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Peace Through Strength

By David Warren

Intelligence supplied to media by both South Korean and Japanese agencies suggests North Korea is backing off its threat to do a second nuclear test. According to both, the dictator Kim Jong-Il told the Chinese envoy in Pyongyang that he has called it off for the foreseeable future. The truth could be anything -- from, the Chinese told their client enough is enough, to, there was never a second test ready anyway. (There now seems to be radiological proof the first really happened.) But the most likely explanation is that counter-threats and actions from South Korea, Japan, and the United States have persuaded Pyongyang that the cost of further testing is too high.

The BBC reported from Beijing that the Chinese threatened to cut off North Korea's oil supply, if it persisted. This struck me as just the sort of thing the Chinese would tell the BBC. It is quite implausible. The Red Chinese don't make threats they aren't prepared to act on, and they could not afford to do something that would actually bring down the Pyongyang regime. A collapse that led to a reunified Korea is among Beijing's regional nightmares, on a scale with a nuclear-armed Japan, or Taiwan. Moreover, even if it were a bluff, North Korea has a long record of calling bluffs.

It is the plausible threat that gets responses, even from dictators who seem outwardly insane. So long as, for instance, Saddam Hussein could reasonably think the U.S. wasn't really going to invade Iraq -- that the French and Russians were capable of preventing it, and had a real interest in doing so -- he called bluffs that weren't bluffs. The danger to international peace is greatest when a real threat is mistaken in this way. Which is why diplomatic manoeuvring at the United Nations is such a threat to world peace.

The perfect demonstration of this, from recent history, was the unnecessary Falklands War. A weakness of will, communicated through the blathering of British diplomats, persuaded Argentina's generals they could take the islands without a British military response. But as we now know, the generals wouldn't have invaded had they grasped they were dealing, not with the toffs in the British foreign office, but with Margaret Thatcher. In short, by giving signals of weakness, Britain's diplomats created a war that no one could have wanted.

Clarity, of the sort the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was delivering in Tokyo this week, is instead what defuses crises. It was clear enough, from Ms Rice's language, that the U.S. was taking North Korea's threats deadly seriously. She said explicitly that the U.S. was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Japan and South Korea. Moreover, a real sampling of that seriousness was offered for Pyongyang to taste. Aid, vital to the daily operations of the "hermit" regime, was being cut. (Sincere Chinese displeasure with Kim Jong-Il follows from the costs he is imposing on them; for in order to keep his regime afloat, the Chinese must replace that Western aid.)

The Japanese have also been exceptionally firm. While they continue to forswear nuclear weapons, the prospect of acquiring them is no longer unthinkable. Shinzo Abe, the new Japanese prime minister, is a foreign policy "hawk", who made Japanese domestic history four years ago as the first government politician to muse aloud about a nuclear Japan, without being immediately sacked. His rise to power is largely a function of Japanese anxieties over the North Korean threat. His continuation in power will depend upon his cutting a resolute figure.

A similar change of political mood is discernible in South Korea. The invincibly naïve "Sunshine Policy" towards the North, of Kim Dae-Jung and his successors, has now failed (not that its supporters will admit this), and the South Korean electorate has once again become intensely security-conscious, and is therefore shifting to the right. The scale of the South's investment in the North is huge, however; and likewise, the amount of emotional energy poured into pipedreams about North-South reconciliation. It will take more time for South Korea to shift course, and as a stopgap it is meanwhile standing by the letter of the weak United Nations resolution. But the direction of the shift is plain, and has already led to better relations between Seoul and both Tokyo and Washington. That in itself warns both North Korea and China.

Unfortunately, our Western "gliberal" elites, and the media that express their fantasias, actually believe that peace is advanced by consistently appeasing our most lethal enemies, by "talking nice", and giving them interminable assurances of our harmlessness. Whereas, that is the formula for inviting attack. Peace between irreconcilable parties can only be delineated by lines in the sand.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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