Hope Over Experience, Part VIII - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Hope Over Experience, Part VIII

It’s easy to understand a second marriage. You think: The break-up of the first union was just a fluke. The bad experience resulted from bad luck, Next time all will be different.

How to explain a fifth, or eighth, or tenth marriage, however?

The same analysis applies to the relationship between South and North Korea.

The first divorce was particularly nasty, a three-year war that killed a million people. The peninsula’s division became permanent and a low-key war persisted until just a few years ago.

But Seoul long hoped for a new relationship. With the end of the South’s military dictatorship, reconciliation seemed to become a realistic possibility. So over the last decade or so, the Republic of Korea has promoted negotiations with Pyongyang, encouraged investment in the North, and provided substantial aid to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

There’ve been some positive results along the way. Tensions have dipped. Families have reunited. Discussions have been held. Promises have been made. There was even a summit between the two nations’ leaders.

Yet by all accounts Pyongyang continues to develop nuclear weapons. The DPRK routinely engages in a range of unsavory activities, such as counterfeiting. North Korea still refuses to account for the many Japanese and South Koreans it kidnapped over the years.

And there are those missile tests.

A routine developed, rather like a succession of marriages and divorces. After every bad episode, Seoul came back offering more money and proposing more talks. The North avidly accepted, grabbing the proffered benefits, and then, ala Lucy and Charlie Brown, it pulled away the football when the South ran up for the kick.

BUT SOUTH KOREA NEVER seems to give up hope.

Maybe that’s because North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is kind of a lovable rogue. Admittedly, several million people are stuck in labor camps, hundreds of thousands have starved to death, and all North Koreans are denied the sort of human rights we take for granted. Still, he has a certain style.

It’s the dorky haircut, platform shoes, and unquenchable hubris. Whatever the DPRK does, his government always asks for more.

You could imagine Kim starting another war on the Korean peninsula and then demanding compensation after he lost. In a certain Clintonesque way, he would be utterly convincing, really believing himself to be the aggrieved party.

Luckily, Kim didn’t start another war. He merely shot off a few missiles.

They actually didn’t mean much for America. Even if the intercontinental rocket hadn’t been a (literal) bust, it wouldn’t have mattered. The U.S. has a massive nuclear deterrent and there’s no evidence that the Dear Leader is angling for martyrdom. He likes his virgins in the here and now.

But the shorter-range missiles demonstrated the ROK’s vulnerability. And that set off the usual whining and hand- wringing in Seoul.

Never mind that such hysteria only whets Kim’s appetite. The South’s reaction has become as regular as the response of Pavlov’s dogs.

South Korea proposed — what else? — talks. (The ROK also accused Japan of using the tests as “a pretext for becoming a military power.” You just gotta’ love these people. They believe that democratic Japan, not totalitarian North Korea, threatens regional peace.)

Sadly, the negotiations didn’t go well. Naturally, Pyongyang demanded more food assistance. They also proposed joint action against Tokyo.

But when Seoul persisted in talking about the missile tests, the North’s representatives “stormed out of talks,” reported the New Zealand Herald. Naturally, the breakdown was all South Korea’s fault.

Explained the DPRK delegates, Seoul had acted as a “mouthpiece” of others by raising the missile issue Moreover, “The South side will pay a price before the nation for causing the collapse of the ministerial talks and bringing a collapse of North- South relations.”

Then Pyongyang cancelled family reunion activities, including work on a center in the North. “North Koreans sent us a notice … that we should stop construction work,” explained a spokesman for the builder.

Finally, after years of abuse, the ROK got tough. Half of South Korean adults actually said that they felt threatened by the missile shots (half did not, but that’s better that earlier polls showing that more South Koreans would favor the DPRK than the U.S. in a war). So Seoul froze food aid until … the North comes back to the negotiating table.

WELL, THAT’S WHAT THEY originally said. A few days later South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-Seok observed: “North Korea’s boycotting of dialogue with the international community is wrong, but it is also inappropriate to move to resolve the issue only through pressure and sanctions.”

Of course.

Lee seemed to even regret cutting off food aid — which ran nearly 400,000 tons last year. He reassured everyone: “Our government’s suspending of rice and fertilizer aid was not participating in sanctions against North Korea but complying with our own independent judgment that North Korea worsened the situation by giving no consideration to our concern and position.”

Uh, when has the DPRK ever given any consideration to South Korea’s “concern and position”?

Well, no worries. Lee promised that Seoul would try to improve the situation, and aid could resume if “things get better.”

Com’on Charlie Brown, I’ll hold the football for you, I promise.

It should be obvious that there’s no dealing with North Korea like a normal country. Brinksmanship is Pyongyang’s name, and unreasonableness is its game.

The best thing for the U.S. to do would be to stop worrying about the North.

There’s no conventional threat to America. Even with missiles and nukes, the DPRK wouldn’t dare attack the U.S. As for the possibility of proliferation, Washington should make clear that any inkling of sales to dangerous actors would ensure that the Dear Leader would be looking for virgins in the fires of hell, not in his palaces in Pyongyang.

At the same time, America needs to bring its forces home from South Korea. The ROK is well able to defend itself. Let it do so. We have nothing at stake that requires protecting allies who are more likely to blame us for defending them than North Korea for threatening them. And it is the presence of those troops that ensnares us in the madness otherwise known as North Korean foreign policy.

It was almost charming to see Seoul being taken in by the North the first couple of times. No longer. If the South Koreans want to continue playing the fool in Kim Jong-il’s tiresome road show, let them. America has better things to do.

Doug Bandow
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Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
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