TOPICS : South Korea’s embrace of North’s nukes

From the Bush administration perspective, South Korea’s nonchalance about the North Korean nukes borders on madness. The totalitarian regime in Pyongyang is about as evil as they come, and much of its malice is directed at South. North Korea has even threatened to turn Seoul into a nuclear “sea of fire.” But there is actually an internal logic to the South Korean position: Not only does South Korea not fear the North Korean nukes; it seemingly welcomes them with open arms. In Seoul’s long-term calculus, the North Korean bomb is the “Korean bomb,” which will benefit Seoul after eventual reunification. Such a quixotic view is epitomised

by South Korean popular culture. A quasi-fascist novel about the two Koreas collaborating on developing nukes and using them to bully Japan has sold more than 5 million copies since its publication in 1994. In order to obtain Seoul’s cooperation in resolving the North’s nuclear crisis, the US must know So-uth Korea’s worrisome position on the nuclear issue. Many South Koreans no longer see North Korea as a threat. Instead of a mortal enemy, North Korea has become transmogrified into a sympathetic brother.

This is mainly government-induced. Since the election of the long time dissident Kim Dae Jung to the presidency in 1997, Seoul has pursued the “Sunshine Policy” — a policy designed to appease Pyongyang’s murderous regime through massive economic bribery. To sell this policy to a sceptical electorate, Kim spearheaded a comprehensive propaganda campaign to reconstruct the South’s image of the North. This campaign included government censorship and intimidation of those who would criticise North Korea. As a result of this ongoing campaign, South Koreans are now increasingly kept in the dark about the true nature of Pyongyang’s gulag state.Even more troubling, however, is Seoul’s belief that it may actually benefit from the North’s nukes. This view is based on two premises: First, Seoul believes nukes will one day guarantee security for a unified Korea and thereby free it from its traditional dependence on foreign powers. This desire to achieve a self-sufficient security posture was behind Park Chung Hee’s US-aborted drive to develop a bomb in the 1970s. It may have also contributed to the recently revealed secret nuclear experiments that “rogue” South Korean scientists undertook in 2000.

Second, Seoul believes going nuclear would confer it the international prestige that it feels the country deserves for its “miracle” economy but has yet to obtain. Such intangibles loom large in the minds of the fiercely nationalistic Koreans. Meanwhile, the North Korean nuclear crisis may assist South Korea’s nuclear ambitions in the short term even if there is no reunification and Seoul doesn’t gain possession of Pyongyang’s nukes. A nuclear Pyongyang has already dramatically increased the pressure on Tokyo. The nuclearisation of its historic enemy will then make it easier for Seoul to justify the development of its own nukes. — The Christian Science Monitor