Let the Two Koreas Peacefully Coexist
A week after the North Korean shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island, I e-mailed Sung-yoon
Not surprisingly, Lee, a staunchly conservative academic, did not deign to reply to my impassioned letter. Instead, he wrote a column on The Los Angeles Times the following day limning “Pyongyang’s unique points of vulnerability” which might provide “substantial leverage[s]” to both the United States and the Republic of Korea. In his rather stridently hawkish column entitled, “Hitting the North,” he poses the question, “Why is the continued survival of this great outlier to these global goals really necessary?” He went further to define the Hermit Kingdom’s Achilles’ heels as “dynastic succession,” “the long-term dependency on foreign aid,” “dependence on illicit international transactions to maintain Pyongyang’s palace economy,” and lastly, “the increasing information flow into the country, which undermines the regime’s totalitarian control.” The only way to solve the current conundrum, he avers, is simply to “apply concerted force on these four pressure points.”
However, he would do well to remember that the United States and the Republic of Korea, if not the rest of the world, have little choice but to hope for the “continued survival of this great outlier,” for they are collectively culpable of having wrought conditions under which this abomination continues to thrive to this day. It was their thoughtless outbursts, along with incoherent and often desultory policies that have forced the reclusive totalitarian regime into brinkmanship. In fact, the last two acts of provocations by the DPRK—the sinking of the Ch’ŏnan, and now the bombardment on Yeonpyeong—have exposed fatal weaknesses inherent in the both America’s, and to a greater extent, the South Korea’s collective stances against the North. These weaknesses are telling in that they prove his exhortation “to apply concerted force on these four pressure points” to be an unworkable pipe dream.
What are the Achilles’ heels inherent within the US-ROK alliance which preclude both countries from adopting coherent measured stance against the DPRK? First, in the eyes of the Kim dynasty, at least, both the United States and the ROK are viewed as mere paper tigers. For all their tough, macho threats of sanguinary
Second, the ROK itself remains deeply divided over what to do about the cryptic ruler in Pyongyang. As an English instructor who spent eight and a half years in South Korea, I witnessed its citizens stage violent protests against their presidents on numerous occasions. While many elderly and conservative Koreans were quick to denounce their actions as thoughtless, puerile, if not “Communist-inspired,” I concluded after my seventh year in the country that the mob justice administered by the embattled Korean protesters was a manifestation of their desire to bring their version of the “Korean Dream” to fruition. Simply put, the ROK remains riven by internal strife because it has not yet come to grips with its definitions for stability and peace. For this reason, no sane policymaker, or citizen, wants to fight a war which may prove to be unwinnable, because fighting a war necessarily entails giving up that which they cherish most—the Korean Dream and the attendant stability it brings.
Which leads to the third point. That is, neither the United States, nor the ROK, knows what it wants. Nor do both countries have a clue as to how to formulate a collective policy against their hated chujŏk (main enemy). The last time both the United States and the ROK were in sync over their approaches to the North was when Bill Clinton and Kim Dae-jung contrived the Agreed Framework meant to work in tandem with the latter’s so-called “Sunshine Policy.” This short-lived scheme ultimately backfired due to the irreconcilable differences between the dovish Kim, who desired nothing less than to avert an all-out confrontation with the North, and the warmongering Bush, who wanted to effect what he called “regime change” in Pyongyang. The effect of the bitter rift was such that, after the inauguration of Roh Moo-hyun in 2003, it seemed as though both allies had reached a point of no return as they seemingly went about their own separate ways. But recent events have proven that differences in expectations and perceptions notwithstanding, the US-ROK alliance is here to stay for better or worse. With this recognition, both Barack Obama, and his pliant Uncle Tom, Lee Myung-bak, hobble together clumsily in broken crutches to deal a weak blow to a rattlesnake bent on killing two of its weak-kneed foes.
Fourth, neither the United States, nor the ROK, has the wherewithal, or the military capability to mount a lethal and sustained retaliatory measure against the DPRK. The United States, despite fielding a
Last but not least, the DPRK has proven to be a wily, unpredictable foe worthy of respect. In its efforts to undermine its richer Southern brethren, it not only resorts to lethal attacks on the ROK military personnel and civilians, but has waged a sustained propaganda campaign on cyberspace to spread its perverted gospels online. It is rumored that despite dogged attempts by the South Korean police to shut down, or deny access to, such Web sites, that the North Korean cyber warriors have proven resilient and determined in their attempts to wage a protracted guerrilla war online. Alas, for Lee Myung-bak and his hapless toadies in the Korean National Police Agency, the North Korean cyber soldiers seem to be winning that war.
Such stark realities prove that neither Lee Myung-bak, nor his boss, Barack Obama, has a winning chance in their collective struggle against the Kim Dynasty. Instead, both leaders would do well to put their houses in order first. For the ROK, this means encouraging the “continued survival of this great outlier” as a sovereign state deserving of recognition and respect. Simply put, both Koreas, or Chosŏns, should learn to coexist peacefully as separate entities. Why? Because wishing for a sudden implosion of the Kim Dynasty, or effecting a regime change, is tantamount to inviting a colossal catastrophe
For the United States, setting its house in order in the context of the Korean crisis means recognition of its own limits of hard power. Rather than bully the DPRK and force it into a corner, cajole, coach and flatter it. After all, does not diplomacy entail judicious use of both carrots and sticks?
To sum up, let cooler heads prevail and ratchet things down. It is time that we all learn to act like responsible adults and learn to live in harmony.