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A loose cannon

June 21,2017
Controversial and untimely comments by a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in have rattled Seoul-Washington ties ahead of the first summit between the two leaders. Moon Chung-in, presidential special adviser for unification, foreign, and national security affairs told a seminar on the bilateral alliance at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. Friday that Seoul could consult with the U.S. to scale down joint military exercises and strategic weaponry assets around the Korean Peninsula if North Korea suspends nuclear and missile activities. He dismissed views that the stalling of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system for an environmental study would undermine bilateral ties.

“If the alliance breaks down over a defensive weapons system like Thaad, you have to question whether the U.S military would come running at the event of an emergency,” he added.

Moon’s comment was met with disapproval in both Washington and Seoul. The Blue House warned that such comments “do not help Korea-U.S. relations.”

Moon’s comments upset Americans most. They seemed to make light of the fact that the Korea-U.S. alliance is based on the deaths of 137,000 American soldiers fighting to protect South Koreans during the Korean War. As a mentor to the president, he should have been respectful of the bilateral relationship and more discreet in discussing new approaches to the North Korean nuclear issue. It is important to approach the nuclear threat through diplomatic and peaceful means. Seoul and Washington could have differences in their approaches. But the more they disagree, the harder they should try to find the best possible solution. Moon’s comments didn’t help the new administrations of the two countries build a relationship.

Even if they were the president’s ideas, the special adviser was wrong to expose the new administration’s strategy at such an early stage. Thaad is crucial as a deterrence and leverage to pull Pyongyang to the negotiating table. Military deterrence can become effective if a missile shield can protect the South’s industrial assets along the southern coast. Moon has raised controversy before with his comments. During a forum in Jeju, he said unconditional dialogue would more effectively solve the North Korean nuclear problem than sanctions. The Blue House should contain Moon or draw clear lines between it and its advisers.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 30