Living With a Nuclear Neighbor

In the eyes of the South Koreans, Ahmadinejad is a balanced and rational person, compared to North Korean President Kim Jong Un.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

SEOUL, South Korea - The text sounds familiar. "At this moment 22,000 missiles are aimed at us," said Prof. In Nam-Sik. "One missile attack from the north on Seoul will cause up to half a million casualties." The senior researcher from the Korean National Diplomatic Academy, like most of the experts and politicians in Seoul, believes that nuclear weapons in the hands of the regime in Pyongyang is a serious strategic problem. But the vast majority agree that a military attack against North Korea's nuclear facilities is not the solution. All my interlocutors in Seoul, without exception, suggested that Israel remove the military option against Iran from its table and from the international agenda.

If you will, the case of North Korea is an example of the failure of the West's nuclear policy. In the eyes of the South Koreans - and others as well - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a balanced and rational person, compared to North Korean President Kim Jong Un. And the extremist regime in the most hermetically sealed country in the world deceived the international community and exploited the long years of fruitless diplomacy to become a nuclear power. Nuclear weapons have given North Korea strategic supremacy over its southern neighbor. This has forced South Korea to live in the shadow of a constant and unbalanced threat posed by its enemy.

The case of the Asian peninsula is an example of enviable economic growth in the shadow of a threat. South Korea has become an industrial power without a balance of terror as in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and without nuclear deterrence as in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors (according to foreign sources). Seoul draws its security from the assumption that even a semi-rational regime will not hasten to confront a country that enjoys the protection of the strongest power in the world. Over 20,000 American soldiers who are deployed in its territory are the equivalent for South Korea of the Jewish lobby and "Israel's friends in Congress."

Although Iran is in the crosshairs of its American patron, South Korea is in no hurry to give up its close relations with the regime of the ayatollahs; it purchases over 9 percent of its oil there (and is angry at European countries that are prohibiting the insurance companies from insuring the containers ), sells goods and maintains an infrastructure in Iran totaling tens of billions of dollars annually. The livelihood of hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of workers depends on these relations. In Seoul's district of hotels and trendy shops I saw a sign saying "Tehran Street." The general manager of the Africa and Middle East department in the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, one of the most senior positions in the foreign service, was recently appointed his country's ambassador to Iran.

Dr.Jeon Sung-Hoon doesn't conceal his dissatisfaction with nuclear policy toward North Korea, which is too soft in his opinion. He has an account with his former president, Roh Tae Woo, who in his term announced his country's nuclear demilitarization, and with President George Bush Sr., who in 1991 decided to remove the tactical weapons from South Korea. Sung-Hoon would like the Americans to bring them back. Sung-Hoon has just returned from a conference about the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, which took place in Washington. It was difficult not to notice the disappointment in the voice of the senior researcher in the Korea Institute for National Unification when he said that none of the participants in the conference presented proof of nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Iran, which is trying to join the club. A smoking gun would probably toughen American policy toward North Korea. The success of the international handling of the Iranian nuclear program would encourage similar handling of the North Korean nuclear program.

Dr. Jeon Sung-Hoon doesn't believe that North Korea will give up nuclear weapons. In light of his bitter experience on the local scene, he suggests that we not pin our hopes on dialogue and on increasing sanctions as a means of convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. "It's self evident that every country has the right to self defense," summed up the senior researcher, immediately adding, "but if you ask me, I suggest that you do everything possible to avoid a military attack against Iran." In other words, a bomb is preferable to bombing.



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