One of the striking features of South Korean foreign affairs during the Roh Moo-Hyun administration was how much South Korea offered to North Korea for so little in return. It’s undeniable that South Koreans would like the entire peninsula to be unified in peace, but being soft with North Korea didn’t work out the way South Korea had hoped.
Then, in the wake of Roh Moo-Hyun’s death, the same Roh Moo-Hyun who was so generous and conciliatory toward the North Koreans, North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test.
It’s like spitting upon his grave.
Let there be no mistaking the character of the rulers of North Korea. They have no love for humanity. They are narcissitic in the extreme.
You’ve heard that all politics are local, and that’s especially true of North Korea. The shameless way in which they conduct themselves is a Herculean effort to maintain a personality cult. The personality cult has allowed the leadership to enjoy a consolidation of power for decades now. With a succession question looming due to Kim Jong-Il’s declining health, we can surmise that top deputies are vying to be the most valiant and daring in continuing the legacy in order to arise as the eventual successor atop the pyramid. Kim Jong-Il, and his father before him, have been shrouded in mythology, and the successor to Kim Jong-Il will certainly want to build a mythology around himself, too, to remain atop the personality cult pyramid.
But we, abroad, all know it’s a mirage. Kim Jong-Il is no Superman, neither was his father, nor will be his successor. They are human like the rest of us. But we haven’t been inclined to demonstrate that the emperor wears no clothes.
Is it any wonder that North Korea and Iran seek nuclear weapons when the United States will never take punitive actions against other members of the nuclear arsenal club? Not only are we inseparable allies with the United Kingdom, France, and Israel, but haven’t we become all too cozy with China? Pakistan and India may be enemies of each other, but the United States has positioned itself as fawning allies of them both. And finally, when Russia runs roughshod all over Georgia, we offer only lip service as condemnation? Defense Secretary Gates said that since the end of World War II, the United States has always sought to avoid military confrontation with Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union.
And I think that’s the crux of the matter, right there. There’s no upside to being a party to a non-proliferation treaty. As long as countries agree to forego nukes, they run the risk that they will be meddled with by foreign powers. Once a country has nukes, then outside interference ends. That’s the lesson learned by the North Koreans and the Iranians. It’s debatable whether North Korea has designs on its neighbors or not, but those at the pinnacle of power of the personality cult certainly don’t want to risk any outside interference in messing up their domestic hold on power.
The brinksmanship games that North Korea plays only feed the mythology propagated throughout the North Korean populace. The six-party talks are characterized in such a way that renowned nations such as South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States, all come crawling to North Korea on hands and knees begging for some small concessions. Sometimes the North Koreans indulge the petty requests of those beggars, and sometimes not. See how the current methods of dealing with North Korea only enable them?
And the lesson from the Russian invasion of Georgia is that North Korea can continue the games of brinksmanship and certainly ought to continue the course toward a nuclear arsenal. Iran has learned the same lesson.
When former President George W. Bush spoke of an axis of evil that ran through Baghdad, Tehran, and Pyongyang, he might’ve been right about two of the three. And just maybe, he left out Moscow.
I don’t think that Ronald Reagan would have the same take on American foreign policy that Secretary Gates does. I don’t think that Ronald Reagan thought that we should back down from teaching Russia a lesson. I don’t think Ronald Reagan would have permitted this charade with Iran to go on as long as it has. I think if Ronald Reagan were told that we don’t have the military capability of keeping Russia in check, then Reagan would say “Then lets acquire that capability, pronto.”
And then, if Russia can’t do whatsoever it pleases, even though it’s in the nuclear arsenal club, because the United States interdicts, then all of a sudden, nuclear weapons aren’t the ultimate answer, and maybe it is OK to be party to a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
In the meantime, if we can’t get Vladimir Putin to mind his manners, then we aren’t going to get Iran and North Korea to mind theirs, either. What we’re hoping for, on the Iranian front, is that internal dissent will grow until there is a change of the regime in power. But on the North Korean front, internal dissent has been totally absent, and we’re playing a wait-and-see game with the question of succession. Don’t hold your breath.