Monday, February 3, 2003

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The Koreas and self-denial

Josh Marshall has made a lot of hay about the Bush administration's supposed blunder in publicly rejecting Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" towards North Korea in early 2001. As I've previously posted, I agree with Josh on the "public" nature of the brush-off, but not the substantive rejection -- it was unclear to me just what the sunshine policy achieved beyond some statements of comity, Kim Dae Jung's Nobel Peace Prize, and a few years of being duped about the DPRK uranium enrichment program.

Now it turns out that the statements of comity -- and by extension Kim's Nobel -- came with a hidden $400 million price tag. Kim Dae Jung has all but admitted that he paid the bribe to Kim Jong il in order to ensure the historic June 2000 Pyongyang summit took place. Idle question: if $400 million is the going price for a summit, what will the DPRK asking price for denuclearization be?

The South Korean reaction to this also merits further comment. This country seems badly split between conservatives who share the U.S. view of North Korea's intention, and sunshine advocates (one of whom was just elected to the presidency) who seem in complete denial about the situation in North Korea. This faction is deathly afraid of a DPRK collapse, because of the overwhelming costs that will come with reunification. I suspect this fear is what lies behind their willingness to repeatedly bribe the North Koreans into acquiescence. However, unless and until the liberal wing of the South Korean political spectrum comes to grips with the moral and material price of appeasing the North Korean regime, there is little that the U.S. will be able to do to defuse the situation.

UPDATE: Now a former ROK intelligence officer claims the bribe was actually $1.7 billion for the summit. I'm not sure how much I trust this allegation, but if true, it merely underscores the point I made above.

posted by Dan on 02.03.03 at 03:19 PM