EDITORIAL: Views on national security

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Over the past decade, South Korean society has been gripped by a string of ideological disputes over Seoul's relationships with Pyongyang and Washington. Different voices from conservative and liberal groups over national security issues have further complicated the multilayered structure of internal conflict in the country. It is mildly encouraging that there have recently been signs of change in the conventional dichotomy along ideological fault lines.

An April survey of 1,004 adults showed that 62.4 percent of respondents regarding themselves as liberal agreed on the need to strengthen the alliance between South Korea and the U.S., compared to 29 percent in a poll a decade earlier. In contrast, the proportion of conservative respondents in support of maintaining or expanding aid to North Korea rose from 33.9 percent to 47.6 percent over the cited period. The outcome of the survey by the East Asia Institute, a Seoul-based think tank, raised questions about the conventional perception here that left-leaning people are anti-American and right-wing citizens stand firm against the communist regime in Pyongyang.

The increasing tendency of convergence appears to result from the realization that both a policy of unconditional engagement and an approach based on strict reciprocity - taken alternately by liberal and conservative administrations in Seoul over the past decade - have not been instrumental in bringing change to North Korea. What should also be taken note of is that Pyongyang's threatening rhetoric and provocative acts have hardened the stance of young South Koreans. The EAI survey showed that the proportion of 20-something respondents supporting assistance to North Korea decreased from 53.5 percent in 2003 to 40.3 percent in 2013. In a response apparently prompted by mounting nuclear threats from Pyongyang, the rate of support for Seoul's nuclear armament increased from 49.6 percent to 76.1 percent among conservatives and from 53.1 percent to 73.1 percent among liberals.

South Koreans need to reflect on the wisdom of sticking to the unrealistic idea of possessing their own nuclear weapons, which would only alarm neighboring powers and restrict the scope of its peaceful atomic use. Other than that, it is desirable for them to have a more practical and flexible thinking and attitude toward matters related to national security. Such a shift from rigid stances could lead to building a broader foundation for handling the standoff with Pyongyang and other security tasks in a more concerted way. In an encouraging sign of moving in that direction, a survey conducted by a local pollster last week showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents who considered themselves liberal backed the North Korea policy pursued by President Park Geun-hye, whom they didn't vote for in last year's election.

Park's approach dubbed the Korean Peninsula trust-building process is in itself an outcome of reflections on the failures of her predecessors' policies. As Park recently noted, political parties and civic organizations need to throw weight behind her position to stand firm against Pyongyang's provocations while leaving the door for dialogue open. It is hoped that the increasingly convergent public sentiment will be further spread to help establish a long-term strategy and scheme on unification and other key security agenda that will be sustainable through future changes of power.

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