[OUTLOOK]Blackmail breeds more blackmailRecently, a puzzling picture from South Korea flashed around the world. It showed a poster in a shop window that read: "AMERICANS ARE NOT WELCOME HERE." This was bizarre -- America as public enemy No. 1?
Like anti-Americanism elsewhere, this sentiment was not created by a tragic event like a road accident. Instead, anything negative about America is used -- selectively, of course, with no contrary evidence admitted -- to confirm a mindset of dislike and even hatred whose causes must be found in the collective psyche of society.
Psychology can explain South Korean anti-Americanism. There is enormous dependence on Big Brother: On American strategic protection, on American markets, on American pop culture. People resent dependence and like to take it out on the source.
There is also in Seoul what psychologists call "displacement." It occurs when you are helpless against or fear terrible retaliation from the real culprit. Then you lash out at a surrogate who represents a less fearful threat.
The real threat to South Korea now, as so often before, comes from the North -- from the very Kim Jong-Il regime that South Korean "sunshine policy" has been trying to propitiate in so many ways for so many years. The subconscious reasoning might go like this: If we can only keep those wild-eyed Americans from pressuring and provoking Pyongyang, the threat from the North will go away.
But let's shift from Freudian speculation to cold-hearted strategy. Realistically, the threat will not go away, and so there has to be more than propitiation (or even appeasement) to deal with the bizarre regime in Pyongyang that is taking not only the South, but the entire world hostage.
Why? First of all because propitiation has not worked in the past. In spite of the 1994 agreement with the United States (food and fuel aid in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program), Pyongyang has continued to build weapons of mass destruction. North Korea was the first country in the world to tear up the Nonproliferation Treaty to which it was a party. It then proceeded to restart its reactors and to throw the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Authority out of the country.
Second, because the Kim Jong-Il regime is not as "crazy" as it pretends to be. In fact, it acts quite rationally, pursuing a strategy of coldly calculated blackmail. The message is: "I will do crazy things -- perhaps even start a war against the South -- unless you reward me." But we know from bitter experience that blackmailers never stop. Every payment, every concession increases the appetite of the blackmailer. Any why not? Once he knows that his victims give in to fear, he will try the next extortion to see how far he can go.
This is why "displacement" is the wrong strategy. The problem is not the United States, but North Korea. It is just as much in Seoul's as in Washington's interest to keep nuclear weapons out of Kim Jong-Il's hands. For once he has them, he can threaten South Korea and the rest of the world even more effectively.
What is the right strategy? It is cooperation with the United States as well as with North Korea's neighbors China, Russia and Japan. None of them wants a nuclear-armed North in the neighborhood. The new government in Seoul acts as if it were just a bystander; instead of accepting the reality of a threat from the North, it pretends that it can play the neutral mediator -- as if the problem is of no concern to Seoul, but merely a conflict between Washington and Pyongyang.
But North Korean aggressiveness and nuclear weapons are Seoul's problems, as aggressiveness was in 1950. South Korea ought to work hard on establishing a diplomatic alliance with Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and Washington that will neither provoke nor propitiate Pyongyang but signal that blackmail won't pay.
Kim Jong-Il can read realities quite well. It will not take on all the great powers in the region. "Sunshine" is better than rain and thunder. But it is not enough to merely want sunshine. Those who threaten to darken the skies must also know that their intended victims are well-prepared to weather a storm. Successful blackmail breeds more blackmail.
by Josef Joffe
* The author is editor of Die Zeit, the German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.