Sinking the Sunshine Policy

Last week's naval battle between North and South Korean warships sank more than a South Korean frigate. It also probably sank the "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with North Korea that once appeared to be the crowning achievement of Kim Dae Jung's presidency in South Korea.

Two years have passed since Kim Dae Jung and North Korea's Chairman Kim Jong Il met in Pyongyang, the North's impoverished capital. Since then, Kim Jong Il has failed to make his promised return visit to Seoul. That failure suggests that North Korea's fundamental hostility to the South remains unabated.

Why? We can only speculate that North Korea's military is resisting any real change because the regime's survival depends on its "military first" politics. So long as North Korea's military remains the guardian of the regime by advocating this doctrine, it will be impossible for Kim Jong Il to change his country's ruling domestic and foreign policies.

Many explanations for the North's aggressive behavior are in contention in the South. Perhaps North Korea wanted to disrupt the World Cup tournament that South Korea was co-hosting with Japan and in which South Korea's national team had achieved stunning success. More plausible is the idea that the North wanted to deliver a message: it does not want to be ignored by the South, the US, China, or any other concerned party. Whatever its motivations, one thing is clear: North Korea is not going to help President Kim sustain the "Sunshine Policy" as the primary legacy of his government after he leaves office in February 2003.