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A welcome volte-face

Apr 12,2017
In a surprising move, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party are tilting to the right over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile defense system. Earlier, Moon, a frontrunner in polls ahead of the May 9 presidential election, demanded that the deployment decision be made by the next administration. Now, he says that if North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and make provocations, the government can press ahead with the deployment. Another frontrunner in polls, Ahn, pledged to scrap his party’s position opposing the deployment if elected president.

The DP has so far supported Moon’s position on Thaad by saying the decision calls for an approval from the National Assembly. In an in-house meeting, the People’s Party also voted against the idea of backing down from its opposition to the deployment. Since the remarkable turnarounds of the two candidates, however, both parties are likely to change their positions on the issue. The two candidates’ unrealistic opposition and opaque attitudes fueled our security concerns earlier. We welcome their dramatic, albeit belated, turnarounds.

But why have both candidates come to their senses now? That is the rub. Moon attached strings, saying, “If North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons…” But the North’s nuclear ambition is nothing new. Ahn explains that the situation has changed since Seoul and Washington agreed to the deployment. But in fact he adhered to opposition to Thaad for a while even after the two allies’ consensus to push forward the deployment. That raises strong suspicion that they changed their minds to get votes from moderate and conservative groups after vehemently saying no to Thaad at the climax of the massive candlelight vigils.

The two candidates’ turnarounds deserve compliments if they stem from recognition that we have no practical means to defend ourselves from incoming North Korean missiles. But if they took such a turn to get more votes, their sincerity is questionable.

Security concerns are deepening on the Korean Peninsula. Despite the government’s repeated denials, wild rumors of a possible war in April are spreading. The two presidential contenders’ dramatic change also testifies to a critical lack of security philosophy in their platforms. They have to vow that they will not backpedal on their promises. They must present concrete solutions to address the North’s ever-tougher nuclear threat. They must define their positions on North Korea first and make it clear that our alliance with the United States is the backbone of our national security. Our nation’s survival may depend on it.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 12, Page 30