The news media in South Korea is properly cautious about North Korea’s latest pitch to suspend parts of its nuclear program, to allow international inspectors onto suspected sites, and to halt long-range missile tests. Since 1994, endlessly back and forth across the Korean Peninsula, after all, negotiations of some sort over the nuclear issue have been on-going or going off on tangents — or (most often) going nowhere. Not surprisingly, then, the headlines in the South Korean media were arguably less euphoric – perhaps even by half — than some in the Western media. No doubt living in the shadow of the miserable Democratic People’s Republic of Korea might dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for almost anything.
The new North Korean government of Kim Jong Un – successor to his father, the recently late Kim Jong Il – negotiated an impressive amount of nutritional foodstuffs from the West in return. There’s a bit of melancholy in this. One is almost tempted to say the heck with North Korea and let them starve. But of course totalitarian elites always manage their full share of caviar and salmon when the rest of their countrymen have to survive on a diet of central government incompetence and indifference. No sense adding to the misery if we can afford to help – as long as it is the real people across the board who get our food aid, not the already privileged.
Besides, we do care about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and – most of all — the security of South Korea, our ally. So all steps that can be taken to bring North Korea into normality should be taken. But the feeling that we have been down this negotiating road before remains overwhelming. That, understandably, is the sense you get from monitoring the local South Korea media.
So here’s an idea that isn’t much in the news: Why not ask United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to go to North Korea to begin an engagement with the new (and quite young) Kim? What could possibly be the downside? Perhaps this veteran diplomat – who had been South Korean foreign minister under the late President Roo Moo-hyun — can get the two Koreas moving again – together. No one else yet has.