This woman may have stolen my thunder:
Lately, the threats have been more jarring than in years past. However, like many Koreans, most of the expat community shrugs it off, likening the threats to whining from a petulant child.However dismissive we are to news of Kim Jong-un’s (김정은) newest tantrum, we quietly acknowledge that the threats are not completely empty. There is a danger of escalation. We simply keep an eye out for that email or phone call from the embassy telling us it’s time to go (or hope we will have the luxury of time and notice to do so).
I have been in the small town of Penetanguishene, Ontario for about six weeks now and feel settled. The times I get confused here and have to explain that I have lived abroad for many years have decreased and I mostly understand how things work.
The opposite is not true. When people hear that I am from South Korea, and they have time to care and talk about it, they ask about North Korea’s recent belligerent threats. Here is what I would tell them if my thoughts were properly organized and they really wanted a lecture on the subject. People who have lived in Korea for any significant length of time may choose to skip the rest of this post.
For ex-pats with some experience in Korea, the USFK are a great comfort and much beloved. Yes, individual soldiers do stupid things, but no more frequently than individual English teachers. As a group, as a military force, they are on the side of angels.
I need to belabour this point a little. I think the reasons behind the second Gulf War were petty, deceptive and have hurt America’s image worldwide. The American-led attacks in Afghanistan started for good reasons but the military and political leadership are doing stupid things and their coverups are only making things worse. Bush Junior started digging a hole to bury America’s reputation and Obama is using drones to deepen it.
There’s a lot I don’t trust about American foreign policy.
Regarding Korea, I believe nearly every word. Often, I trust the American reports over Korean ones.
I have lived in, and watched carefully, Korea for about a quarter of its sixty years of armistice. What I have seen in sixteen years is an excellent example of the whole. I arrived in Korea just after a North Korean submarine ran aground near Gangneung,a place where I would work for seven years. The crew and their cargo of commandos slipped inland and evaded capture for two months before being killed or captured. They killed many South Koreans during this period. More recently, the North Koreans sank a South Korean naval vessel and fired artillery shells at an island of civilians. The BBC has a timeline of attacks but it is outdated as it does not include the Baeknyeong Island shelling of 2012.
Now, they are making threats of more, and more violent, action. My Canadian friends don’t understand why. To some extent, I join them. Nobody really understands what happens in North Korea. This is what my friends and I think is happening.
From 2000 to 2008, presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Mu Hyun pursued a ‘Sunshine Policy’, that of giving North Korea vast amounts of aid and not watching to see where it was going. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize for it. However, many felt that the lack of oversight meant that the aid was going nowhere or nowhere useful. Now, I must admit to descending into rumour: I have heard that when bags of rice are sent into North Korea, the bags are labelled “Product of South Korea” or “A gift from the USA” and the rice then either emptied into new bags with North Korean labels or described as war reparations from these countries. I place slightly more stock in the latter scenario but both are believable.
From the New York Times:
Tired of giving billions of dollars of aid and trade to the Communist North but getting little in return, South Koreans in 2007 abandoned the policies of Mr. Kim and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, by electing Lee Myung-bak, a conservative leader who promised a tougher stance on Pyongyang.
With Lee Myung-bak came restrictions on aid and a return to violence by North Korea. Although not precisely admitted as such, it sure appears that the North Korean government is saying give us aid or we will kill South Korean citizens. This is a protection racket writ large.
The Daily Maverick has it right in an article titled North Korea: Eccentric, yes; Irrational, no.
Contrary to what is often said about North Korea’s leadership, it is not irrational. The Pyongyang leaders pursue highly rational goals in a highly inhospitable environment. They are not zealots of a mechanistic ideology or religion; rather, they are a hereditary oligarchy where a young king, Kim Jong-Un, is surrounded by aging lords whose forefathers once served the kings that came before,” writes Andrei Lankov in Asia Times. “These people have not the slightest desire to initiate a nuclear holocaust and bring the threat of nuclear annihilation merely for the pleasure of killing a few ten thousand Americans, Japanese or South Koreans.”Lankov argues – and it’s hard to disagree – that the real point of the nukes, and the bravado, is self-defence, and diplomatic blackmail. “Without nuclear weapons it would be virtually impossible for them to attract international attention and squeeze unconditional aid from the international community,” continues Lankov.
Finally, this account has caught up to current events. North Korea has threatened to tear up the armistice agreement and attack both the US and South Korea. Is this the same ol’, same ol’?
I think so. The novel part of the situation is that we have two new players or perhaps two new leaders of the original players. Both North and South Korea have relatively inexperienced leaders and who can say what the testing will reveal.
From the above-linked Daily Maverick article:
Park Geun-hye was inaugurated just a fortnight ago, and already she’s had to deal with an opposition that keeps blocking her cabinet appointments, plummeting opinion polls and a major escalation in hostilities with North Korea. It’s been less a baptism of fire than a baptism of impending nuclear apocalypse, and so far it is her equally inexperienced North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un that seems to be holding all the cards.
Lee Myung Bak claims to have been held back by the Americans and Southern generals appear prepared this time to retaliate rather than merely bluster. Nobody calls an evened scale revenge. You always have to reply with interest and who knows how quickly that interest will compound?
Kim JongUn and Bak GeonHye are new to their posts but their respective military leaders aren’t. My prediction is caution with a chance of stupidity. I rate the possibility of localized violence over the next year as around 10% and wider action as well under 1%.