giovedì 4 aprile 2013

Alle radici della crisi in Corea

Qui di seguito proponiamo due pezzi molto interessanti sulla crisi coreana, tutti e due da Project Syndicate. Entrambi spiegano con cura quali sono le radici del comportamento del regime di Pyongyang, che troppe volte, in Occidente e sopratutto in Italia, viene descritto come un gruppo di lunatici. La situazione è invece assai diversa. Come dicemmo già tempo fa è difficile valutare culture e società differenti sulla base dei nostri parametri. In Corea del Nord larga parte del consenso vero la famiglia Kim è il frutto di una tradizione culturale di lunga data ed ha dunque una reale base materiale - anche se molto difficile da valutare. E per quanto anacronistica, la dittatura di Pyongyang non è guidata da fanatismo o follia ma da un preciso calcolo strategico dettato dalle condizioni internazionali. Come spiegato da entrambi i commentatori qui sotto - uno dei quali è stato ministro degli esteri di Seul, quindi non certo tacciabile di simpatie verso il Nord - l'Occidente, e dunque soprattutto l'America, ma anche Corea del Sud e Giappone hanno gravi responsabilità nell'aver isolato la Corea del Nord, rendendola più aggressiva e pericolosa, e, non avendole riconosciuto nessun vero ruolo negli anni passati - pensando forse di poterla cancellare dalla mappa con un colpo di penna - si ritrovano ora con un partner inaffidabile. Per altro la storia dei cosiddetti rogue states - dall'Iraq alla Libia - non può che mettere in allarme la dirigenza nord-coreana che dunque vuol sedersi ad un tavolo di trattativa da una situazione di (relativo) potere, dato in questo caso dalle minacce militari. Un gioco pericoloso ma perfettamente razionale. 
Non va dimenticato, per altro, che quello stesso regime è stato per anni tutt'altro che bellicoso e che comunque fino ad inizio anni 2000 si parlava di una possibile rappacificazione tra Nord e Sud con le due delegazioni che, all'Olimpiade di Sidney, sfilavano sotto la stessa bandiera. E che le tensioni sono iniziate successivamente, quando gli USA hanno chiuso la porta in faccia ad ogni dialogo. Infine, l'ultima escalation è avvenuta, non a caso, dopo la vittoria, sia in Giappone che in Corea del Sud, di due leader nazionalisti, e decisamente avversi al dialogo con Pyongyang. Insomma, se è vero che la Corea rischia di diventare un problema serio per il resto del mondo, è forse d'uopo che anche i governi occidentali si comincino a prendere delle responsabilità per contenere la crisi e riportare un po' di sereno sopra il 38° parallelo.

