President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to give a speech in the opening session of the third Nuclear Security Summit to be held next week in The Hague, Netherlands. As leader of the chair country of the previous summit that convened in Seoul two years ago, Park will use the address to emphasize the importance of international efforts to strengthen security, prevent nuclear terrorism and to set a way forward, according to her aides.
In the following session, she plans to explain what Seoul has done to improve nuclear security and discuss with other participants the future of the biennial summit launched in Washington in 2010.
But the president may find herself in an embarrassing position before leaders from more than 50 nations and four international organizations due to a possible failure at home to pass a relevant legislative measure by that time.
In December 2011, South Korea’s legislature ratified an international treaty on suppressing nuclear terrorism. In the following year, the government submitted to the parliament a revision to the nuclear safety law, which was aimed at strengthening rules to match international standards.
Lawmakers’ inattention and partisan wrangling, however, have delayed the passage of the revised bill. The extra parliamentary session last month should have approved it. But the confrontation between members from the rival parties over an amendment to the broadcasting law blocked even deliberation on the bill at a related parliamentary committee.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won called National Assembly Speaker Kang Chang-hee last Friday to ask for the passage of the measure before the president embarks on her trip on Sunday. As noted by Chung, legislative action is needed for Seoul to keep its earlier promise to formally consent to abide by the global convention before the opening of the third nuclear summit. Without it, Park would have nothing to announce regarding Seoul’s achievements in enhancing nuclear security standards.
It would be absurd for the country’s credibility in the international community to be damaged by its own legislators’ negligence. This tarnished reputation would weaken Seoul’s stance on specific nuclear-related matters.
Early last week, South Korea’s foreign minister expressed concern over Japan’s massive stockpile of plutonium, a fissile material that can be used to build nuclear bombs. It is unclear whether Park will raise the issue at the upcoming nuclear summit. But it is clear that she will be in no position to do so if her government fails to implement its commitment to enhancing nuclear safety standards.
This failure would also weaken Seoul’s stance in prolonged negotiations with Washington on revising a nuclear energy cooperation accord.
In January, the U.S. Congress approved a bill to extend the existing civil nuclear agreement with South Korea, which was to expire at the end of March, by two years. The move enabled the allies to buy time to negotiate a replacement accord. U.S. administration officials, however, have suggested that Washington will continue to reject Seoul’s demand that it be allowed to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium.
The failure to pass a revised nuclear bill in time would harm efforts to persuade the U.S. to pay more heed to South Korea’s urgent need to upgrade its civilian nuclear program to meet the growing energy demand.
The Assembly should convene this week to approve the bill. Lawmakers should feel ashamed of their inattentive and negligent attitude. It is deplorable that at this crucial time for legislative activity, dozens of legislators are on overseas trips. There can be no case for what lawmakers call parliamentary diplomacy when they hamper the country’s efforts to take the lead on key global issues.