The Paradox of The 38th Parallel

South Korea, aided by American and other international forensic investigators, issued an exhaustive report last week, establishing the North Korea culpability. But no one expects war.
(HT: The New York Post.)

For years we have tried negotiations and sanctions to get North Korean Dictator Kim Jung Il to behave rationally. In the words of US UN Ambassador Susan Rice, last year’s resolution against North Korea was the toughest set of sanctions ever passed against another nation state. It was worse than the sanctions that the UN ignored against Saddam “Oil for Food” Hussein. Given the recent torpedo-sinking of a S. Korean naval vessel by the North Koreans, we have indisputable proof that sanctions predictably fail.

The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says that it’s going to be different this time. He made the following statement.

“We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again,” Lee said. “We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean peninsula. “But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts.” (HT: Guardian.UK)

Taken at face-value, President Lee has thrown down the gauntlet. If I were a parent whose child had joined South Korea’s navy and had been killed in this unprovoked torpedo attack, it would be time for the hellfire and brimstone. A commensurate price would involve Shylock’s infamous pound of flesh. But President Lee doesn’t have the support or the assets to do this himself.

The US has issued a series of statements designed to sound “tough”, “committed” and “supportive” of S. Korea in its time of travails. We’re there for our East Asian allies until all this unpleasantness on the Korean Peninsula urinates on tomorrow’s DJIA futures. Secretary of State Clinton evades below.

”We are working hard to avoid an escalation of belligerence and provocation,” Clinton said. “This is a highly precarious situation that the North Koreans have caused in the region. “We must work together … to address this challenge and advance our shared objectives of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

For North Korea, this is not precarious. They can kill as many S. Koreans as they want and not suffer consequences. Kim Jung Il is laughing at The Untied States of America. He has done so for decades. He sees no reason to respect us. His disrespect is completely logical and rational.

He has walked right up to the border and gakked people. We’ve regretted the precarious situation he has created. Making him behave for another six months could require a really expensive bribe this time. That’s really rough when the economy isn’t doing well.

Kim Jung Il makes his money off of the logical fears, decency and restraint of S. Korea. Seoul would become a charnel-house if the Korean Peninsula were enveloped again in war. Short of a second Chinese intervention on N. Korea’s behalf, S. Korea would utterly destroy the North. Civilization in that part of world could easily get set back at least five centuries.

The North Koreans can’t even feed their people in what passes for times of peace in their isolated, bellicose land. As N. Korea was smashed and S. Korea’s ability and willingness to rescue them burned down as well, a famine and an epidemic of sickness would envelop the Korean Peninsula as the biblical plagues laid waste to Ancient Egypt. All of this assumes that the US, China and Russia minimize their participation and that everyone’s thermonuclear Sword of Damocles remains peace-tied.

This situation works for Kim Jung Il and his malignant cronies who leverage it. The short-term needs of state always favor appeasement of this vile and despicable rodent. It gives him a pocket veto of how S. Korea, Japan and even China organize their daily affairs. As long as we can just be hunky-dorey with a couple of hundred dead victims, a few hundred tons of heroin smuggled, a paltry sum of counterfeit US Dollars, and a mere couple of test tubes of Uranium Hexaflouride given to the committed enemies of all countries in the Modern West, Kim is a fly-bite on the arse of modernity. From the detached and academic standpoint of diplomatic process control, the Korean Peninsula represents a manageable failure for the Pax Americana.

Yet too much remains capable of going wrong. Kim Jung Il likes to play around with this the way a passel of Boy-Physicists decided to joy-ride the Chernobyl Reactor. China and Russia view the American roll in their backyard with justifiable antipathy. Brezhnev was to Russian foreign policy what The Monroe Doctrine was to ours. Nothing would bolster Vladamir Putin’s self-delusions of omnipotence quite the way chasing the 2nd ID off the Korean Peninsula would. He could call it The Rodina’s Revenge for the humiliations involved with The Cuban Missile Crisis.

China remains silent on the affair. They await Secretary of State Clinton’s visit. Their cooperation will be fickle, insipid and come at a price. For now, they have resumed purchases of our Treasury Bonds. Asking China for heavy-lifting will enable them to remind us of just how implicitly we have come to depend on their continued financing of feckless and stupid current account deficits. They actually could ask Hillary Rodham Clinton how committed the US is to continuing with Obama Care and a 12 Division Army both.

Eventually, Kim Jung Il really could push the South Koreans too far – not the South Korean government, the South Koreans. The error of Louis XVI will not be repeated if enough angry mothers call for blood to avenge their fallen sons and kidnapped relatives. If too many young women are found dead in a whorehouse with N. Korean junk in their veins, if a dirty bomb ever does go off spewing uranium tied to a North Korean process, this decision could go right out of the hands of the “rational and educated” people who “scientifically manage the precarious diplomatic situation” in the Koreas.

This is the paradox of the 38th Parallel. Détente has been successful and slaughter has been averted. Yet the pressures put on by The Tyrant of the North have grown in synonymy with the desperate dysfunction of his nation. Nobody wants to be the guy that says “You know what I think would be fun? Let’s start a honking game of war with all 500 of Kim Jung Il’s Motorized Rifle Battalions. The economy would recover like WWII.” On the other hand, who really has a good contingency plan for that increasingly likely day in the future when someone on the 38th Parallel snaps and goes Quake III?