Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brinksmanship on the Peninsula

Tensions are really building of late here on the Korean peninsula. The border between North and South Korea, about thirty-five clicks north of where I sit, is the last vestige of the Cold War that once split the globe into two opposing groups, the Coms and Yangs, each bent on world domination.

Well, okay, not the Coms and the Yangs, that was Star Trek's allegorical version, but the communists and the "Free World". It is well-known by now who won, except in a tiny enclave of the world called DPRK. Evil is a strong word to use, but how else to describe men who are willing to let millions starve to death in order to propagate an illusion of strength?

Once again, North Korea has turned away a million tons of food offered by the Free World, even though it surely means starvation for helpless millions held in its death-grip. But, not content with passive evil, Kim Jong-Il is insistent on perpetuating a rising level of antagonism with the South and the US--to an extent that actually risks war.

We learned today that two US journalists have been detained by DPRK soldiers for filming at the border in China--details are unclear, but it appears the soldiers actually crossed into China to capture the journalists when they would not stop filming. The North also keeps closing, then temporarily reopening, its border crossing to the Gaeseong Special Industrial Complex, which is a joint venture of the two states and provides much-needed hard currency to the failed dictatorship. The purpose seems to be to flummox the South's political machinery, especially while the US-ROK joint military exercise Key Resolve/Foal Eagle is carried out.

Key Resolve is basically an annual defensive readiness exercise, though the North is painting it as rehearsal for an invasion. Amidst all the stories about the exercises, NK's plan to test fire a missile/launch a satellite/whatever, the scariest thing I've read was excerpts from an interview with an "Ex-NK official" in the Dong-A Ilbo, one of the most right-wing paps in a country with virtually no left-wing media.

"In a conversation that lasted nearly two hours," the article states, "he showed evidence of brainwashing by North Korean-style logic. The talk, however, provided clues to how North Korean cadres or residents perceive the situation." Here are a few quotes:
Discipline in our society has become too slack over the last 10 years because of the food crisis ... There are significant fears that if reform is implemented under such circumstances, we could collapse just like the Soviet Union due to failure to control chaos. To wage a big battle, you have to arrange your rank first... I have no great expectations. Rumor has it that [North Korean leader Kim Jong Il] said, ‘There is nothing much about becoming a powerful country. Putting our tanks on top of South Korea’s economy makes us a powerful country.’ Rather than meaning go to war, this indicates that our policy will continue to put priority on military power.

The contradiction in his last sentence makes me think of US policy during the Cold War. The world was kept from annihilation by the recognition of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which depended on the fact that none of the leaders involved was actually, y'know, mad. With Mr Kim's stroke-crippled finger on the button--not to mention his stroke-addled brain--I'm not sure that's the case.

1 comment:

SuperDrew said...

So what, you gonna pull a runner?