Thursday, November 25, 2010

Time Horizons: International Politics Edition

B. R. Meyers opens an Op-Ed thusly:
WHILE it is cowardly and foolish not to resist an act of aggression, the best way to deal with a provocation is to ignore it — or so we are taught. By refusing to be provoked, one frustrates and therefore “beats” the provoker; generations of bullied children have been consoled with this logic. And so it is that the South Korean and American governments usually refer to North Korea’s acts of aggression as “provocations.”

Meyers later explains how this is playing out in the Korean case:
South Korea’s left-wing press, which tends to shape young opinion, is describing the shelling of the island as the inevitable product of “misunderstandings” resulting from a lack of dialogue.

Sadly, South Korea’s subdued response to such incidents makes them more likely to happen again. This poses a serious problem for the United States; we have already been drawn into one war on the peninsula because our ally seemed unlikely to defend itself.

Unsurprisingly, and as the post title hints, FLG sees this through the time horizon prism. Turning the other cheek prevents escalation of that particular event, which is a good strategy from minimizing violence in the short-term. However, it very well may encourage subsequent violence. Don't respond to a torpedo. Well, then, no big deal if we shell an island either.

Likewise, any particular international incident can always be explained away as the product of particular misunderstandings. But when you look at the long-term trends, the misunderstandings argument loses bite:
Since a first naval skirmish in the Yellow Sea near Yeonpyeong in 1999, there has been a steady escalation in North Korea’s efforts to destabilize the peninsula. In 2002, another naval skirmish killed at least four South Korean sailors; in 2006 the North conducted an underground nuclear test; in 2009 it launched missiles over the Sea of Japan, had another nuclear test and declared the Korean War armistice invalid; and in March the Cheonan was sun

Meyers sums up:
There is no easy solution to the North Korea problem, but to begin to solve it, we must realize that its behavior is aggressive, not provocative, and that its aggression is ideologically built in. Pyongyang is thus virtually predestined to push Seoul and Washington too far, thereby bringing about its own ruin.

The Chinese should take note of this, since their rationalization for continuing to support North Korea derives from the vain hope that they can prop it up indefinitely. The military-first state is going to collapse at some stage; let’s do what we can to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Contrast this with, that idiot, President Carter's view, where each incident is precipitated separately and almost entirely by American action or inaction. Maybe, just maybe, the North Koreans are, over the long run, just a belligerent, dangerous, and evil nation, and everybody else in the world knows it.

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