In a previous blog entry about the six-party talks, I explained why testing nuclear bombs was a wise thing for Kim Jong Il to do. The logic was simple: if you have the bomb, others will take you seriously.
And indeed Kim was taken seriously. George W. Bush had to embarrass himself by giving a lot of concessions to the dismay of his neocon friends and even at the expense of US relations with the Japanese who are still stuck on the Abduction Issue.
In return, the North Koreans gave less. They refuse to account for their nuclear arsenal, and they still have not disclosed anything with regards to their dealings with rougue states like Syria. They even missed their Dec. 31 deadline of dismantling their nuclear reactors.
Which is why South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung Bak, believes that the Sunshine Policy has failed. The logic of the said policy, adopted most vigorously by Lee’s predecessor Roh Moo Yoon, is that if the North is engaged, it will feel less insecured and would behave more properly. But it seems like years of Sunshine never changed Kim’s behavior. It only funded his extravagant lifestyle and his little science experiment. Heaven knows what happened to the millions of aid Seoul poured into the coffers of Pyongyang. And if you’d ask heaven, I bet my ass it will tell you the money went to Yongbyon.
Lee Myung Bak promised voters during the recent elections that he would re-examine the Sunshine Policy. And that was one of the reasons he got elected. After assuming office, he abolished the Ministry on Re-unification, which was tasked to deal with North Korea. His diplomats also voted in favor of condemning the North’s human rights abuses in the United Nations Human Rights Council. These sent an important message to Pyongyang: honeymoon’s over.
The biggest blow came when Lee announced that economic aid would depend on the dismantlement of North Korean nuclear programs. Ah, that’s serious for Kim. He can take being called a psycho and all, but he sure can never take receiving less money. How can he maintain his yachts and cars, and buy more caviars, wines and pretty girls?
So the response from Kim was equally harsh. He expelled eleven South Korean officials working at a joint industrial complex and then test-fired several short-range missiles.
But these testings didn’t deter the Lee government. Days later, his general was asked by legislators acting as confirmation commissioners about the best way to counter nuclear threats from the North. His response was that the South should be able to pinpoint the locations of Pyongyang’s launchpads so they could pre-empt a nuclear strike.
The North responed by angrily saying that they can turn the whole southern half of the Korean peninsula into ashes if Seoul ever consider a pre-emptive strike. Exciting, if you’d ask me.
But could Kim really do that?
Assuming he does, and Seoul burns like Hiroshima, what does he think would happen next? The United States would be on the offensive, the international community would run amuck and it wouldn’t take days before a UN Expeditionary Force is formed, sanctioned by the Security Council. Pyongyang would be burning within weeks and Kim Jong Il would have no one to turn to. Forget the Chinese, they would be busy with Tibet and the Olympics and would certainly not want to help an agressor. It would be Korean War II, and the unfinished business would be finished, with Korea being unified under Seoul. McArthur would dance in his grave.
If not for the prospects of serious collateral damages, I really hope Kim would make good his threat. But of course he would never do that. He can’t and he knows it.
This threat is nothing but a way for him to test the new South Korean president.
Kim Jong Il’s calculation is that risk-averse South Koreans would rather give money to Pyongyang and not ask where the money goes than face a nuclear attack from the Stalinist country. The Sunshine Policy worked in his favor this way.
That’s why it is certain that more hostile rethoric would come from the North. Expect more missile testing. Expect border closure. Expect North Korean officials giving the finger to Lee. I wouldn’t even be surprised if there would be mobilzation in the border, although that would be very far-fetched. These, of course, would be done with the upcoming South Korean parliamentary elections this April in mind.
The strategy is to spread fear among the voters, so they could force Lee to change course and be more friendly to Pyongyang.
In my opinion, Lee should continue this hardline policy undeterred. It would put more pressure on the North Koreans to make progress with the agreements made in the six-party talks. This policy would have better chances of succeeding where the Sunshine Policy failed: making the North behave better as a member of the international community.
But in the end, it will be up to President Lee Mung Bak. Would he rather be friendly with Pyongyang and win the elections? Would he be willing to lose the elections and stand firmly with his principles? It will be a tough decision.