South Korea’s Unforced Error On Condolences

20 Dec

It’s good I can listen to Marcus Noland’s measured opinions on the North Korean succession, because adolescent churlishness on the one hand, and supine adoration on the other define the parameters of the debate about how to deal with North Korea after Kim Jong-il. And, in this day and on this topic, it’s refreshing to hear an expert say “I don’t know”. Unfortunately, politically, the National Intelligence Service and Defense Intelligence Command cannot admit they were clueless. Intelligence officials evidently made speculative errors with information available.

A key official in the ruling Grand National Party said, “We’ve learned that the NIS was not aware of Kim’s death until the official announcement. It seems that neither communications intelligence nor human intelligence worked.” He added even when North Korea repeatedly announced since the previous day that a special program would be aired, “the NIS said it would not be related to Kim’s death.”

Since the North Korean military did not cancel drills and there were talks between North Korea and the U.S. in Beijing last Friday, the NIS judged that all was normal and concluded that rumors of Kim’s death were false. One intelligence officer said, “Although Kim has not been located since last Thursday, we believed he was resting due to his health and weather conditions.”

Perhaps, some more humanities courses at university would be a good idea?

South Korean intelligence aren’t the only ones thinking badly. I can only describe this “paean” as crap.

…Kim was a resolute and iconoclastic decision-maker with intense powers of concentration. These qualities were manifested in a dilettante personality, with Kim spending all night working and demonstrating talents and interest in literature and the arts. North Korea scholars are unanimous that the three forces behind his grasp on power as a successor to Kim Il-sung were a combination of his father’s determination, his own ability, and his election by veteran partisans.

Unfortunately, the South Korean left’s adoration is the necessary complement of the conservative’s rapid hatred, and reason doesn’t survive in the no man’s land between the two.

Within the Cheong Wa Dae and the administration, divisions have reportedly arisen between those saying an expression of condolence is necessary and those who view it as inappropriate. The former group is citing the fact that Pyongyang sent delegations after the deaths of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun and the possibility of using the opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations, while the latter is noting Pyongyang’s failure to apologize for the Cheonan sinking and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

[F]ormer Democratic Party floor leader and current Unified Democratic Party lawmaker Park Jie-won, who attended the 2000 inter-Korean summit, said a delegation should be sent “in the interests of detente on the Korean Peninsula, since North Korea is also a counterpart in peace, exchange, and cooperation.”

An organization working to prepare for a new conservative party under the leadership of former Seoul National University professor Park Se-il said it is “necessary to take steps to express condolences at the government level, with the participation of senior government figures.”

In the Grand National Party, lawmaker Won Hee-ryong expresses his own condolences for Kim Jong-il’s death and said, “We need a respectful and decorous expression of condolence to the government for the sake of improvement in future inter-Korean relations.”

But Park Geun-hye, the head of the GNP’s emergency countermeasures committee, was tight-lipped when questioned by reporters after assuming her post. “I imagine [the condolence issue] is something the state and administration will be discussing,” Park said.

The conservative group Right Korea issued a statement calling on the government to “not entertain even a shred of thought of sending a condolence delegation to North Korea.”

Obviously avoiding an unforced error while your enemy is down never occurred to any South Korean politician. As I see it, Pyongyang has given both conservatives and the left a golden opportunity to get away with as terse a statement as possible – something like “We offer our condolences.” Period. Instead, Park Jie-won wants to visit anyway, a move that would cause more problems than there are now. And, even Won Hee-ryong exceeds the mark. There’s no need to be effusive when the North Korean people themselves are doing enough over-acting for the entire peninsula. I’m actually pleasantly surprised by Park Geun-hye’s restraint, or is that dithering? Right Korea and neocon expats I hope never have a government job.

It’s a repulsive enough notion, that North Koreans might view and judge the world by their own bent standards. But, when South Koreans and westerners exhibit behavior worse than that, I know the U.S. has not profited by its association with Koreans. Exhibit B: Victor Cha’s neocon-aping attempt to stoke fear.

I think, for the United States, the big problem now is that, if we get news, any bits of information that there’s some problems in North Korea, we have a whole different nuclear problem on our hand now. And that is the potential for loose nuclear weapons, a country that is a nuclear weapons state that doesn’t have a leadership.

And that is a far more difficult problem than what was already a difficult problem when it came to nuclear weapons in North Korea.

Proliferation was a problem, but actually deploying what devices North Korea had was always a remote possibility. And, there is a government – too much of an apparatus in Pyongyang. It’s irresponsible to speculate publicly when you don’t know, or to avoid the facts you do know because of a political agenda.


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