Fear of World War 3 or another Korean War takes on a very different flavor in South Korea than in the United States.
For one, South Koreans are, by and large, not as alarmed by threats that Kim Jong-un will turn their country into a “sea of fire.” They have, after all, heard such bluster for seven decades. North Korea, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, has few powerful allies — Russia and Iran — that would be willing to back it up if the globe was pushed to the brink of World War 3 or another Korean War. Even the countries that may support the DPRK ideologically would be unlikely to do so militarily, particularly if the budding “bromance” between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to blossom.
Instead, South Koreans are more concerned about another madman: the United States, reported Foreign Policy. In the elections that took place on Monday, citizens chose left-wing candidate Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on taking on the country’s elite to create a more equal country. He also espoused a softer position on North Korea, downplaying the importance of anti-missile system THAAD and proposing a renewal of the Sunshine Policy, a form of financial diplomacy meant to invest the South’s way into better relations with the North.
“Social media has been buzzing with outrage over America’s gapjil (bossy bullying), which treats Koreans as hogu (pushover. Trump’s insults came on the heels of the past five months of protests that led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. Park was the daughter of another former president and thus the closest thing to royalty in modern South Korea. Her fall was a revolt against bullying by the rich and powerful — like Trump.”
It is, however, worth noting that despite some distrust of the U.S. in general, many of the uncertainties about a Korean War can be traced backed specifically to Donald Trump. South Koreans are well-aware of what it’s like to deal with an out-of-control head of state. What’s new to them — and to other world leaders as well as domestic businessmen — is learning to look past what the so-called voice of the world’s most powerful nation has to say, especially when his statements are purposefully incendiary or often flat-out false, wrote National Interest.
“Subsequent assurances to Seoul from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis calmed the waters, but then the president threatened preventative war against the DPRK, announced he was sending a nonexistent armada to Korea, said the South should pay for THAAD, and threatened to tear up the two nations’ Free Trade Agreement. In response, as inThe Wizard of Oz, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told the South Korean government to pay no attention to the man sitting in the Oval Office.”
Moon’s primary opponents in the election, conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, advocated more hawkish positions on North Korea. While Moon easily won the election with more than 39 percent of the vote, Hong and Ahn had a combined total of more than 48 percent. With such divided results, it’s hard to say which philosophy is predominant among South Koreans: be it a hard line toward North Korea or the United States. Like any country, the opinion of any citizen is just as likely to be criticized by his countrymen as an outsider.
None of these three candidates or the 50 million South Koreans they represent see war on the Korean Peninsula as a viable scenario, despite what Trump may threaten from his ivory tower of geopolitical ignorance. The fact that he even presents a strike on the country as an option is, and should be, appalling to the international community, particularly considering the U.S.’s long-standing relationship with South Korea and Japan — the countries likely to suffer most from the combined hubris of Kim and Trump in event of a World War 3 or Korean War scenario.
Although Kim Jong-un and his predecessors have long been presented as maniacal dictators in the media, it’s worth noting the country’s nuclear threat has increased exponentially since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Subsequently, leaders like Muammar Gaddafi in Libya saw themselves overthrown after agreeing to give up their nuclear ambitions.
As Foreign Policy pointed out last week, “Kim is a survivor, not a madman.”
It is not paranoia that goads him to push onward with the development of deadly weapons, but critical thinking. The idea that he is mounting these weapons for a future attempt at global domination through World War 3 or another Korean War is without logical basis. Even Trump himself recently referred to the dictator as a “smart cookie,” a statement that was predictably poorly received in South Korea, reported VOA.
Although tabloids and even some larger publications have salivated over Kim Jong-un’s outrageous behavior finally leading to World War 3, they’ve forgotten who has both the bombs and the bluster. Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that the U.S. strikes on Syria and Afghanistan last month were meant to send a message to North Korea: disobey the United States and pay the consequences, reported Reuters. North Korea may be a rogue state in the globalized order, but those who live within the reach of Kim’s weapons have not forgotten that a rogue leader currently lives in the White House. A rogue leader from a country with a long history of intervention and regime change, even on the Korean Peninsula itself.
Foreign onlookers would do well to remember that a weak, unpredictable tyrant like Kim Jong-un is less likely to set off World War 3 than a strong, unpredictable one like Donald Trump. If there’s a foreign policy disaster on the horizon that could cause a Korean War, it will be on Trump’s hands, not Kim’s.
[Featured Image by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]