LINK You might have to scroll down. BLACKMAIL IS NOT ENOUGH: This evening, the Boston chapter of the Nathan Hale Society had the privilege of dining with Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts. Prof. Lee is an expert on Korean politics and history. The subject of our discussion was the North Korean nuclear program. The analytical linchpin of Prof. Lee's approach to North Korean behavior is his conclusion that the Pyongyang dictatorship considers the possession of nuclear weapons to be the only reliable guarantor of its existence. In the absence of a nuclear deterrent, it would only be a matter of time before the South Korean government destroyed its Northern counterpart by tempting its citizens with the prospect of prosperity and freedom Thus, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Kim Jong Il will accept the verifiable dismantling of his nuclear program in exchange for economic aid, international legitimacy, a non-aggression pact with the United States or some combination of all three. Immoral or not, giving in to blackmail simply won't work. In other words, Prof. Lee vehemently disagrees with all those who believe that the United States can resolve its ongoing confrontation with North Korea by means of either bilateral or multilateral negotiations. Yet given that war is simply not an acceptable option, Prof. Lee has nothing against negotiation, since it can't make matters worse and -- given some extraordinary luck -- may result in a lessening of tensions. In assessing the state of US-North Korean relations, Prof. Lee believes that both the Bush administration and its critics make the categorical mistake of interpreting North Korean behavior as a response to American initiatives rather than the imperatives of North Korean domestic politics. Coming from this perspective, Prof. Lee tends to believe that the Bush administration has been beset by critics who offer unrealistic alternatives because of their naivete about North Korean politics. Thus, with regard to the Bush administration's decision to confront the North Koreans in October 2002 with evidence of their illegal uranium enrichemnt program, Prof. Lee suggested that the temporary escalation of tensions was essentially insignificant given that North Korea constantly creates crises as a result of its own provocative behavior. Turning southward, Prof. Lee expressed grave concerns about rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea. While describing himself as an ardent South Korean nationalist who puts the interests of his homeland above all else, Prof. Lee nonetheless argued that absolutely nothing is more critical to South Korean security than an unflinching American commitment to protect it from Northern aggression. Speaking historically, Prof. Lee observed that whereas Harry Truman went to war in 1950 in order to contain Communism and protect American interests, his decision had the unmistakable effect of liberating South Korea from Northern occupation and laying the foundations of the moderan South Korean state. With no memories of the war to rely on, young South Koreans have forgotten the degree to which South Korean and American security are inextricably linked. Thus, young South Koreans' passionate desire for reunification with the North leads them to indefensible conclusion (expressed via opinion polls) that it is the United States, rather than North Korea, that is preventing reunification. What young South Koreans do remember is that in 1980, South Korea's military government slaughtered thousands of civilians in what became known as the Kwangju Massacre. While there is no question that the Carter administration supported the military government almost uncritically, many South Koreans believe that the United States actually played a direct role in the massacre, since the military government could not have transferred its soldiers from the northern border to the southern city of Kwangju without the direct authorization of hte United States. [Apparently South Koreans don't think highly enough of Jimmy Carter to believe that he would never do such a thing. --ed.] In addition to his wariness of South Korean public opinion, Prof. Lee is fiercely critical of both the current administration of Roh Moo-Hyun as well as that of his predecessor Kim Dae Jung. One year ago, Prof. Lee wrote that [South Korean] nationalism was a constructive force in resisting colonial oppression and in the staggering challenge of nation-building half a century ago. Today, in its virulent anti-US rhetoric and shockingly naive attachment to North Korea, it is simply self-defeating. One example of naivete that Prof. Lee mentioned was the Kim and Roh governments' decision to all but abandon counter-espionage programs designed to protect the South from the vast network of covert operatives -- numbering in the thousands -- that North Korea continues to operate in the South. In fact, the North Korean commitment to espionage is so fanatical that drafts preadolescents into its espionage programs so that they can undergo decades of training and indoctrination before being deployed to the South. In spite of this bleak assessment of North Korean motives, is there any hope for change in the near future? Prof. Lee says 'no'. At the moment, there are no indications of factionalization within the North Korean military and thus no known prospects for a coup d'etat. While the North depends on China to provide much of its food and most of its fuel, China is in many ways the subordinate partner in the relationship. Knowing that a collapse of the North Korean regime would result in the arrival of millions upon millions of starving North Korean refugees in northern China, Beijing simply will not take any sort of action that endangers the existence of the Kim regime. At the same time, China desperately wants to avoid a military confrontation on the Korean peninsula that involves the United States. How does China reconcile such conflicting impulses? The answer isn't exactly clear. Prof. Lee observed that the Beijing government does all in its power to hide its intentions from the West, as well as denying to the West any of the information it derives from its unique relationship with North Korea. In closing, Prof. Lee shared his expectation there will be no significant developments on the Peninsula before the US presidential election in November. Moreover, even if John Kerry takes the White House there is little reason to expect any substantive change in American policy. For as long as the imperative of survival governs the decision-making process in Pyongyang, the options available to the West will remain extremely renstricted. If you are a young scholar or professional and this conversation with Prof. Lee sound like something you want to be a part of, then get in touch with your local chapter of the Nathan Hale Society. If you happen to be a fellow Bostonian or Cantabrigian, then get in touch with chapter President Ronan Wolfsdorf find out what we're up to. (Information is also available on the Nathan Hale blog, which you can find here.) If you happen to be a young member of the working class or even a known felon, don't be deterred by the words "scholar or professional". They are meant to be more descriptive than prescriptive. If you are young at heart but middle-aged in body type, check out the Council on Foreign Relations. If you are still in high school, you are up past your bedtime.