Times Record: The North Korea problem (April 12, 2013)

There’s always a kid on the block who acts out.

You know the type: He talks back to his parents, does things he shouldn’t then blames others, inflicts pain on innocent beings, causes damage, breaks hearts. He does this because it makes him happy. It’s called negative attention.

On our planet’s block, that kid is North Korea.

What on earth is that nation doing, with their unprovoked and fairly ridiculous threats to use nuclear weapons to attack South Korea and the United States?

On one hand, it’s so ludicrous as to be laughed off. On the other, the potential harm is so grave, it must be addressed.

That’s how negative attention works: The worse you act, the more attention you get.

North Korea delivered a fresh batch of treats Thursday, apparently preparing to test a medium range missile called the Musudan that’s capable of hitting U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam during upcoming national celebrations.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in Seoul today meet with South Korean officials. Seoul, meanwhile, has been acting with remarkable restraint and calm, and should be commended.

Analysts do not believe North Korea will stage a nuclear attack. But there are concerns long-standing animosity with the South could spark a skirmish that could escalate into a regional conflict.

One way to view the war talk is as a way for North Korea to boost the military credentials of Kim Jong-Un — the baby-faced heir to a long line of Stalinist dictators who’ve thrust North Korea into its own sadistic category of poverty. Frequent weather-related crop failures and the chronic food shortages that follow have caused widespread famine as recently as 1995, and the population continues to suffer prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions.

The Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce — not a peace treaty, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South has been one of the world’s most fragile flashpoints for more than a half century. Some 28,500 American armed forces patrol there each and every day — adding a dimension of risked blood and treasure few Americans realize exists.

Given our valued alliance with South Korea — a diligent, peaceful society whose interests tend to ally well with ours — it should go without saying that the situation bears close monitoring. It would be somewhat extreme to say that any attack on South Korea should be considered an attack on the West, yet an unprovoked attack such as what has been promised could not go unanswered.

A direct attack on U.S. interests in the Pacific — such as Guam — would be a different animal altogether. Not quite Pearl Harbor or Midway — but perilously close.

Meanwhile, the United States must act with great deliberation and care, with Seoul in the lead, and in consultation with China, which has propped up Pyongyang’s erratic ambitions for decades. Calm, rational diplomacy must rule the day amid the saber rattling of an irrational and inexperienced world “leader.”

It’s unfortunate North Korea refuses to join the ranks of civilized nations, which it could achieve by liberalizing trade, investing in private industry and plowing military funds into badly needed social programs.

But that’s how it goes with the kid who craves negative attention. No carrot is ever big enough — nor any stick — for it ever to be happy with its sad fate.

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