A More Dangerous Round with North Korea? April 2013

Audio for North Korea

Wamc April 11, 2013
Dr Steven A Leibo is the Sherman David Spector in the Humanities at the Sage Colleges

“Why North Korea scares me”

By all rights I should be the last person to be nervous about North Korea. Sure, I know they have a huge army, all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, literally an arsenal that would make either Iran or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq green with envy, host to concentration camps that would have made Hitler proud.

And I should know because I am one of the authors of The World Today Series, annuals reviews that get published each august about various regions of the world. indeed for almost twenty years I have been doing the
East & South East Asia volume.

Yes, following closely and then writing up revisions; flowing recent history into contemporary political, social, economic and environmental developments.

Covering closely the entire region from China to Indonesia– From Vietnam to Cambodia. Sometime I redo a great deal, sometimes not much depending on developments. In truth what I like best are countries with dictatorships that are not being challenged. Not good for the locals. Good for me.

And then there is North Korea. Frankly as we have heard so much in the media these days it’s a situation very much along the lines of that old French line

“Le plus ca change, le plus c’est la meme chose”

Indeed with North Korea, some years I just change the dates of the different crises, the different threats are so similar. So as I said, I should be the last person to be nervous about what is going on.

Should be

But as I said, I cover a huge range of changes, new elections, new governments and that’s what really got me nervous. Because geo-political imperatives aside people matter, Barack Obama is not George W Bush. Indeed George W. Was not his father.And people often do want to make good first impressions, whether or warm or tough depending on the situation. And right now what is going on in the Korean Peninsula scares the hell out of me. Because what we have here is a very old game of brinksmanship being played out by a bunch of new players. Indeed the young kid we keep hearing about in North Korea, Kim Jung-un is .. can you believe it — actually among the most senior government leaders in this new round of Korean chicken.

Yes, Kim Jung-un, who unlike his grandfather kim il sung 0r his dad Kim Jung Jung-il, Kim the grandkid has no memory of the horrors, the suffering, the 1950’s Korean war inflicted on the region’s people.

And he, can you believe it is more senior in office than Xi Jinping who just took over the reigns of leadership in China. While to Kim Jong un’s south, the New leader of South Korea even more recently took office, President Park Geun-hye the first female South Korean leader. And she is the daughter of Korean’s legendary anti- North Korean strong man of the 1960s is carrying with her all the burden of living up to the reputation of her father, who’s memory helped propel her into office, even as she attempts to establish herself in power in a society that is still deeply patriarchal. A woman no doubt facing the same sort of challenges Margaret Thatcher, who really needed to be known as the “ Iron Lady” once faced.

While across the sea of Japan another and here again a more historically confrontative Japanese government has come to power one less willing to accommodate North Korea’s absurdities than its own Japanese political rivals. And even here in the United States we have our own brand spanking new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hegel, a former Vietnam soldier and longtime senator but himself only weeks into his new position as Secretary of Defense.
So am I nervous about the possibility of an explosion on the Korean peninsula? You bet, the way this observer sees it.. this maybe a very old game, But it is a very dangerous old game being played by too many new players.

I would not take those odds to Vegas.

About Steven Leibo

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