People Power Party presidential nominee for Yoon Suk-yeol holds a New Year’s presser at a cafe in Seoul’s Seongdong District on Tuesday morning. (pool photo)
People Power Party presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol said there would be “no recourse but a preemptive strike” in the scenario of a North Korean provocation involving a missile bearing a nuclear weapon.
His remarks sparked a torrent of criticism from both politicians and experts questioning whether he was suggesting that South Korea should start a war.
During a press conference Tuesday at a cafe in Seoul’s Seongdong District, a journalist with a US media outlet noted North Korea’s recent missile tests and asked Yoon about his plans for averting the ongoing threat.
“If a missile with a speed of Mach 5 or higher were launched [from North Korea] with a nuclear warhead, it would take less than a minute for it to reach the greater Seoul area and cause mass casualties,” he responded.
“Interception would be effectively impossible. That means there is currently no other option for preventing it besides a preemptive strike when signs [of a launch] are detected,” he continued, in reference to the Kill Chain platform that is a part of the South’s three-axis defense response strategy.
Yoon also said he viewed North Korea’s signs of goodwill as a put-on “peace show.”
“The administration is so caught up in this that it’s talking about how we ought to preemptively loosen the UN’s sanctions [against the North] in connection with its nuclear program,” he commented.
“The Democratic Party nominee [Lee Jae-myung] has been arguing for preemptive relief with his talk about ‘snapback provisions,’” he added, in a sweeping attack on the North Korea policies of both the Moon Jae-in administration and his opponent Lee.
“I also read an article about how President Moon Jae-in had asked the president of France, which is on the UN Security Council, to ease UNSC economic sanctions against the North, stressing its ‘goodwill,’” he continued.
“In the meantime, North Korea has been further advancing its missiles and posing a deadly threat to our security,” he said.
“This is a situation where it’s difficult to accurately perceive the reality and prevent things from happening, and we need to use global diplomacy to put pressure on the North while seeking to stop its nuclear advancement process one way or another,” he added.
Yoon’s remarks about a “preemptive strike” sparked a flurry of criticism from the Democratic Party and Justice Party, which denounced them as “extremely dangerous.”
Lee Jae-myung, Yoon’s primary opponent, expressed concerns that the comments would make the South Korean public “very fearful.”
Democratic Party floor leader Yun Ho-jung said, “Never before has [a presidential candidate] so openly talked about military action [against the North].”
“If [Yoon] has any patriotism at all, he should walk back these remarks about dragging the people of South Korea — and all 70 million Koreans — into a war,” Yun added.
In a Facebook post, Democratic Party Supreme Council member Kim Yong-min wrote, “What kind of remarks are these coming from someone who’s not supposed to be a warmonger?”
“First [Yoon] talked about ‘eradicating communism,’ and now he seems to want to eradicate the country,” he continued.
Kim Chang-in, a spokesperson for the Justice Party’s election committee, stressed that “foreign affairs and national security are not a war game.”
“We can’t afford to leave [South Korea’s] security and future up to someone so naive,” he warned.
Experts also decried Yoon’s lack of understanding of security policy.
In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, Pusan National University social studies education professor Jin Si-won said, “It’s wrong for a major presidential candidate to stoke security fears among the public by focusing so much on the war-centered idea of ‘preemptive strike,’ rather than focusing on a peace-centered approach of deterring war.”
Hwang Soo-young, a team leader at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy’s Center for Peace and Disarmament, said, “The calls for a preemptive strike based on the Kill Chain violate the pacific principles of the UN Charter, which bans preemptive strikes and preventive warfare, and the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, which repudiates wars of aggression.”
“Such an approach makes it even more difficult to build military trust or create conditions for dialogue between South and North, which ultimately makes it more difficult to solve the denuclearization issue and achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula,” she warned.
By Kim Mi-na and Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporters
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