Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

What If South Korea Acted Like North Korea?

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

If it threatened to destroy its neighbor — China — the neighbor would act.

Think of the Korean Peninsula turned upside down.

Imagine if there were a South Korean dictatorship that had been in power, as a client of the United States since 1953.

Imagine also that contemporary South Korea was not the rich, democratic home of Kia and Samsung. Instead, envision it as an unfree, pre-industrialized and impoverished failed state, much like North Korea.

Further envision that the U.S. had delivered financial aid and military assistance to this outlaw regime, which led to Seoul’s possessing several nuclear weapons and a fleet of long-range missiles.

Next, picture this rogue South Korean dictatorship serially threatening to incinerate its neighbor, North Korea — and imagine that North Korea was ruled not by the Kim dynasty but by a benign government without nuclear weapons.

Also assume that the South Korean dictatorship would periodically promise to wipe out Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. The implicit message to the Chinese would be that the impoverished South Koreans were so crazy that they didn’t care whether they, too, went up in smoke — as long a dozen of their nuclear-tipped missiles could blow up Chinese cities and paralyze the second-largest economy in the world. Assume that these South Korean threats had been going on without consequences for over a decade.

Finally, in such a fantasy scenario, what if the United States falsely claimed ignorance of much of its South Korean client’s nuclear capability and threats? America instead would plead that it regretted the growing tension and the reckless reactions of China to the nuclear threats against it. Washington would lecture China that the crisis was due in part to its support for its North Korean ally.

For effect, the United States would occasionally issue declarations of regret and concern over the situation — even as it warned China not to do anything to provoke America’s provocateur ally.

In such a fantasy, American security experts and military planners would gleefully factor a roguish nuclear South Korea into U.S. deterrent strategy. The Pentagon would privately collude with the South Korean dictatorship to keep the Chinese occupied and rattled, while the U.S. upped shipments of military weaponry to Seoul and overlooked its thermonuclear upgrades.

The American military would be delighted that China would be tied down by having an unhinged nuclear dictatorship on its borders, one that periodically threatened to kill millions of Chinese. South Korea would up the ante of its bluster by occasionally test-launching missiles in the direction of its neighbor.

Question: How long would China tolerate having weapons of mass destruction pointed at its major cities by an unbalanced tyrannical regime?

In response, would Beijing threaten a nuclear Seoul with a preemptory military strike, even though the Chinese would know that Seoul could first do a lot of nuclear damage?

Would China conclude that the United States was the real guilty party because it tacitly sanctioned South Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons?

Would China then warn the U.S. to pressure Seoul to disarm?

Would Beijing cease all trade with America? Would China boycott, embargo or blockade South Korea?

Would China be furious that after ensuring that its own client, North Korea, remained non-nuclear and played by the rules, America had deliberately done exactly the opposite: empowering its dictatorial client, South Korea, to become a nuclear power in order to threaten China?

In other words, if China and North Korea found themselves in the same respective positions of current America and South Korea, the world may well have already seen a preemptive Chinese attack on Seoul to remove its nuclear capability.

The international community would already have seen China expel the conniving Americans from Chinese embassies, cut trade with the U.S., disrupt American banks, and threaten the use of force against the U.S. mainland.

The truth of the North Korea missile crisis is not the boilerplate assumption that China is the key to the solution, but rather that China is by design the root of the problem.

China did not fail to realize that North Korea was developing a nuclear arsenal. Rather, it calculated that North Korea would do exactly what it is now doing, and that such nuclear roguery would serve China’s strategic interests on the Korean peninsula and in its rivalries with both the United States and with America’s allies in Asia.

In other words, if China were in America’s position, we would have likely witnessed a tragically destructive war a long time ago.

China should make the necessary corrections now, before things get even worse.

 

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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