic help at this moment? Probably not.


Moon, who was deeply involved in shaping inter-Korean relations under two liberal presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, regards the ongoing political and social turmoil as the result of failed North Korea policies of their two conservative successors over the past eight-and-a-half years. And he believes Seoul should, and can, take the lead in maintaining peace on the peninsula and keeping it from becoming a catalyst of a renewed Cold War.


The internationally renowned scholar of political science was the only academician who accompanied the late Presidents Kim and Roh to their summits with former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Yet he declined offers from President Roh to head the National Intelligence Service or National Security Council, saying, "The cobbler should stick to his last." Moon retired after 35 years of teaching in the U.S. and Korea last month. The Korea Times met him at the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum where he serves as utive director.


Question: What do you think of the ongoing political and social turmoil?


Answer: To me, all this has the appearance of putting the cart before the horse. Things would not have gotten as bad as they are now if the government had put more energy and wisdom into a negotiated solution of North Korea's nuclear issue. What it did instead was to shut all the doors to such possibilities, bent on only isolating and blocking the North till the end. I can hardly understand why Seoul is going toward the worst choice while it can move to better ones.


Q: What are your views on the deployment of THAAD in this country?


A: I don't think it is a good idea, militarily, economically and diplomatically. From a military utility point of view, a battery with 48 interception missiles alone cannot defend South Korea from hundreds of North Korean missiles arriving from numerous angles and directions. Those who believe in THAAD will soon call for introducing more batteries, which cost trillions of won each but cannot discern nuclear warheads from decoys, a huge waste of taxpayer money. And China and Russia would never believe it targets only North Korea, perceiving it as a grave threat to their national security.


And such a "perception of threat" is highly subjective, which explains why the Chinese government has made clear that Seongju, a southeastern county as the proposed location for THAAD, could be its strategic target, in its first direct warning ever. I just hope the Korean Peninsula will not be the new divide between the northern axis composed of China, Russia, and North Korea, and the southern one of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. Calamitous history can start from a seemingly trifling event.


Q: The latest agreement between Seoul and Washington seems to have been made at the behest of the U.S. What could be the reasons for the U.S. to hurry?


A: President Barack Obama might have wanted to complete his "pivot to Asia" policy with the deployment of THAAD in South Korea. And his military aides might have thought it would be safe to deploy while a conservative government is in power in Seoul. But I believe President Park Geun-hye might have wanted its deployment more badly than the Americans wanted it after North Korea's fourth nuclear test and Musudan missile launch in January this year.