Realism on North Korea

di Yoon Young Kwan
da Project Syndicate

The world’s task in addressing North Korea’s saber rattling is made no easier by the fact that it confronts an impoverished and effectively defeated country. On the contrary, it is in such circumstances that calm foresight is most necessary.
The genius of the Habsburg Empire’s Prince Klemens von Metternich in framing a new international order after the Napoleonic Wars was that he did not push a defeated France into a corner. Although Metternich sought to deter any possible French resurgence, he restored France’s prewar frontiers.
By contrast, as Henry Kissinger has argued, the victors in World War I could neither deter a defeated Germany nor provide it with incentives to accept the Versailles Treaty. Instead, they imposed harsh terms, hoping to weaken Germany permanently. We know how that plan ended.
John F. Kennedy was in the Metternich mold. During the Cuban missile crisis, he did not try to humiliate or win a total victory over the Soviet Union. Rather, he put himself in Nikita Khrushchev’s shoes and agreed to dismantle, secretly, American missiles in Turkey and Italy in exchange for withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Kennedy’s pragmatism prevented World War III.
Sadly, North Korea has not received such far-sighted statesmanship. Faced with the North’s dangerous nuclear game, we should ask what would have happened if, over the last 20 some years, the North Korea problem had been approached with the sagacity of Metternich and Kennedy.
Of course, North Korea is not early-nineteenth century France or the USSR of 1962. In the eyes of Western (including Japanese) political leaders, it has never amounted to more than a small, fringe country whose economic failings made it appear to be poised perpetually on the edge of self-destruction. For the most part, world leaders preferred not to be bothered with North Korea, and so reacted in an ad hoc way whenever it created a security problem. But now, following the North’s recent nuclear tests, and given its improving ballistic-missile capabilities, that approach is no longer tenable.
Perhaps the best chance to address the problem at an earlier stage was immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Back then, Kim Il-sung – the North’s founder – faced economic collapse, diminution of his conventional military forces, and diplomatic isolation. In interviews with Asahi Shimbun and The Washington Times in March and April 1992, Kim clearly expressed a wish to establish diplomatic relations with the US. But US and South Korean leaders were not ready to accommodate Kim’s overture. Their received ideas about North Korea prevented them from recognizing a fast-changing political reality.
Another opportunity was missed later in the decade. If North Korea had reciprocated in a timely manner following US envoy William Perry’s visit to Pyongyang in May 1999, President Bill Clinton’s policy of engagement with the North might have been upgraded to a push for normalization of diplomatic relations. Instead, the North procrastinated, sending Vice Marshall Jo Myong-rok to the US only in October 2000, near the end of Clinton’s presidency. A few months later, newly elected President George W. Bush reversed Clinton’s North Korea policy.
I still recall the difficulty that I faced, as South Korea’s foreign minister, in convincing Bush administration policymakers to negotiate with North Korea instead of merely applying pressure and waiting for the North to capitulate. Back then, North Korea was restarting its Yongbyon nuclear facility and producing plutonium, thus strengthening its bargaining position vis-à-vis the US. Precious time was squandered before North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006. Though Bush shifted his policy toward bilateral negotiations with the North a few months later, the Kim regime had become much more obstinate.
Indeed, North Korea’s behavior has since become even more volatile. Its sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 were unprecedented, and raised inter-Korean tensions to their highest level in decades. Today, following the North’s third nuclear test, we seem to have entered the most precarious stage yet, with the regime declaring that it will never surrender its nuclear option. So, what should be done?
The first option should be deterrence of further aggression through diplomacy. But achieving diplomatic deterrence will depend on China’s cooperation, and this requires that China’s vital national-security interests be recognized. China fears not only the social and economic consequences of a North Korean implosion, but also the strategic consequences of reunification – in particular, that the US military, through its alliance with South Korea, would gain access to territory on its border.
A mere statement by the US that it has no intention to press this military advantage will not assuage China’s fears. Chinese leaders recall that the US promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that German reunification and democratic transition in Eastern Europe would not mean eastward expansion of NATO. So a more concrete undertaking, one that preserves South Korea’s bedrock security concerns, is needed. Only after its security is assured will China free itself from complicity in North Korean brinkmanship and be better able to control the North’s behavior. 
But Chinese cooperation, though necessary, will not resolve the North Korea problem on its own. A comprehensive approach must recognize the speed of internal change, especially in the minds of ordinary North Koreans. Simply put, North Koreans are not as isolated as they once were, and have a growing appreciation of their impoverishment, owing primarily to greater trade and closer connections with booming China.
This internal change needs to be encouraged, because it will prove more effective than external pressure in influencing the regime’s behavior. But such encouragement must be undertaken in ways that do not incite the North’s fears of being destroyed by indirect means.  South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s recent proposal to provide humanitarian assistance despite the recent spike in tension, is a start in the right direction.
The lives of ordinary North Koreans matter as much as the security of North Korea’s neighbors. A comprehensive approach is required – one that focuses as much on the human dimension as on the security dimension. It remains to be seen whether this approach requires more foresight and courage than today’s political leaders in South Korea, the West, and China can muster.

