by Austin Bay
November 23, 2010
Why did North Korea lace a South Korean island withartillery fire this week, then threaten further escalation? Because sensationalattacks are a vicious form of advertising that reap significant political andeconomic dividends. Deadly fits of violence followed by diplomatic tantrumsadvance the interests of North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-Il and his Stalinistregime.
Since the Cold War ended, Pyongyang has played a calculatedgame with South Korea and its allies, Japan and the United States. The Northlaunches a military attack or terrorist foray, which is followed by viciousbluster.
As time passes and the blood cools, North Korea signals itis ready to talk and perhaps discuss the possibility of, oh, ending its nuclearweapons program? However, the North insists on incentives. South Korea, Japanand the U.S. are urged to provide economic and political carrots so North Koreawill drop its military stick.
Consider the pattern over the last two decades. After hisfather, Kim Il-Sung, died in 1994, Kim Jong-Il threatened violence whileconducting nuclear negotiations. The U.S. agreed to supply the North with fueloil. In 1998, South Korea began its Sunshine Policy, which included support forbusiness ventures. Yet the North continued to test ballistic missiles. InOctober 2006, North Korea detonated a nuke. The same routine of tantrum thentalks followed.
2010 has been a big year for Kim's dangerous game. This pastMarch, North Korea sunk a South Korean naval vessel and killed 46 sailors.South Korea considered a military response. Over the summer, tensions eased.This fall, the South shipped food to the North. Now artillery shells rain on aSouth Korean shopping center.
The game is obvious, yet South Korea and its allies haveconsistently rewarded Kim's armed tantrums with economic candy. Despite toughrhetoric, both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations in theU.S. have acceded to North Korea's extortion racket.
Four deep concerns give South Korea and the U.S. pause whenconsidering military action to topple the Kim regime.
The global economy is a huge consideration. Kim's missilestarget valuable economic territory. The destructive consequences of all-out warin one of the world's most economically productive regions, East Asia, are thusfar judged too great to risk waging one. The possible use of nuclear weaponsadds another grave dimension.
China's reaction is another concern. China does not want awar on its border. That is bad for business. North Korean refugees might floodChina. But what would China's generals do if they see U.S. and South Koreanarmies (much less aided by China's historical enemy, Japan) advancing north ofthe DMZ? China is capable of responding with a range of economic, diplomaticand military efforts. The fact that Beijing, to its discredit, still supportsNorth Korea's communist state is not a good indicator.
A dynastic change is brewing in the North. Kim Jong-Il has afavored son, but a war of succession involving other relatives and militaryfactions is possible. The effects of an internal struggle are difficult toassess. The next generation may prefer negotiations, or it may be raw,obstreperous and more prone to desperate action.
A bitterly ironic consideration further tempers South Koreanpolicy. It took West Germany a decade-plus to pay for East Germany's communistfailure. Given the North's dismal poverty, it could take five decades to makethe wretched place habitable. Many South Koreans do not want to bear thateconomic burden.
Yet North Korea intends to acquire a nuclear arsenal, andthis week revealed a sophisticated enrichment facility. A nuclear strike onSeoul also presents South Koreans with a heavy economic burden, along withheavy casualties.
A terrible day of decision is approaching -- the day NorthKorea deploys its nuclear warheads. The dangerous game then becomes moredangerous, and South Korea may no longer enjoy the luxury of avoiding war.Until that day arrives, North Korea's continued belligerence demonstrates thatthe allies' economic incentives are little more than acts of cyclicalineptitude. Rewards for murderous behavior must end. Let wealthy China pay allof North Korea's bills. Who knows, investment-savvy Beijing may finally tellKim to quit wasting money on nukes.