SPOTLIGHT: NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA SECRETLY MEET
Just how dangerous is a nuclear-armed North Korea? Run by Kim Jong-un, the unpredictable 32-year-old scion of an autocratic dynasty, the country has been virtually sealed off from the rest of the world for decades. What we know is disturbing: The pace of both nuclear weapons and missile-delivery systems has been accelerating. China, thought to have some sway over its regional neighbor, does not seem to know how to handle Kim. And then there's what we don't know: Are Kim's chest-beating and nuclear ambitions about reinforcing domestic control or a sign that he wants to declare war on other countries? A report this morning shows that South Korea is not waiting to find out. Seoul has already drawn up plans to assassinate the leader if nuclear threat is imminent.
Another scenario also worries observers — the prospect that the regime could begin to lose control domestically. Writing in July, Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based Korean history professor put it this way: "The sad, simple fact is that the status quo on the peninsula is inherently unstable. Sooner or later, North Korea's political and economic elite is likely to fall. This will present the very risky prospect of violent chaos, in the style of Libya or Syria, in a country that possesses nuclear weapons — and that lies along a strategic fault line where the interests of the United States, China, and Russia meet and often clash."
Much decision-making about the Korean Peninsula happens behind closed doors. Perhaps the best one can hope for is that some line of communication between diplomats in the region is opened. On that note, Swiss daily Le Temps revealed yesterday that amid all the sabre-rattling, North and South Korean diplomats were secretly meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)
- U.S. President Obama opens new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History (Saturday).
- Berlin Marathon (Sunday).