Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kim Dae Jung

“Everything Will Be in Ashes”

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

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Vulnerable North Korea

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

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Dvorak Diplomacy

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

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The Meaning of KAMD

Will South Korea reverse long-standing policy and participate in Washington’s missile defense shield for Asia? Reports this week confirm that on January 8 the Ministry of National Defense briefed the transition team of incoming President Lee Myung-bak on Seoul’s options. It now appears that the new administration is interested in joining the effort.

Up to now, outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun, hoping to build bridges to Pyongyang and Beijing, has shunned missile defense cooperation with the Pentagon. South Korea has taken tentative steps to build what it calls KAMD, the Korean low-altitude air and missile network, but Lee looks like he will accelerate scheduled purchases of equipment and integrate his nation’s system with America’s and Japan’s high-altitude one. For instance, South Korea might provide missile-launch or radar sites, join in research and development, or share costs. As one senior official in South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking anonymously, said, “The bottom line is that we will go in a direction toward developing our low-altitude intercept shield into an extended missile defense system.”

Nonetheless, enhanced cooperation with Washington will proceed cautiously due to several factors. First, despite Lee’s landslide win over the so-called “progressive” forces last month, South Korea’s electorate remains almost evenly divided. Any move to sign up for Washington’s missile defense network will undoubtedly cause an uproar in a highly partisan electorate. Moreover, few South Koreans want to go out of their way to upset the Chinese, who are dead set against America’s missile shield plans. Although the defensive system is meant to counter North Korea, Beijing correctly views such plans as a threat to its offensive capabilities as well. And there is also the issue of cost.

Yet active consideration of missile defense in Seoul is an indication of a change in the country’s mood. South Korea is beginning to align its policies with America’s because there is an underlying sense that the North Korea-friendly Sunshine Policy of President Roh and his predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, is not working.

The larger point is that, as the pendulum swings back, South Korea is moving closer to the United States and American influence in North Asia is growing. Washington does not need to recognize Chinese ascendance there, as Jason Shaplen and James Laney, writing in Foreign Affairs at the end of last year, seem to think. In short, North Korea’s refusal to give up its nuclear weapons—evidenced by Pyongyang’s failure to meet its year-end obligations—is alienating Seoul and causing more heartburn for Beijing than Washington. After a few difficult years, the initiative is now with the democracies of North Asia, not China.

Will South Korea reverse long-standing policy and participate in Washington’s missile defense shield for Asia? Reports this week confirm that on January 8 the Ministry of National Defense briefed the transition team of incoming President Lee Myung-bak on Seoul’s options. It now appears that the new administration is interested in joining the effort.

Up to now, outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun, hoping to build bridges to Pyongyang and Beijing, has shunned missile defense cooperation with the Pentagon. South Korea has taken tentative steps to build what it calls KAMD, the Korean low-altitude air and missile network, but Lee looks like he will accelerate scheduled purchases of equipment and integrate his nation’s system with America’s and Japan’s high-altitude one. For instance, South Korea might provide missile-launch or radar sites, join in research and development, or share costs. As one senior official in South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking anonymously, said, “The bottom line is that we will go in a direction toward developing our low-altitude intercept shield into an extended missile defense system.”

Nonetheless, enhanced cooperation with Washington will proceed cautiously due to several factors. First, despite Lee’s landslide win over the so-called “progressive” forces last month, South Korea’s electorate remains almost evenly divided. Any move to sign up for Washington’s missile defense network will undoubtedly cause an uproar in a highly partisan electorate. Moreover, few South Koreans want to go out of their way to upset the Chinese, who are dead set against America’s missile shield plans. Although the defensive system is meant to counter North Korea, Beijing correctly views such plans as a threat to its offensive capabilities as well. And there is also the issue of cost.

Yet active consideration of missile defense in Seoul is an indication of a change in the country’s mood. South Korea is beginning to align its policies with America’s because there is an underlying sense that the North Korea-friendly Sunshine Policy of President Roh and his predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, is not working.

The larger point is that, as the pendulum swings back, South Korea is moving closer to the United States and American influence in North Asia is growing. Washington does not need to recognize Chinese ascendance there, as Jason Shaplen and James Laney, writing in Foreign Affairs at the end of last year, seem to think. In short, North Korea’s refusal to give up its nuclear weapons—evidenced by Pyongyang’s failure to meet its year-end obligations—is alienating Seoul and causing more heartburn for Beijing than Washington. After a few difficult years, the initiative is now with the democracies of North Asia, not China.

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Should We Give Aid to North Korea?

Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

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Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

Humanitarian assistance is always in season. In fact, the United States has been one of the largest food donors to North Korea in recent years. Yet aid is fungible. Whether we provide in cash or kind, each dollar we give means that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il can spend one fewer dollar on his suffering populace, and one more building weapons of mass destruction. We have, in a real sense, funded the devices that threaten us. Moreover, North Korea’s regime has diverted assistance from the United Nations World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, to feed the military and favored officials instead of the country’s most needy citizens. If it were not for aid provided by Bill Clinton and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il’s destitute regime would have collapsed long ago.

Substantial aid, however, can also undermine a government by dividing the ruling cadre and winning the loyalty of common folk—if the assistance is monitored rigorously by inspectors. For instance, many ordinary North Koreans have gotten their first glimpses of the outside by talking to foreign aid inspectors, and thereby have realized that all Pyongyang told them about other nations is wrong. Moreover, government minders, accompanying foreign inspectors, have traveled around their country for the first time and learned about the failures of their own government. When he has felt threatened by it, Kim Jong Il has turned down international aid, most notably in 2004, when he told the U.N to stop assistance.

By all means, then, let’s help the North Koreans devastated by this week’s rains, but only if we can use aid to subvert their despicable leaders.

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Seoul Train

On May 17, two trains, one moving south and the other north, crossed the demilitarized zone, the strip of land that divides the two Koreas. The last time a train traveled through what is now the DMZ was in 1951 during the Korean war.

“It is not simply a test run,” proclaimed South Korea’s unification minister, Lee Jae-jeong. “It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people.” But the reconnection lasted for only a few hours. There are no plans for regular service, or even further tests. There will be no more train runs until the south comes up with even more piles of cash. Seoul underwrote the entire cost of about $600 million to remove mines from the DMZ, reconnect the rail lines, and build stations. The work was completed in 2003, but no test run occurred until this month because of North Korea’s intransigence. To permit the trains to make their short runs last week, the south had to fork over another $86.5 million in aid to Pyongyang.

“I cannot understand why we should give rice, flour, fertilizer, and everything else the North Koreans want when they don’t do anything for us,” said Hong Moo-sun, a South Korean who demonstrated against last week’s test. Many foreigners would agree with Hong, especially because North Korea’s missile tests last July and nuclear detonation in October implicitly threatened the south. Yet there is a perfectly logical reason why the South Korean government engages in diplomacy that appears to be utterly inexplicable: the quest for political popularity.

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On May 17, two trains, one moving south and the other north, crossed the demilitarized zone, the strip of land that divides the two Koreas. The last time a train traveled through what is now the DMZ was in 1951 during the Korean war.

“It is not simply a test run,” proclaimed South Korea’s unification minister, Lee Jae-jeong. “It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people.” But the reconnection lasted for only a few hours. There are no plans for regular service, or even further tests. There will be no more train runs until the south comes up with even more piles of cash. Seoul underwrote the entire cost of about $600 million to remove mines from the DMZ, reconnect the rail lines, and build stations. The work was completed in 2003, but no test run occurred until this month because of North Korea’s intransigence. To permit the trains to make their short runs last week, the south had to fork over another $86.5 million in aid to Pyongyang.

“I cannot understand why we should give rice, flour, fertilizer, and everything else the North Koreans want when they don’t do anything for us,” said Hong Moo-sun, a South Korean who demonstrated against last week’s test. Many foreigners would agree with Hong, especially because North Korea’s missile tests last July and nuclear detonation in October implicitly threatened the south. Yet there is a perfectly logical reason why the South Korean government engages in diplomacy that appears to be utterly inexplicable: the quest for political popularity.

President Roh Moo-hyun’s approval rating has at times dipped to single digits this year, with his leftist Uri party scoring around 10 percent. Roh’s “peace and prosperity policy”—the continuation of his predecessor Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy” of engaging the north—has produced few results. For this and other reasons, the conservative Grand National party looks likely to win the next presidential election, which will be held in December. Roh and the Uri party are desperate to show the electorate that the North Koreans are responding to Seoul’s especially soft brand of diplomacy. The train test, therefore, is essentially an expensive campaign maneuver intended to bolster the chances of Roh’s so-called “progressives” in December.

It is in the interest of the U.S. to keep these staged extravaganzas to a minimum, and to restrict Kim Jong Il’s sway with the South Korean electorate. If Kim is successful in influencing the next election, it will be our own fault. The train test could not have occurred if the Bush administration had not reversed its long-held position last February and agreed to an interim—and deeply flawed—nuclear deal with Pyongyang. That arrangement, which Kim has so far failed to honor, has given an excuse to South Korean politicians to restart aid to Pyongyang.

Why has the U.S., the strongest nation in history, been unable to disarm one of the world’s most destitute states? In part because our own diplomacy undermines that effort by helping our adversary.

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