Victor Cha on the crisis in the Korean peninsula

“It was a clearly premeditated act. And it is the most serious act of aggression by the North against the South, military-to-military, since the end of the Korean War. I mean they’ve done terrorist acts that have killed more people, such as the airliner, but this is a clear violation of the armistice.”—Victor Cha in an interview on Council of Foreign Relations Web site.

Victor ChaIn a frank interview with the Council of Foreign Relations, Victor Cha, co-author of Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies, assesses the motivations behind and repercussions of North Korea’s attack on and sinking of a corvette that killed forty-six Korean sailors.

Cha gives three possible reasons for North Korea’s attack: 1.) Retaliation for an altercation that took place in November 2009; 2.) Unhappiness with the conservative South Korean government; 3.) “an external manifestation of legitimization of the youngest son [of Kim Joing-il], Kim Jong-Un, as the next leader of North Korea.

He also argues that despite the harsh reactions of the United States and South Korea, North Korea will only feel the pressure to change their behavior if there is pressure from China. However, so far “the Chinese thus far have been weak, clumsy, totally anachronistic in terms of how they’ve dealt with this.”

Cha argues that China is stuck in a cold war mentality and is trying to protect their “little Communist brother” and not jeopardize the stability of the North Korean regime. However, this is set against a reality in which China has a far greater economic stake with South Korea with whom they do $190 billion worth of business annually.

Finally, what does this mean for the future in the region? In responding to the fate of the Six Party Talks, Cha writes:

Pardon the pun, but I really think the North has torpedoed any chance of a resumption of Six Party Talks in the near future. It was reported before March 26, when the attack occurred, that there were quiet machinations going around trying to get back to the Six Party table. And it all came apart because of this North Korean action. The South Koreans have been pretty clear that they’re not interested in coming back to the talks right now, and I think the Obama administration feels the same way.

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