Amidst all the blustering and fear-mongering over the North Korea situation, the best thing I’ve read on the subject is an op-ed by Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea. Lankov says that the rest of the world should follow that nation’s lead, stay cool, and call Kim Jong-Un’s bluff:
Scores of foreign journalists have been dispatched to Seoul to report on the growing tensions between the two Koreas and the possibility of war. Upon arrival, though, it is difficult for them to find any South Koreans who are panic-stricken. In fact, most people in Seoul don’t care about the North’s belligerent statements: the farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here.
The average South Korean’s calm indifference is understandable: he or she has been through similar “crises” many times. By now South Koreans understand Pyongyang’s logic and know North Korea is highly unlikely to make good on its gothic threats.
The truth of Lankov’s words were apparent this weekend in Seoul, when tens of thousands of people attended a concert by Psy, the South Korean superstar whose annoying “Gangnam Style” video went viral in the US last year. Reporters interviewed several of the concertgoers, who expressed no concern whatsoever about the possibility of North Korea attacking their city.
They seem to view Kim as nothing more than a crazy drunk cousin, the kind who keeps saying stupid stuff, won’t shut up, and won’t leave you alone — even China, the uncle to Kim’s drunk nephew, can’t seem to sober him up — but he’s all talk, no action. This is a guy who loves pizza and basketball and being in charge. He’s not suicidal. After all, his good friend Dennis Rodman announced this weekend that he’s going back to North Korea on August 1 to party with Kim again. Go ahead and frown on tattoo-and-piercing diplomacy, but that probably means Kim isn’t going to blow up the world before then (unlike most Americans, who would burn down the house before letting Rodman inside and near their children).
Lankov’s op-ed concludes:
If history is any guide, in a few weeks’ time things will calm down. North Korea’s media will tell its people that the might of the People’s Army and the strategic genius of their new young leader made the terrified American imperialists cancel their plans to invade the North. Meanwhile, North Korea’s diplomats will approach their international counterparts and start probing for aid and political concessions.
In other words, it is business as usual on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps, when the atmosphere cools down, an argument can be made for giving North Korea’s leaders some of the assistance they want, if they are willing to make concessions of their own.
But it does not make sense to credulously take their fake belligerence at face value and give them the attention they want now. It would be better if people in Washington and New York took a lesson from the people of Seoul.