High pressure leads to explosionsWhich side of the bisected Korean Peninsula would lose more from escalated tensions - the South or the North? When likening a government to a steam boiler, South Korea’s runs on a solid and safety-proven mechanism of free democracy powered by a strong economy. It also has a safe backup system of a security alliance with the world’s superpower, the United States. It cannot easily break down or explode. North Korea’s, on the other hand, is sustaining a worn-out and jittery system. Their generator does not have enough power to endure the pressure. If the pressure builds beyond the critical point, it could blow up at any time.
South Koreans do not have to worry or fear the ratcheted-up tension in the region. If pressure builds, the self-destructive problems could, in fact, be resolved easily. The North is bellowing that it will destroy the South with nuclear weapons. But it could collapse before it can use them. The louder and wilder it gets, the weaker and more vulnerable it will be to its internal pressure.
In March 1993, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung declared its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking off nuclear brinkmanship. U.S. President Bill Clinton and his South Korean counterpart Kim Young-sam were distressed by North Korea’s abrupt deviation. But the elder Kim was in greater stress. The 81-year-old Great Leader had a heart problem and a large lump on his neck. His health deteriorated fast after he started the nuclear game.
The year 1994 was his worst as well as his last. The Clinton administration studied an operation of destroying North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon. If not for opposition from Seoul, Washington might have gone forward with the bombing. Kim Il Sung tried to evade the conundrum through a summit with the South Korean president. But he suffered a heart attack and died 17 days before the meeting. North Korea ran a research center entirely to keep up Kim’s health and prolong his life. He may have lived to more than 90 if not for the strain from nuclear tension.
His successor and son Kim Jong-il had a stroke in 2008 when he was 66. But he recovered due to the best possible treatment from Western doctors. In 2010, he made a bold move by attacking a South Korean warship and the frontline island Yeonpyeong. South Korea cut off all aid and economic cooperation to North Korea. He was condemned by South Koreans and the global community. The younger generation who had not experienced the war and were sympathetic toward the impoverished race across the border began to see the country in a different light. North Korea was further isolated. On Dec. 17, 2011, Kim died of a heart attack. The father and son each died because their heart stopped beating a year after they gambled dangerously with their weapons.
The third generation leader Kim Jong-un is not yet 30. He is young and healthy. He won’t likely fall ill from stress because of heightened military tensions. But dying a natural death is not the only life-threatening risk to a leader. In lengthy dictatorships, opposition forces gather momentum when pressure builds.
Anwar Sadat served as the president of Egypt for 11 years from 1970 until his assassination. He started peace talks with Israel in 1977 and reached a peace treaty in 1979. Islamic fundamentalist army officers threatened to take him down. In 1979, a popular uprising led by Islamic fundamentalists succeeded in Iran, replacing a monarchy with Islamic theocracy. In October 1981, Sadat had been watching an annual military parade when fundamentalist army officers suddenly fired gunshots at him. He died instantly.
Park Chung Hee, South Korea’s strongman for 18 years, was assassinated by his most loyal aide in 1979. The coup was possible because the pressure was high in the overworked boiler of the regime. There were major anti-government protests across the nation. Without such brewing unpopularity, the chief of the spy agency could never have dared to kill his boss. There are always forces in the shadows waiting to bring down a regime when it has been in rule for a long time. When pressure is high, the gunshot is fired.
No bodyguard will be able to stop it. To ensure safety, the pressure must be released. The best solution would be to change the boiler system. Kim Jong-un must choose his people over nuclear armament. He must feed them and build a better future. To do so, he must make peace with South Korea. Otherwise, he must forever live in fear of an explosion.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin