Asan in the News

[The Korea Herald] 2011-09-08

The Nuclear Security Summit, scheduled for March 2012, will bring approximately 50 heads of state to Seoul. It will be the single largest gathering of world leaders in South Korea in the nation’s history.

While the G20 aided Korea’s recognition as a developed country, the NSS will propel the country to the forefront of the debate on international nuclear security. Much like the success of the G20, the success of the NSS requires public support and understanding just as much as it requires preparedness on the part of the Korean government.

However, there is a general misunderstanding among the public regarding the purpose of the NSS. What this summit is about, what it means to Korea as host, and what results can be expected need to be clearly explained to the Korean people to ensure their support.

The stated goal of the NSS is to seek specific ways to enhance international collaboration in preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials. The communiqu that emerged from the 2010 summit focused on security of materials used to manufacture nuclear weapons, such as highly enriched uranium and plutonium. The key issues for the 2012 summit are not expected to be significantly different.

However, a recent opinion survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies affirmed the Korean public’s lack of understanding of the NSS. In a survey of 1,000 people, 36 percent of respondents answered that the North Korean nuclear issue would be the key issue in next year’s summit. Twenty-one percent responded the key issue would be preventing nuclear proliferation, and 15 percent answered nuclear power safety. Only 10 percent of respondents cited nuclear terrorism as the key issue.

Korean citizens must recognize that using the NSS as a means to deal with Korea’s urgent problems does not fit with the long-term goals of the summit. Moreover, using the summit in such a way could damage the country’s reputation. It would signal to other nations that Korea is using an important international forum to pursue its own interests.

The agenda of the second summit has not yet been fully established, but considering the preliminary meetings, this summit will not be the venue to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue. The Korean public may criticize the government for the issues raised if it does not understand the nature of the summit.

While the North Korean nuclear issue may be discussed on the sidelines through bilateral or multilateral talks, solutions should not be expected. Korea has a responsibility as a member of the international community, and as the host of the summit, to stay true to the aims of the NSS. At the same time, it needs to use its wisdom to find opportunities for solutions to the problems that face the global community. 

By Woo Jung-yeop

Woo Jung-yeop is a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. He got his Ph.D. in political science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. ― Ed.