Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lee Myung-bak

Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

Read Less

What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

Read Less

Obama Needs a Korea Strategy Focused on Liberation, Not Engagement

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

Read Less

South Korea, Yes. Israel, No.

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

Read Less

The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Read Less

Justice, Prudence, and North Korea

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Read Less

Another Ally, Another Snub

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

Read Less

North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Read Less

Bad News on North Korea

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

Read Less

Take Your Time, North Korea

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Read Less

Sundown in Seoul?

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

Read Less

“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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

China Proposes a Three-Way Forum

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

Read Less

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.

Read Less

State Eats One of Its Own

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

Read Less

Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Read More

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

Read Less

Kidnap Victims & Nukes

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

Read Less

Myung-Bak Wins

As expected, former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak seems handily to have won yesterday’s South Korean presidential election. Exit polls have him at between 40 and 50 percent of the three-man race. This is good news for South Korea, Asia, and the United States. Lee is not only an experienced businessman and politician, he is likely to bring a more realistic approach to Korean affairs, warm up relations with the U.S., and perhaps even take South Korea onto new paths of international involvement. For now, Lee has promised a “747″ strategy: achieve 7 percent annual growth, increase South Korea’s per capita income to US$40,000, and put the country in the top 7 nations worldwide in terms of GDP.

Especially audacious is Lee’s income doubling plan (currently South Korea’s per capita income is around US$20,000), and it harks to former Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato’s income doubling policy of the 1960’s, which put Japan on the road to economic superpower status. With a growing asset bubble around Seoul, corruption in the state and among private enterprises, and rising income inequality, Lee has his work cut out for him. But in bringing clarity to his political platform, he has given South Koreans a road map for moving forward.

Equally importantly, this is the moment for the U.S. to take advantage of having an ally in Seoul. The past decade of rule by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun has seen a near-collapse in U.S.-South Korean political relations. Both Kim and Roh pursued active engagement with Pyongyang, and most South Koreans saw nothing emerge from the policy except a nuclear North Korea. Lee has indicated that any further engagement with Kim Jong-Il depends on the North’s living up to the promises it has already made. This should give Washington an excuse to re-evaluate its policy of bending every deadline in the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang’s favor. Washington also has a unique chance to rethink the military reform projects put in place over the past several years, and to consider delaying the dissolution of the highly successful Combined Forces Command, a reform opposed by an overwhelming majority of South Korean uniformed officers.

Now is also the time to encourage South Korea to think about a larger role in East Asia, starting with improving relations with Japan, perhaps within a new trilateral arrangement spearheaded by the United States. The Japanese more forthrightly will have to address lingering historical issues to Seoul’s satisfaction, but the two should be natural partners in promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights in Asia. This should become a priority of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Yesterday’s election is a rare piece of good news in a region that needs it desperately.

As expected, former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak seems handily to have won yesterday’s South Korean presidential election. Exit polls have him at between 40 and 50 percent of the three-man race. This is good news for South Korea, Asia, and the United States. Lee is not only an experienced businessman and politician, he is likely to bring a more realistic approach to Korean affairs, warm up relations with the U.S., and perhaps even take South Korea onto new paths of international involvement. For now, Lee has promised a “747″ strategy: achieve 7 percent annual growth, increase South Korea’s per capita income to US$40,000, and put the country in the top 7 nations worldwide in terms of GDP.

Especially audacious is Lee’s income doubling plan (currently South Korea’s per capita income is around US$20,000), and it harks to former Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato’s income doubling policy of the 1960’s, which put Japan on the road to economic superpower status. With a growing asset bubble around Seoul, corruption in the state and among private enterprises, and rising income inequality, Lee has his work cut out for him. But in bringing clarity to his political platform, he has given South Koreans a road map for moving forward.

Equally importantly, this is the moment for the U.S. to take advantage of having an ally in Seoul. The past decade of rule by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun has seen a near-collapse in U.S.-South Korean political relations. Both Kim and Roh pursued active engagement with Pyongyang, and most South Koreans saw nothing emerge from the policy except a nuclear North Korea. Lee has indicated that any further engagement with Kim Jong-Il depends on the North’s living up to the promises it has already made. This should give Washington an excuse to re-evaluate its policy of bending every deadline in the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang’s favor. Washington also has a unique chance to rethink the military reform projects put in place over the past several years, and to consider delaying the dissolution of the highly successful Combined Forces Command, a reform opposed by an overwhelming majority of South Korean uniformed officers.

Now is also the time to encourage South Korea to think about a larger role in East Asia, starting with improving relations with Japan, perhaps within a new trilateral arrangement spearheaded by the United States. The Japanese more forthrightly will have to address lingering historical issues to Seoul’s satisfaction, but the two should be natural partners in promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights in Asia. This should become a priority of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Yesterday’s election is a rare piece of good news in a region that needs it desperately.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.