[Viewpoint] Thus spoke Aristotle

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[Viewpoint] Thus spoke Aristotle

The international market price for the Japonica rice that Koreans prima-rily consume is $700 per ton. It costs North Korea about $800 million to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 satel-lite with a long-range rocket. If the es-timate by the Ministry of Defense is accurate, North Korea spends enough money to buy 1.43 million tons of rice on a satellite launch. 1.4 million tons of rice is more than enough to make up for North Korea’s food shortage for one year.

It is only justifiable that China re-buked Pyongyang’s reckless move. Chinese President Hu Jintao said in a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak that Beijing is urging Pyongyang to give up the satellite launch and focus on economic development. China's food and energy is a lifeline for North Korea. Hu Jintao's comment is a clear declaration that even China, the only supporter of Kim Jong-un’s leadership and mainstay of North Korea's security, will not tolerate Pyongyang’s rocket launch experiment disguised as a satel-lite program. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev used more straightforward language and pressured North Korea to feed its people before launching a mis-sile.

Kim Jong-un is no fool, so he must have expected strong opposition from the international community, includ-ing China. If North Korea pushes for the launch of Kwangmyongsong-3, it will be an obvious violation of the Feb. 29 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, which outlines 240,000 metric tons of nutritional aid in exchange for suspension of their missile program and uranium enrich-ment program. If North Korea does launch the satellite, the United States says it will not provide nutritional as-sistance.

Consequently, North Korea will be even more isolated, and its people will continue to starve. Then it will add a burden to China. As a self-proclaimed guardian state of North Korea, China would lose face internationally. Know-ing all the odds so well, what makes Kim Jong-un attempt such a bold chal-lenge?

The answer to this urgent question can be found in the Book 5 of "Politi-ka," written by Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago. The great teacher of hu-manity explained that keeping subjects poor and hungry was a tactic frequently used by tyrants. He pointed out that when people have to struggle to survive each day, they cannot afford to conspire for a rebellion. As actual examples of impoverishing people and forcing hard work, Aristotle cited the pyramid con-structions by the pharaohs of Egypt and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Peisistratids of Athens.

Aristotle did not forget to mention that a tyrant would extort money from the people to maintain a group of guards. In North Korea, the cash that people earned through hard work -at a fledgling pseudo-capitalist market across the impoverished nation -has been taken away by the government through a touted currency reform, and then the money was used to reinforce the military.

For Kim Jong-un, the most desper-ate and urgent task is to keep and es-tablish the power he inherited from his father Kim Jong-il. He has no need or intention to alleviate the hardship of the people by resolving poverty; when people are fed well, they will demand freedom. So the launch of the Kwang-myongsong satellite would be effective in two ways. Kim Jong-un can show off his “great leadership” and publicize that he is following the direction of his father.

An added bonus is that a satellite launch is a disguise for a long-range missile test. When Kwangmyong-song-2 was launched in 2009, the sec-ond-stage rocket flew 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) across the Pacific. This time, the target is over 6,000 kilom-eters. When loaded with a nuclear war-head, it will have — or at least it adver-tises — the capacity to pose a direct threat to the United States.

Then, he will secure the loyalty of the military, who wants nuclear and missile armament. The military author-ities are convinced that Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya met a gruesome end as a result of foolishly abandoning his nuclear weapons development pro-gram. They are trying to sell to Kim Jong-un that the only way for Pyongyang’s survival is nuclear arma-ment. With the launch of Kwang-myongsong-3, Kim Jong-un hopes to gain prestige as a visionary leader on par with his father and grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Therefore, they believe that the gamble is worth the international criti-cism for breaking the agreement with the United States or the opposition by China and Russia. Using the momen-tum, he would become the chairman of the National Defense Commission at the Supreme People’s Assembly and the general secretary at the Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference in mid-April.

Unless China plays a trump card that Seoul is not aware of, Pyongyang will go on with the satellite launch. Watching the hard-earned friendly mood disappearing in smoke, Wash-ington patiently waits until the next talk cycle returns in the indefinite fu-ture. Seoul would remain an ideal on-looker with no particular policy until the Lee Myung-bak administration ends. President Lee has said that it would be hard to make an "accom-plishment" in North Korean policy in his term, suggesting that he has given up realistically. In the meantime, the wretched North Koreans would give lukewarm cheers -with a sigh-to the launch of a "dark star" - not the "bright star," which the word kwang-myongsong signifies.

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

by Kim Young-hie
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