di Ian Buruma
da Project Syndicate

Nobody would care much about North Korea – a small and isolated country of 24 million people, ruled by a grotesque dynasty that calls itself communist – if it were not for its nuclear weapons. Its current ruler, Kim Jong-un, the 30-year-old grandson of North Korea’s founder and “Great Leader,” is now threatening to turn Seoul, the rich and bustling capital of South Korea, into “a sea of fire.” American military bases in Asia and the Pacific are also on his list of targets.
Kim knows very well that a war against the United States would probably mean the destruction of his own country, which is one of the world’s poorest. His government cannot even feed its own people, who are regularly devastated by famine. In the showcase capital, Pyongyang, there is not even enough electricity to keep the lights on in the largest hotels. So threatening to attack the world’s most powerful country would seem like an act of madness.
But it is neither useful nor very plausible to assume that Kim Jong-un and his military advisers are mad. To be sure, there is something deranged about North Korea’s political system. The Kim family’s tyranny is based on a mixture of ideological fanaticism, vicious realpolitik, and paranoia. But this lethal brew has a history, which needs to be explained.
The short history of North Korea is fairly simple. After the collapse in 1945 of the Japanese empire, which had ruled quite brutally over the whole of Korea since 1910, the Soviet Red Army occupied the north, and the US occupied the south. The Soviets plucked a relatively obscure Korean communist, Kim Il-sung, from an army camp in Vladivostok, and installed him in Pyongyang as the leader of North Korea. Myths about his wartime heroism and divine status soon followed, and a cult of personality was established.
Worshipping Kim, and his son and grandson, as Korean gods became part of a state religion. North Korea is essentially a theocracy. Some elements are borrowed from Stalinism and Maoism, but much of the Kim cult owes more to indigenous forms of shamanism: human gods who promise salvation (it is no accident that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church came from Korea, too).
But the power of the Kim cult, as well as the paranoia that pervades the North Korean regime, has a political history that goes back much further than 1945. Wedged awkwardly between China, Russia, and Japan, the Korean Peninsula has long been a bloody battleground for greater powers. Korean rulers only managed to survive by playing one foreign power off against the other, and by offering subservience, mainly to Chinese emperors, in exchange for protection. This legacy has nurtured a passionate fear and loathing of dependency on stronger countries.
The Kim dynasty’s main claim to legitimacy is Juche, the regime’s official ideology, which stresses national self-reliance to the point of autarky. In fact, Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, were typical Korean rulers. They played China against the Soviet Union, while securing the protection of both. Of course, this did not stop North Korean propagandists from accusing the South Koreans of being cowardly lackeys of US imperialism. Indeed, paranoia about US imperialism is part of the cult of independence. For the Kim dynasty to survive, the threat of external enemies is essential.
The fall of the Soviet Union was a disaster for North Korea, as it was for Cuba; not only did Soviet economic support evaporate, but the Kims could no longer play off one power against another. Only China was left, and North Korea’s dependence on its northern neighbor is now almost total. China could crush North Korea in a day just by cutting off food and fuel supplies.
There is only one way to divert attention from this humiliating predicament: propaganda about self-reliance and the imminent threat from US imperialists and their South Korean lackeys must be turned up to a hysterical pitch. Without this orchestrated paranoia, the Kims have no legitimacy. And no tyranny can survive for long by relying on brute force alone.
Some people argue that the US could enhance security in northeast Asia by compromising with the North Koreans – specifically, by promising not to attack or attempt to topple the Kim regime. The Americans are unlikely to agree to this, and South Korea would not want them to. Apart from anything else, there is an important domestic political reason for US reticence: a Democratic US president cannot afford to look “soft.” More important, even if the US were to provide such guarantees to North Korea, the regime’s paranoid propaganda would probably continue, given the centrality to Juche of fear of the outside world.
The tragedy of Korea is that no one really wishes to change the status quo: China wants to keep North Korea as a buffer state, and fears millions of refugees in the event of a North Korean collapse; the South Koreans could never afford to absorb North Korea in the way that West Germany absorbed the broken German Democratic Republic; and neither Japan nor the US would relish paying to clean up after a North Korean implosion, either.
And so an explosive situation will remain explosive, North Korea’s population will continue to suffer famines and tyranny, and words of war will continue to fly back and forth across the 38th parallel. So far, they are just words. But small things – a shot in Sarajevo, as it were – can trigger a catastrophe. And North Korea still has those nuclear bombs.

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