Which United States ally is presently a greater threat to American security: Saudi Arabia, or South Korea?
It is an important question, and one too hot for most analysts to touch.
But while Saudi Arabia gets all the ink as “ally-gone-bad,” South Korea is increasingly becoming a direct threat to the lives of Americans.
Let’s compare the two countries. Saudi Arabia is an undemocratic regime that coddles—and perhaps funds—anti-American terrorists, in an effort to keep jihadists out of Riyadh.
South Korea is a democracy that coddles—and openly funds—an anti-American dictatorship developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in an effort to keep artillery shells from raining down on Seoul.
Saudi Arabia keeps oil prices reasonable so we can enjoy economic growth and be the richest nation on Earth.
South Korea theoretically helps us contain communist China but otherwise is of little strategic value.
Saudi Arabia ultimately did not stand in the way of our waging war against the Taliban, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq.
South Korea is making it very difficult for us to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Saudi Arabia’s coddling of terrorists contributed to the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and hundreds of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
South Korea’s appeasement has not yet cost us any lives. But a nuclear weapon delivered to the continental United States via the new missile under development by North Korea—with a range of 9,400 miles, according to U.S. officials —could kill millions of Americans in Los Angeles, New York or anywhere in between.
Consider what South Korea is doing.
They pay off the North—both directly and indirectly—to promote engagement and their shameful “sunshine” policy. In the most notorious case, the South Korean government secretly provided $500 million to the North Korean military in exchange for the “historic” 2000 summit between the two nation’s leaders. $500 million buys a lot of ballistic missile and nuclear weapon research.
The South props up the North, rather than encouraging its fall. How? In addition to cash payoffs to the North, the South supports China’s refusal to grant refugee status to North Korean asylum-seekers who escape their imprisonment and make it to China alive. China sends them back to be tortured or killed in the North. The South bullies and harasses human rights activists who have the gall to try to send radios to the North. (North Korea maintains its iron grip on its subjects, not just through murder, torture and starvation, but by maintaining a complete monopoly on information, a monopoly that would be jeopardized if radios were covertly delivered to the North.) As Senator Sam Brownback pointed out in the September 11 Wall St. Journal, the South also keeps a tight rein on North Korean defectors, and often prevents them from speaking out about the North’s crimes against humanity.
This all sounds impossible; after all, are not the North Koreans the “brothers and sisters” of those in the South? Indeed they are. But there are two primary reasons the South wants the North to remain a prison.
The first is economics. South Koreans have apparently heard some of the difficulties faced by West Germans in absorbing East Germany, and the thought of absorbing 22 million hungry and backward North Koreans is a sobering prospect for those enjoying South Korea’s economic miracle.
The second reason is clearly a case of Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomenon whereby one comes to love one’s captor. More than 5,000 North Korean artillery pieces are aimed at Seoul, and the North possesses another 6,000 or so that could also target the South. This has traumatized two South Korean governments in a row now, and they have apparently concluded that the safest course is appeasement, rather than confrontation. The South refuses to consider that weakness is not just emboldening the North, but is also giving the North time to strengthen its firepower.
Most dangerously, South Korea is hampering our efforts to isolate the North and to ratchet up the pressure to bring an end to the North’s nuclear program.
This poses a thorny moral issue for American lawmakers that they would rather not address.
Each year that the North Korean dictatorship remains in power, Americans are at greater risk. As mentioned earlier, the North is developing a ballistic missile that will reach all 50 United States. It has not one, but two nuclear programs speeding along. It has already threatened to export its nukes to America’s enemies—think al Qaeda’s oil money and The Bomb in the American city closest to where you live. And given its admitted interest in nuclear weapons, we should believe intelligence community claims that the North is also developing chemical and biological agents.
Clearly, then, the United States should be working to eliminate the North Korean regime (or, at a minimum, to attack its nuclear facilities). A military strike now would deny the North nuclear weapons, and make your family safer for years to come. But if it led to all-out war, it would cost many South Koreans (and some American troops) their lives.
The question no U.S. lawmakers want to consider is: how much loss of life in South Korea would it be morally justifiable to tolerate, provided it increased the safety of the 290 million Americans they swore an oath to protect?
This calculus, moreover, changes as the South becomes less of an ally and an asset, and more of an impediment and outright menace.
As the South’s policies vis-à-vis the North increasingly threaten our security, U.S. lawmakers will find it easier to justify a first strike against the North even at the risk of a counterattack from the North taking South Korean lives.
Fortunately, three factors suggest that a U.S. military strike against the North would not bring about the destruction of the South that we all fear, and which we pray will never occur.
First, a compelling commentary in the August 4 Wall St. Journal by R. James Woolsey and Thomas G. McInerney argued that a war with North Korea would not necessarily decimate Seoul, as is commonly believed. The authors spell out a scenario through which U.S. forces could take out North Korea’s nuclear facilities and also undermine any possible North Korean counterattack.
Second, a surprise strike limited to the North’s WMD facilities—with notice promptly given to the North that our mission would not extend to regime change if they refrained from a counterattack on the South or on Japan—might allow us to set back the North’s military threat 10-20 years without bringing all-out war. The bet would be that the North Korean dictators are more interested in continuing their lavish lifestyle than in some regime-ending suicidal counterattack. (As has been reported, Kim Jong Il eats gourmet meals every night even as his policies have killed two million of his subjects through starvation. He does not sound like a man who wants to die.)
Finally, a regime-ending war against the North, even though it would cost some South Koreans (and American soldiers) their lives, could be justified both by the future South Korean lives that would be saved by ridding the world of the North before it obtains weapons of mass destruction, as well as by the human rights victory of freeing 22 million North Koreans who have suffered for decades as prisoners in their own country. Seen in this way, a war to end the North Korean dictatorship would not only make Americans substantially safer, it would also make both North and South Koreans demonstrably safer.
But there is still a chance that war can be averted. If the South joins the U.S. in pressuring the Kim regime, and supports efforts short of war to bring the North down—by embracing North Korean asylum-seekers and by supporting a possible U.S. maritime blockade of the North, for example—South Korea can maintain our nations’ close ties and head off the war it is so desperate to avoid.
But South Korea should note that even we generous Americans eventually get tired of our allies playing nice with those hell-bent on killing us. If South Korea is not careful, they will soon face the same scrutiny Americans are finally paying to our “friends” in Saudi Arabia.
9/17/03 update: Do not believe the New York Times or any other source that claims the deployment of Chinese troops on the border near North Korea “marks a subtle but significant change in relations between the two Communist states….”
To the contrary. This confirms that China is still interested in propping up its longtime ally.
The troops are not on the border to threaten the North Korean dictatorship, but rather to help it keep its citizens imprisoned in the North. China fears an exodus of North Korean asylum-seekers for two reasons: the demise of the Kim regime, which an exodus could spur, could lead to a united, democratic Korea on China’s border; and even short of that, the large number of refugees already entering China could destabilize China’s border region.
We repeat our core message: until China sees a potential threat bigger than a unified, democratic Korea on its border, it will not take real action to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapon programs. This means the best way to force China’s hand is by making it clear that a nuclear North Korea will force Japan and Taiwan towards their own missile defense and nuclear weapons programs.
As has been reported, Kim Jong Il eats gourmet meals every night even as his policies have killed two million of his subjects through starvation. He does not sound like a man who wants to die
Important fact: Kim Jong Il is out of his mind. He might be crazy enough to think he (backed up by China) could take over the world.
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The advantage for McCain is in the ability to court the base while the Dem's are sparring. The downside is courting the base could alienate the other voters he needs to win and it provide fodder for the Dems.