November 23, 2004


Seoul rows against the US tide (David Scofield, 11/23/04, Asia Times)

When it comes to North Korea and defusing its nuclear crisis, the United States is finding that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who wants to be friends with North Korea, is becoming increasingly obstructionist. US neo-conservatives want to play hard ball, very hard ball, with Pyongyang, and say South Korea is too soft. Who's side is Seoul on, anyhow? they ask.

Roh made clear just how soft - and infuriating to the US - his policy is when he addressed the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile. Roh, never one to mince words, stunned many in the audience of foreign-policy experts with his assertion that the central argument underpinning North Korea's nuclear-weapons program - that it is a necessary defense in the face of hostility and threat - is not entirely illogical. But it was a shocking, if frank, pronouncement, to be sure.

With South Korea choosing the North's side there's really no reason not to launch a first strike on the nuclear program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 23, 2004 8:25 AM

Sounds like South Korea is on South Korea's side, the traitors.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 23, 2004 8:40 AM


That's just your way of saying that you're against the regime, right?

Posted by: Brian (MN) at November 23, 2004 8:48 AM

If by "the regime" you mean the South Korean government, no. They're attempting to do something far beyond the scope of anything we're trying: to reunite with the North would bring democracy and the beginnings of a real economy to the North, unite what is truly a divided nation, and remove the threat to the region. I like that a lot better than the sporadic stick-waving/negotiation that the U.S. brings to the table.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 23, 2004 8:57 AM


Non-proliferation means just that.

Posted by: oj at November 23, 2004 8:58 AM

Brian (MN) --

Roh is following Chamberlain's strategy to being on his country's side. When should they (we?) start to worry, when Roh chooses Petain's strategy to being on France's side?

Posted by: Moe from NC at November 23, 2004 9:02 AM

Actually South Korea really doesn't want to unify with the North. Not after they saw how much it cost and is costing Germany to do the same. And Germany had it easy since the East wasn't as much of a disaster area as North Korea is. The South I think just wants a 'live and let live' relationship and they think they can get it by buying the North off.

Posted by: rps at November 23, 2004 9:14 AM

Let's bring reality to the situation and accelerate our removal of troops from the area. That should bring sharper focus to the "Rohs" in Korea. We can keep a nearby air/seaborne retalitory force to hammer the North if they make any foolish mistakes in view of the South's possible appeasement. I doubt if the North would use nuclear force on the peninsula nor would they trade the destruction of Seoul for Pyongyang. It's a stalemate there and we don't need groundtroops to be involved onsite because of a bad move by either side. The situation will be resolved within a year from within the North if we remove our presence and state our intended response to aggresion.

Posted by: genecis at November 23, 2004 9:46 AM

agreed and well said, rps, but I'm pretty sure the SorKs want us (as in the captial-U capital-S US) to do the buying off.

Eventually they'll figure out W isn't gunning for a Nobel Peace Price.

Posted by: Chris B at November 23, 2004 9:48 AM

SS --

If South Korea wishes to unite with North Korea, it would be simple to accomplish.

All they need to do is surrender. Nothin more. Glorious Leader (if he is still functional) will take care of the rest.

Then, of course, one must wonder what happens next.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at November 23, 2004 9:50 AM

RPS is correct. S. Korea is perfectly willing to let the gulag run in order to avoid the costs of reunification. Except that they would much prefer that the US bare the cost of bribing the Norks.

The only country with a true lever is China, and they certainly want the US to cave to talks that are essentially nuclear blackmail against the US. And again, so does S. Korea. SS is naive.

As for premption, OJ, that would result in Seoul getting shelled, leaving the US to take the fall for starting things. Frankly, given the orthogonal interests at play here, there is very little good that can come from a US profile in this matter. IMHO, we should completely pull out; South Korea can easily win a war with the North on their own. As long as we are there, we will be a scape goat. And for what? Because we're the target of a nuclear weapon? This requires a blunt message that when a device goes off in the US, Pakistan and North Korea will be turned into glass parking lots, no matter what. That may be unfair, but how else? Leaving will force the S Koreans and Chinese, as well as the Japanese, to finally act in their own best interest and put a lid on this themselves.

