USUALLY, there is a familiar cycle to Korea crises.
Like a street gang showing off its power to run amok in a well-heeled neighborhood, the North Koreans launch a missile over Japan or set off a nuclear test or stage an attack — as strong evidence indicates they did in March, when a South Korean warship was torpedoed. Expressions of outrage follow. So do vows that this time, the North Koreans will pay a steep price.
In time, though, the United States and North Korea’s neighbors — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — remind one another that they have nothing to gain from a prolonged confrontation, much less a war. Gradually, sanctions get watered down. Negotiations reconvene. Soon the North hints it can be enticed or bribed into giving up a slice of its nuclear program. Eventually, the cycle repeats.
The chances of this crisis cooling down are good given the South Korean populations distaste for punishing its northern "brothers" coupled with the political reality that war between the Koreas would bring about a catastrophe in the south. Seoul is a little more than thirty clicks from the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ) and war would devastate this large, modern metropolis as it did twice during the Korean War. South Korea is in a jam. Even though Presiden Lee's conservative party wants to take a very tough stand against North Korea a large segment of the South Korean population does not support such a move.
John H. Armwood