In the waning hours of 2010, South Korea's president Lee Myung bak is beating a tactical retreat. Yesterday he threatened North Korea with a mighty military response should Pyongyang shell the South's drills along the NLL [Northern Limit Line] bordering on the DPRK's territorial waters. Today he has donned the lamb's coat of endorsing talks with the North over its nuclear programme. In other words, he is calling for an eventual resumption of the stalled six party talks in Beijing after more than a year. His 'turn around' is welcome, but ...
We wish apply the same burden of proof to Lee as he and the US ask of Kim Jong il. In other words, live up to your intentions by carrying out the full weight and intent of your words! To put it another way, GuamDiary slips into Reaganese. Ronald Reagan likes to repeat the Russian saying: 'Trust but verify'. Okay, Lee Myung bak, we hear your fine words and are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but now you have to prove you are sincere in wanting to talk with North Korea.
GuamDiary is well aware of the reason which nudged Lee in that direction. The North returned sally to the South's shelling of its territorial waters during the ROK's naval drills in November 2010, had given Lee much wool to thread concerning the South's adventure in brinkmanship and the South's military vunerability.
Saying this, GuamDiary is aware that although Lee is holding out an olive branch, he is whipping up war hysteria at home, which the global media barely mention in passing. He is floating the idea that the North has, say, a 'superior' military edge over the South does not. And thus, Seoul has to beef up its materiel and forces to meet a 'superior enemy'. With all this talk of military 'unpreparedeness', we see a misuse of the truth. It is true, the South does not have a million men or more under arms as the North does. It, however, does have a modern army with the latest materiel furnished, say, by the US and France, and of course on its soil are 28.000 US troops. Not only that, by treaty, it has the full might of the US should war break out again on the Korean peninsula.
Are we seeing a replay of the 'Quemoy Matsu' or the famous 'missile gap between the US and the USSR', to cite but two examples. Is it a 'skilful' manoeuvre to panic a dispirited South Korean public to clamour for a hike in the South's military budget?
Seoul, as the 12 largest economy in the world, has more than enough in its coffers to sustain a build up of its military budget. Lee knows this and is willing to harnass economic growth to the development of a industrial military complex.
It is easy to forget the reason why North Korea remains on a war footing and that military bedrock goes back at least 60 years, to the outbreak of the Korean War. And that war remains in abeyance by a 1953 Armistice Agreement. In brief, the war is not over. The shelling of North Korean waters during the South's military drills along the NLL last month, brought the two Koreas to the 'break' of reigniting that war.
Did Lee Myung bak learn the limits of his 'Drang nach Norden'? GuamDiary cannot say for sure, but for a moment, the North's quick reply in kind, gave him room for pause and a call for talking to the North.
Today, does Lee realise that the North cannot be pushed around easily through hollow displays of braggadocio. As president of a powerful economy, is willing to go beyond the edge of brinkmanship? Of late, he fancies himself as the man whose destiny is to reunify a divided Korea. By what means? Already, he is looking forwards to increasing his standing army's might and equip it with the latest materiel. If he had or still has dreams of defeating North Korea, the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong should serve as a wake up call to realty. Has it? GuamDiary cannot say for sure. What we can advance is that the US backs up Lee Myung bak's Northern policy to the hilt. Not only that, the Obama administration is now looking on South Korea as a replacement of Japan in its east Asian military policy. For Washington, Japan is an unsure ally since it is stalling on quashing a popular movement in Okinawa challenging the continued stationing of US military bases there.
From an historical perspective, the US is repeating the mistakes of the past. Anchoring its policy on a truncated, but economically strong, strategically weak South Korean ally, is an open challenge to China. Things could hardly be otherwise. And here the lessons of China's entry into the Korean War obtain. [GuamDiary strongly suggests the reading of Allen Whiting's Rand study 'China crosses the Yalu' as well as Bruce Cumings 'Korea: a history', for the fuller story.] Washington is forsaking an island arc of allies for a foothold on land within easy reach of China's border on the Yalu.
Already Lee's reckless strategy has caused friction with its Chinese trading partner and has strengthened Beijing's resolve to support with all means necessary the survival of North Korea. Plainly stated, China regards South Korea as a hostile power, and the last thing it wants on its borders is a hostile neighbour, for the same economic and strategic reasons that sent millions of its volunteers to 'roll back' MacArthur's US led UN troops to the 38 parallel.
Will the US encourage Lee Myung bak to walk tall along the road of diplomacy? GuamDiary wishes that it were so. Unfortunately, in policy circles in Seoul and Washington -- and among much of an uninformed South Korea and American public -- the old mantras of distrust and of brinkmanship prevail.
2011 is almost upon us, and GuamDiary does hope that sanity will previal. Instead of plotting to overthrow Kim Jong il & co., cooler heads will prevail. GuamDiary also hopes that renewed talks will open the door to a peace treaty. In 2009, GuamDiary suggested that a reconvened Geneva Conference on a 2, 4, & 6 power formula could deal with all outstanding matters for the last 60 years, including the nuclear question, between North Korea and the US, North Korea and China on one side and the US and South Korea on the other, and finally, North Korea and the other 5 countries making up the six party talks. All it takes is the political will and backbone!