Improving South Korea’s Civil Defense Will Boost Trump’s Summit Leverage

    Edward P. Joseph, Jason C. Moyer

    Security, Asia

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends his New Year news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

    It is exceedingly dangerous for Trump to engage in talks with Kim when the North Korean leader detects a gap in the relationship between America and South Korea.

    Lost in the cyclonic developments in the Korean Peninsula over the past year is one constant: it is Kim Jong-un who has mesmerized the South, from high officials to broad swathes of the public. Through a deft combination of bellicose words and deeds, followed by pacifistic gestures, Kim has sent an intoxicating message to South Korea: the United States is at once impotent—unable to stop the north—and also a menacing bully who impedes rapprochement between the people of the North and South.

    The irony is stunning. In 2017, Pyongyang fired twenty-three missiles during sixteen separate tests, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile—a rocket that could reach anywhere in the world. Kim has conducted multiple nuclear tests in the last few years, including one last September that is widely believed to be a hydrogen bomb. In turn, the North Korean supreme leader combined these bold, intimidating acts with sharply-tuned words, for example, the defiant “dotard” insult in response to Trump’s “rocket man” put-down. Then, without warning, at the recent Pyeongchang Olympics (dubbed the Pyongyang Olympics by wags in the South), Kim pivoted like a figure skater, easily manipulating his dovish South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-In into a willing embrace, while forcing Vice President Pence to appear peevish and hawkish.

    As the world awaits the anticipated meeting with President Trump, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, Kim continues to manipulate the South, capitalizing on waning support for the United States in order to neuter the South’s will to seek peace through strength. The opening for Kim came when the staunchly pro-American former South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, had to resign in disgrace in March 2017. Instantly, U.S.-backed security measures like the THAAD missile system fell into disrepute, reviled as American profit-generators that only a lackey like Park would accept, despite the significant boon this defensive system would provide South Korea.

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