Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nuclear Threat from the North?

“U.S. Maintains Patience, gives North Korea more time” read the headline today in the Korean Herald—an English newspaper in South Korea. The Saturday deadline the US imposed on N.K. to disable their nuclear program in return for favorable energy aid passed without compliance or progress. US patience is growing thin, the news article said, regarding the North Korean position to retain its right to continue a nuclear program.

A very different viewpoint is common here in South Korea, at least among the Methodist pastors I’ve talked to. They say that South Koreans are not nervous about the North and don’t really view them as a threat. Sure they have nuclear weapons, but only as a bargaining chip and to assert their ‘force-to-be-reckoned -with ‘status in the world. Truth is, I was told, the Koreans in the North and Koreans in the South feel very close these days. And the US really has no right to insist that another country give up something (like nuclear program) that they are not willing to live without.

I was surprised by the relatively mild reaction of South Koreans to the North Korea nuclear threat. I spoke with pastors, students and one national politician about the real and perceived threat, and without exception I was told that the nuclear threat is overplayed in the West. There is a very warm regard toward North Koreans, and the rhetoric of is viewed simply as posturing: “threatening the US is a way to get attention, more food aid and energy resources, and ultimately a more favorable trade agreement,” I was told. “But North Korea may be capable of firing a nuclear missile toward the US and striking us,” I objected. “Maybe so, but they won’t use it. And why should the USA get to determine who is allowed to have a nuclear program and who cannot?” Some Koreans are sympathetic to American military presence in the country, but there seems to be growing opposition. US military bases, I was told, were moving out of the city and closer to China.