M K Bhadrakumar |
I seldom write a consecutive blog on the same topic but an exception is in order because I received a few queries from friends on my assessment that a US military strike on North Korea is inconceivable. (See my blog Come in, Kim. Join the club)
From my life and times as a diplomat in South Korea (1979-1981), I can say that the timing of the decision by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to blast the ICBM was simply perfect – July 28, bang in the middle of the fortnight-long vacation period that South Koreans cherish, last week of July coupled with the first week of August, when schools shut down, children are at home and are clamouring for fun and family outings. South Koreans adore children – like any people who have seen an inferno like the Korean War and lost an entire generation.
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National Security Advisor (Moon chose Lee Sang-chul, former general who participated in inter-Korean military dialogues and Six Party Talks on denuclearisation)
So, when President Donald Trump put in an emergency call on Monday to speak to Moon Jae-in, South Korean president, the latter’s office responded that the conversation could take place a week later after Moon got back from vacation. It was a gentle hint to Trump – ‘No saber rattling, please.’ Unlike Trump (or Japanese PM Shinzo Abe who is also barely coping with abysmally low rating), Moon just won a handsome mandate. A profound leftist politician, Moon abhors wars. Moon also knows that saber rattling only makes Kim feel more insecure. Although Pyongyang’s march toward an arsenal of nuclear missiles has grave implications for Seoul, Moon advocates restraint and the South Korean public salutes him.
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Look at Moon’s cabinet team. He put in key positions people with established record of favoring engagement with North Korea:
- Head of National Intelligence Service (Suh Hoon, who helped to arrange the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, and spent two years in North Korea);
- Unification Minister (Cho Myoung-gyon who spent his career in the same ministry, working on issues of peaceful unification of the two Koreas and has vast experience in negotiating with Pyongyang);
- National Security Advisor (Moon chose Lee Sang-chul, former general who participated in inter-Korean military dialogues and Six Party Talks on denuclearisation);
- Special Advisor on Unification (Professor Moon Chung-in, stimulating thinker who expounds the provocative idea of ‘pre-emptive talks’ with North Korea – ie., holding talks even without US concurrence – who seeks downsizing of military exercises with the US);
- Vice-Minister of Defence (Seo Joo-seok who recommends increasing military autonomy from the US and closer alignment with China on North Korea);
- South Korea’s first female Foreign Minister (Kang Kyung-hwa, a career diplomat with deep UN experience who used to be an interpreter to the charismatic former leftist president Kim Dae-Jung, architect of the ‘Sunshine Policy’).
An academic at the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Leif-Eric Easley, recently wrote, “Moon’s appointments suggest strong preferences for engagement over sanctions, diplomacy over military solutions, and working with the UN. Just as one does not bring together an all-star team of basketball players to play football, the Moon government was not assembled to contain North Korea. One lesson from the (previous leftist) Roh government was that the 2007 inter-Korean summit came too late in the administration’s term for agreements to be implemented. Moon is therefore likely to seek an earlier summit (with Kim).” Spot on.
Suffice to say, Moon made his point to Trump – ‘Cool it, Mr. President.’ Trump would have felt relieved. To my mind, Trump himself is intensely conscious of the horrific consequences of a war. At least a few thousands American lives will be lost – plus collateral damages on regional security, US-China relations, and the world economy
South Korea is a fascinating country. I served there during the historic events – assassination of President Park Chung-hee (October 1979) and the great Gwanju Uprising (May 1980) – which were cataclysmic events that opened the door to the rose garden leading to the transition from brutal military dictatorship to a flourishing democracy. (By the way, I was the first Indian diplomat to visit former president Kim Dae-jung when he was under house arrest in Seoul allegedly for being a ‘communist sympathizer’; my wife presented to Mrs. Kim a beautiful painting of Damayanti and the swan in the Mahabharata.)
Suffice to say, Moon made his point to Trump – ‘Cool it, Mr. President.’ Trump would have felt relieved. To my mind, Trump himself is intensely conscious of the horrific consequences of a war. At least a few thousands American lives will be lost – plus collateral damages on regional security, US-China relations, and the world economy (severely straining the confidence of consumers and investors in the US and dealing a lethal blow to ‘America First’.)
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Trump enjoys a rare ‘bipartisan consensus’ that war is simply not an option. Of course, the risk is there that he is a man of limited patience, attention span, and command of policy. But on the other hand, he has the instincts of a businessman who’d carefully weigh gains and losses.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.