Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sheen Seong-Ho: "Strong ROK-U.S. ties will lead N.K. to heed Seoul advice"

(Image from GSIS)

Professor Sheen Seong-Ho (신성호, 辛星昊), expert in international security and U.S. foreign policy at Seoul National University's Graduate School of International Studies, has written an interesting article, "Strong ROK-U.S. ties will lead N.K. to heed Seoul advice," for yesterday's Korea Herald (2007.01.24).

In maintaining that the Roh policy toward North Korea has failed because it is based on the false assumption that the North is willing to deal separately and openly with South Korea, Sheen suggests that this policy presupposes the North's good will toward the South and the South's ability to independently influence the North, neither of which is true.

As for assuming the North's good will, Sheen points to the North's nuclear weapons program as counterevidence:

Some say that North Korea's nuclear development is for deterrence, implying that it does not present an immediate threat to South Korea's national security.

The argument is simply wrong.

A nuclear deterrence requires a second strike capability against the opponent. For North Korea to have a nuclear deterrence against the United States, it should have at least hundreds, if not thousands, of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Despite its nuclear test, North Korea hardly has a first, let alone a second, strike capability against the United States. It means that the United States actually can attack North Korea with conventional or nuclear weapons should it decided (sic) to do so. The only thing that deters the United States from doing it is a concern of tremendous damage to South Korea. South Korea has literally become hostage to North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship.
Critical here is American good will toward South Korea, which remains unrecognized by too many South Koreans of the 386 generation (born in 1960s, protested as students in 1980s, came to power in their 30s).

As for the South's ability to independently influence the North, Sheen argues that the 386 generation's failure to recognize American good will has led these current leaders to weaken South Korea's relations with the United States in favor of closer relations with North Korea, which has left the South with a weaker hand for negotiating with the North. Sheen advises the Roh administration to rebuild its alliance with the U.S.:
South Korea should take the strategy of using the Americans to get at North Korea .... Since North Korea is mostly concerned with the U.S. position, Seoul's leverage on Pyongyang comes from close cooperation, not from conflict, with Washington. The more trust Seoul gets from Washington, the more room it has to mediate negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

It was Britain's status as the closest ally to the United States that made it possible to broker a nuclear settlement between Washington and the Libyan President Quadafi in 2003.

The South Korean government has been skeptical of pressing North Korea in fear of war on the peninsula. Yet, it is incorrect to imply that more forceful sanctions against Pyongyang would cause a war on the Korean Peninsula. Chairman Kim Jong-il's first priority is his own regime's survival and a military attack on the ROK-U.S. alliance would surely mean the end of his regime. It is hard to imagine that Kim could initiate a military provocation simply because of ROK-U.S. pressure.

Sheen's reasoning holds no surprises for those of us skeptical of the North's good will toward the South, but he states his views clearly and argues forcefully.

Sheen also notes an interesting point made by retired security advisor Lim Dong-won about the Roh administration's "Sunshine Policy," which it inherited from the previous, Kim Dae-jung administration:

[F]ormer national security adviser and the very architect of the sunshine policy under the Kim Dae-jung administration, Lim Dong-won, criticized the Roh administration for its mishandling of the North Korean nuclear issue. He argued that the nuclear issue can be solved only by the United States and that no one can replace the central role of the United States.

Interesting, if somewhat at odds with some of Kim Dae-jung's recent political pronouncements implying American responsibility for the North's nuclear program.

My own view on South Korea's Sunshine Policy of engagement with the North is that it needs to be coupled with two other things:

1. a strong alliance with America

2. a commitment to human rights
The long-term aim of the "Sunshine Policy" should be to increase the North's integration with the South by making the North economically dependent upon the South Korean economy.

Not that this is easy to do...


At 10:08 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

I hope the Perfesser has some influence on his countrymen.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

We'll see.

The 386 generation -- which did help democratize South Korea through protesting in the 80s -- has such a negative view of the U.S. and its policy aims here on the peninsula that we might simply be building hopeful castles in the air if we expect any significant influence.

Still, experience is a great teacher.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:27 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Very interesting. This shows me how shamefully poor our knowlege is about the N. Korea/S. Korea situation. I had no idea that S. Korea was cozying up to N. Korea! Talk about the lamb lying down with the lion! What are they thinking?

At 4:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's a long story, Saur, but in brief, the 386 generation led the protests against the South Korean dictatorship in the 80s -- and a good thing, too -- yet looked not primarily to the classic liberal tradition but more to a vaguely leftist one that led them to downplay the repression in the North as largely propaganda put out by the South Korean dictatorship.

They're still stuck in that stage of political development.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:50 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

What position is the surname in Korean?

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's placed first ... though it often comes last in Western transliterations.

Jeffery Hodges

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