[Outlook]The only way out

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[Outlook]The only way out

It looks like North Korea is attempting to develop a prosperous economy by launching a missile.

A Gwangmyongsong?2, or Lodestar?2, is actually a formidable Taepodong?2 missile with a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles). In theory, it can reach Alaska in the United States, Russia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia.

There are two ways for North Korea to become rich by launching a “satellite,” which is just another name the communist state uses for a missile.

First, it can earn dollars selling missiles to other countries like Iran and Syria.

It can also scare the United States with its missile capacity. The North expects a harried Washington to hurriedly normalize ties and accept Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons. If Washington?Pyongyang relations are normalized, North Korea thinks that it will be able to collect a huge amount of dollars from Japan, the European Union and international financial institutions. That’s what the North is thinking.

The problem is that North Korea always makes calculations from a self-centered perspective.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States, whether under a Republican or a Democratic administration, has made it clear that it won’t accept rogue states trading in weapons of mass destruction.

When it comes to North Korea, Washington is more concerned about proliferation through exports of nuclear weaponry and missiles than about the North actually possessing nuclear arms.

But despite what Pyongyang thinks, its plan to become better off by selling missiles and missile technology is in fact a certain way for the poor country to go bankrupt.

In the 1960s, U.S. President John F. Kennedy declared, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Kennedy’s declaration is still valid today.

Even if North Korea successfully launches a Gwangmyongsong?2, the Barack Obama administration will unlikely be surprised to the extent that it would give up trying to verify the disablement of the North’s nuclear facilities and quickly normalize ties.

The United States will more likely speed up the establishment of its missile defense system. PAC?3 interceptor missiles are already set up around the U.S. Army bases in Korea. The Korean Army has also put Patriot PAC?2 missiles in position early this year.

Instead of becoming prosperous by test-launching a satellite, or a missile in disguise, North Korea will only provide firmer ground for anti-Pyongyang hardliners in the United States and South Korea to stand on.

It will also give the United States a good reason to enhance its missile defense system.

Could there be a worse deal than this?

North Korea is choosing a steep cliff over a wide open road as a path to riches, a tendency that is derided by the international community.

The six-party talks clarified that if North Korea gave up its nuclear development program in a verifiable way, it would receive a great deal of economic rewards.

If it gives up its nuclear program, tens of billions of dollars will flow into the reclusive state.

Countries with interests on the Korean Peninsula will provide aid to the North, international financial institutions will provide it with long-term, low-interest loans and Japan will pay war compensation.

South Korea will take part in development projects in North Korea and provide aid.

All in all, for the North it will be like hitting the jackpot in return for giving up its nuclear program.

In 2002, Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote during a visit to Seoul, likening Pyongyang’s brinkmanship to a poor jobless man who has planted explosives around his house and threatens to blow them up unless his neighbors bring him good Chinese food every day and pay his heating bills.

This metaphor works, but Friedman missed one thing.

Even though many of the man’s neighbors, who have much at stake, promise to meet all the demands, the man keeps making threats. He began threatening his neighbors as a last resort to save himself from his plight, but he has forgotten why he started such extremism in the first place. Now he just enjoys playing the game.

Pyongyang’s insanity puts three groups in agony.

The first is the citizens of North Korea.

The lives of North Koreans get poorer and more distressed as the country’s leaders, focused on Kim Jong-il’s health and his future successor, come up with childish ideas and plans.

The next group is made up of pro-North Korean left-wingers and progressives in South Korea.

Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and other pro-North Korean forces from the left have remained silent in the face of North Korea’s madness. Their foothold has never been as weak as it is now.

The last is the South Korean economy.

North Korea’s repeated threats have given foreign investors another reason to leave South Korea. If the South needs to buy, say, 30 PAC?3 missiles, each unit costing more than 2.6 billion won ($1.68 million), when the economy is already in bad shape, the burden passes directly to taxpayers.

Could a Bismarck or a Kissinger, men gifted with extraordinary talent for diplomacy, be able to end North Korea’s insanity immediately?

There is no such magic.

The only way is to patiently implement conventional measures.

These include: (1) enhancing collaboration between South Korea and the other powers around the Korean Peninsula, sending a message that we will never give in to brinkmanship, and (2) shifting the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy to a moderate one and engaging in dialogue involving high-ranking officials in Washington and Pyongyang.

It may feel terrific to watch a U.S. missile intercepting North Korea’s missile.

But it is an adventure that could bring us too close to a calamity.


*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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