Posted by: Mike at November 23, 2004 9:58 AM

As said earlier, the South Korean leadership of all parties has seen the travesty of German reunification and shudder at the thought of what reunifying with the North would entail. Roh, it would seem, has based his entire political career on blaming Korea's problem on the US, which appeals to the extreme racism and xenophobia which permeates Korean society. It is also the view taught in South Korean textbooks, to teach otherwise would be to say that Koreans can be wrong or evil, and if there are 'foreign devils' around how can that possibly be?

Anybody who thinks that the Dear Leader wouldn't nuke Seoul in a heartbeat is simply fooling himself. But if ROK voters want to engage in self-delusion, who am I to stop them?

The reality is though that America has bigger interests in the region than just South Korea. There is the very real possibility of North Korea nuking Japan, which would be popular on both sides of the 38th parallel. However, the impact of an irradiated Tokyo on the world's economy should not be underestimated, and probably cannot be overestimated. North Korea's willingness to sell nuclear missiles to America's enemies like Cuba or Iran should also be taken into account in our policy there. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be hamstrung by the minutiae of Hermit Kingdom dementia.

Thus, a little visit from Roh to Washington is in order. The point should be made that we do not need South Korea if South Korea does not want us, and that of our issues with the DPRK, relations between the Koreas are a side matter for us. If you want the troops out, we're gone. If you want no air cover or nuclear umbrella, fine. If you want to discontinue the close relationship between the ROK military and the US military, no skin off our back. Roh should be told in no uncertain terms to fish or cut bait.

Simultaneously, we should be encouraging the Japanese to continue remilitarization emphasizing how helpful they are in the WOT, etc.

Posted by: Bart at November 23, 2004 10:12 AM


So? North Korea wouldn't have a nuclear program anymore and no one else would be willing to risk same.

Posted by: oj at November 23, 2004 10:13 AM


Look, you don't know a goddamn thing about South Korea if you honestly believe what you wrote.

Pkease explain why Roh doesn't demand an immediate US withdrawal from South Korea.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at November 23, 2004 11:23 AM

OJ - say what you want, but it won't happen for that reason.

Posted by: Mike at November 23, 2004 11:28 AM


Do we seem noticably concerned about causing destabilization and death anywhere else?

Posted by: oj at November 23, 2004 11:45 AM

In regards to Japan and the US pulling out of SK... They can always become part of the new ABM system with a few interception missile bases there. If I recall correctly, they already are quite interested in it already. Their Kongo class destroyers are smiliar to our Burke class ships so they could easily be fitted out with ABM missiles.

Posted by: rps at November 23, 2004 12:34 PM

OJ: I would posit that this is the prime example of a place we're uninterested in actively fighting, but that's sort of circular. Point is, Seoul is a city of 10 million that overloaked by a large mountain range that is riddled with 10000 bunkered artillery pieces, all targeted at the major suburbs. Now, once a shooting war starts, it's gonna be at least 1-3 days before these get taken out. There is no question of the ultimate outcome of such a battle, but the cost is simple to calculate. Do you particularly want to lean into this punch? It's one thing to start bombing Afganistan - another to start a fight here.

Another point, how do we know which plants to take out? Our vaunted intelligence agencies? What if we miss? I'm not suggesting inaction, but are you gonna Nuke the Moon?

Posted by: Mike at November 23, 2004 2:05 PM

"how do we know which plants to take out?"

The sanction we impose is simple. By reaching for the Atom Kim has lost the right to use electricty. We nuke anything he owns that emits a trace of A.C. 60 hz hum.

Posted by: Ripper at November 23, 2004 3:09 PM


We have more missiles than we know what to do with--hit every plant in the North.

Posted by: oj at November 23, 2004 3:24 PM

I'm gonna file that under "Nuke the moon."

Posted by: Mike at November 24, 2004 12:56 AM

We own the moon.

Posted by: oj at November 24, 2004 9:11 AM