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At our core

Aug 21,2019
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Choi Hoon
The author is a senior editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Israel is a classic example of “an unshakable nation.” It never hesitates to carry out tit-for-tat retaliations on security matters. It is a country with only 8.58 million people and a territory the size of our Jeolla provinces, but its 10 Islamic neighbors cannot touch it. It was built after a 2,500-year history of persecution and diaspora, and it is meticulous about its survival. It is often criticized by the international community for excessive responses.

Despite the opposition of its major patron, the United States, Israel raided and destroyed nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1980 and Syria in 2007. After bombing the Iraqi nuclear facilities, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin defended the action. “We chose this moment: now, not later, because later may be too late, perhaps forever. And if we stood by idly […] another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people,” he said.

“If you are fed from the crumbs of others according to their whim, this is very inconvenient and very difficult,” Meir Amit, former director of Mossad, said. Israel made clear what kind of country it is to its own people and to the world.

Without such strong resolution, an unshakable country is impossible to achieve, even though there is a slim chance of such a hard-line approach being applied on the Korean Peninsula. Israel operates Ofeq satellites, capable of detecting objects of about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter. It developed the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which the United States even benchmarked. The country is always faithful to the lesson that the strongest armed forces mean peace.

Its second shield is its economy, with a $42,000 per capita gross domestic product (GDP). It operates the Talpiot program — an elite training program for the military — to recruit people with outstanding academic abilities in science. Talented IT resources were produced in such a way. That’s not all. Deregulation is frequently carried out by the government while the ecosystem for start-ups is centered around private investments. As of last year, 83 companies were listed in the U.S. Nasdaq market, the third largest from any country in the world. The number of start-ups per population is the highest in the world. It is an economically unshakable country.

The third layer of Israel’s defense is its seasoned diplomacy with its main ally. It has a powerful lobbying operation using all connections to politicians, businessmen and interest groups in the United States. In the political arena of Washington, it is a rule that any politician who goes against Israel cannot become president. Even President Donald Trump, who often treats allies as business partners to earn money, recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel and relocated the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

In his Liberation Day speech, President Moon Jae-in presented his vision to make Korea an “unshakable nation.” Moon stressed his agenda centered around a “peace economy,” but North Korea responded the next day with its eighth missile tests of the year. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton called them a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. But our military authorities were reluctant to call them missiles, so they repeatedly said North Korea fired “unidentified projectiles” into the East Sea. Moon described the missile tests as “a few worrisome behaviors of North Korea.”

An unshakable country stops any threat against its territory, people and sovereignty. The North’s new missiles have ranges up to 500 kilometers (311 miles), targeting all areas of the South. The Rand Corporation said South Korea should have 1,000 missiles to intercept the North’s 800 missiles. They are a clear and present danger.

The U.S. intelligence community believes that North Korea already has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads, and it is about to surpass South Korea in conventional arms.

A resolute warning to North Korea is necessary. Dialogue is dialogue, but national security is national security. “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” Winston Churchill once said.

The biggest concern is disharmony with the United States. Remarkably like Kim Jong-un, Trump said he never liked what he called “war games” — Korea-U.S. joint military exercises. His remarks help deepen the concern that Washington will bypass Seoul and communicate with Pyongyang directly. Foreign media reported that there is a possibility of the U.S. Forces Korea being withdrawn or downscaled if Kim suspends intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests and Trump is reelected.

The first sign was obvious when Trump and Kim met in Panmunjom on June 30 in the so-called snap summit. Without Moon, they talked for 53 minutes in South Korea’s territory. This is a structure that our self-esteem can hardly allow. If we voluntarily remain silent and try to read the faces of the United States and North Korea, how can this country remain unshakable?

Is this enough dignity for the world’s 12th largest country? Do we have to just wait and believe the empty slogans that Korea, after unification, will have an 80 million-strong market and $80,000 per capita income? Do we have to believe Moon’s slogan of “One Korea by 2045?” Who are we and where are we going?

There is only one way to make Korea an unshakable country. It is something that was not mentioned in the Liberation Day address. It is something called a liberal democracy. Against any totalitarian ideology, we must clearly define our identity as a liberal democracy. If Israel’s power is based on their faith, the only value that will unite Koreans is liberal democracy. These are the very concepts specified in our Constitution.

North Korea does not seem to have the will for complete denuclearization. Excessively reconciliatory approaches will only cause doubts about a liberal democratic Korea. Not only the United States, our ally, but also Japan doubts us. In the meantime, China and Russia are trying to shake our confidence, although — and maybe perhaps — because we are the bastion of a liberal democracy. We must make sure of our own identity. Only then will we become unshakable.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 20, Page 35