COMMENTARY: The divide between North and South Korea

Sure, sure, it’s probably true that Kim Jong Un wants to unify the Korean Peninsula under his rule. So did his grandfather. So did his father. None has come close.

What is not so widely understood, however, is that the South Korean elites don’t want to unify with the North even under South Korean rule.

And further, that the North Korean drive to acquire nuclear weapons has relatively little to do with unification, either sooner or later. It has everything to do with two things:

1. Regime survival. Kim and his ancestors fear, probably irrationally, a South Korean/American invasion of the north. True, the U.S. Forces Command/Combined Forces Command/United Nations Command has a war plan for that. However, it assumes a North Korean attack first.

2. Parity with the United States. Kim believes if he can develop a nuclear weapon that can reach the United States, that he will be accepted into the family of nations and that the crushing sanctions now imposed will have to be lifted.

Reid K. Beveridge

First, a little history. The Korean Peninsula, which had been occupied by the Japanese since 1875 (or 1910 depending on your historian), was portioned at the end of World War II in 1945. Kim il Sung, the current Kim’s grandfather, was put in charge of the north — he then a major in Stalin’s Red Army. The South, on the other hand, was to be under U.S. supervision. Syngman Rhee was the first president. There also was a vague promise of “free and fair” elections to unify the north and the south. No election was ever held.

Then, in 1950, Kim, believing the United States had demobilized so much and had lost interest that he would not be opposed, invaded the South. The South Koreans had no army to speak of. The U.S. Army presence was little more than a battalion — the so-called “Task Force Smith” with a strength of fewer than 600. Kim’s invading force numbered 89,000.

With the armistice signed in 1953, South Korea and Seoul were prostrate. But Koreans are energetic and industrious people. And smart. They rebuilt their country. Today, South Korea is one of the most prosperous in the world with a huge economy.

North Korea, on the other hand, is called the Hermit Kingdom. The Kims are hardcore Marxist-Leninist Communists. As long as the Soviet Union supported them and supplied their military hardware, they were a genuine threat to peace. Even today, the main military threat from the north are the tens of thousands of artillery pieces poised on the DMZ. Remembering that Seoul is within artillery range of these guns.

Seoul is a city of more than 10 million — larger than New York City. Should the North Korean artillery open fire, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions would die within a few hours. The few hours it would require for the U.S. Air Force and the South Korean Air Force to subdue them.

Gen. Gary Luck, then the American four-star commander in Korea, once said, “If they open fire, we will win. But not before a lot of South Koreans die.” At the time of this statement, North Korea was believed to have one to three nuclear devices. However, it had no delivery system. No rockets. And an air force easily vulnerable to U.S. or South Korean shootdown.

Today, all this has changed. Clearly, the North has medium-range rockets that would deliver a nuke to Japan or some other Pacific location. They may have an intercontinental missile that could reach the United States.

True, launch of one of those toward the United States would result in the extermination of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the north calls itself. On the other hand, millions might die in Seattle or Los Angeles or Denver before that happened. And we don’t know which side China might be on when such a thing occurred.

Which gets us to the recent summit. If the ensuing negotiations unfold in any successful way. President Trump has talked about guaranteeing Kim’s safety and about making North Korea rich. Here we get to the two things the various parties DO NOT want.

First, the Chinese do not want a unified Korea with U.S. military forces on their border.

Second, the South Korean business and professional elites do not want to reunify with the North. Once a South Korean businessman said something like this:

“We watched the reunification of Germany. We saw how much it cost the West Germans to absorb East Germany. (Even 28 years later, there still is a noticeable economic difference between the West and East).

“Germany is a wealthy country. We are not wealthy. And the difference between East and West and our north and south is far greater.” In other words, South Korean elites do not want to take an enormous economic hit to level-up the North with the South.

Finally, as the progressive elites in the United States would have it, did Kim really get the better of this deal? Does he have the upper hand? Or to the contrary, as Matt Schlapp, a conservative columnist put it recently, is Kim really in a far greater bind than we realize? True, he doesn’t much care about his people starving. But it’s when his family and his military are hungry that he finds himself in a bind. Perhaps the sanctions really are working.

So if Kim, called “the fat kid” by some and “Little Rocket Man” by President Trump, may well survive in power. He may well keep his billions of stolen resources, money that might have fed his people.

Not a very nice man. But we don’t get to pick ‘em.

Reid K. Beveridge, a retired Delaware National Guard brigadier general, made 11 trips to the Republic of Korea during the 1990s to participate in various military exercises there.

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