When South Korean President Lee Myung Bak met U.S. President Barak Obama, it was clear (while not from the attendence of the press core), but from their joint statement that the meeting was perhaps the most substantive between leaders of the two countries in a very long time.
U.S. President Barak Obama enjoys considerable support among the U.S. electorate, but most importantly, he enjoys support among those left of center or those that have been against the War in Iraq. Thus, when the U.S. President promises extended deterrence and that he will no longer let North Korea be rewarded for lies, these words hold weight that words from former President George W. Bush's never could (for example, remember CVID, or "Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament? I bet former President Bush doesn't want to either). By the way, I cannot stress enough how much of a disaster U.S. "policy" towards North Korea was during the first administration of George W. Bush (Check out "A Long Road to Pyongyang" in Foreign Affairs - Nov/Dec 2007).
So, we have a popular president in the United States who enjoys the support of those traditionally against war. This president also needs to show or prove to those that are skeptical of President Obama's ability to be "tough" in defending U.S. national security interests. The new U.N. resolution that punishes North Korea (UNSC 1874) also includes a provision where North Korean ships could be searched. It is also now in writing for the first time that the concept of extended deterrence whereby the United States would consider a nuclear attack on South Korea to be an attack on the United States. And, the United States would retaliate in kind (the U.S. has thousands of different types of nuclear bombs that work, make much bigger explosions, and, of course, could be sent with pinpoint precision that even the Soviet Union never hoped to match. How Roh Moo Hyun forgot this when asking for a more "independent" defense boggles the mind). The exact phrase is:
"We will maintain a robust defense posture, backed by allied capabilities which support both nations' security interests. The continuing commitment of extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, reinforces this assurance. In advancing the bilateral plan for restructuring the Alliance, the Republic of Korea will take the lead role in the combined defense of Korea, supported by an enduring and capable U.S. military force presence on the Korean Peninsula, in the region, and beyond" (JOINT VISION FOR THE ALLIANCE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA).
North Korea's situation also seems to favor confrontation. Kim Jong Il's alleged stroke in the past year and rumors of his deteriorating health makes it necessary for Kim Jong Il to demonstrate to both a domestic and foreign audience that he is indeed in charge and able to make bold decisions, such as testing a nuclear device and ballistic missiles (or attacking a ship). Furthermore, Kim Jong Il has a political need to assuage the concerns of the Korean People's Army (KPA - 조선인민군), who seems to be much more politically relevant than the Korean Workers Party (KWP - 조선로동당). This can most clearly be seen by North Korea's recent insistence on being treated as a nuclear power and a halt to six party talks. Other actions include:
- Two female, American reporters were given harsh sentences.
- The effective end of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.
- Testing of an ICBM
- Detonation of a Nuclear Device
- Withdrawal from the Armistice that ended the Korean War
- "Demotion"of a senior, trusted army officer to command the naval forces around the Northern Limit Line Or the Demarcation Line between South and North Korea along the Yellow Sea (Can't remember his name).
While it's a story that we can follow from the comfort of the United States, I would stay away from South Korea for the time being if I could (and even if I were there, I would take news about North Korean threats more seriously).
But this thought where South Korea believes U.S. to be a warmongering, dangerous country especially under the second Bush administration holds a lot of weight. When living in Seoul, North Korea is fifteen or twenty minutes away. From Los Angeles, North Korea is halfway around the world, across the vast Pacific Ocean.