The man in the hot seat, South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Photo: Flickr

In canto 32 of Dante’s Il Purgatorio, the voice of God comments: “Oh, my poor vessel, how badly you’ve been loaded.” While God was speaking about state religion on Christianity, the good Lord could’ve been speaking about the disastrous decision of the South Koreans to elect Moon Jae-in as their new president.

Predictably, the man of the left believes that through sheer force of personality and being on the side of the angels, he can, like former US president Barack Obama, convince the North Korean regime to change course. That fallacy pervades state-sponsored religions, individuals who actually believe in humans altering the weather via global warming proclamations, and negotiating with murderous regimes bent on domination and destruction.

Obama bent over backwards to get a deal with Iran and now the supreme leader of the country – Ayatollah Khameini, a fanatic who hates the West – will have nuclear weapons in the near future.

Negotiations and kowtowing to the Iranians didn’t work. The agreement means Tehran is now emboldened to acquire and test additional missiles with a more deadly range and speed.

If President-elect Jae-in believes openness will work with North Korea, he will learn a vicious lesson in realpolitik before his term ends. And this time, it doesn’t seem likely that  US President Donald Trump will come to South Korea’s rescue the way previous American administrations have in the past.

If President-elect Jae-in believes openness will work with North Korea, he will learn a vicious lesson in realpolitik before his term ends

Negotiating a so-called “Sunshine Policy” with North Korea was attempted and it failed. US presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all failed when they tried the carrot-on-a-stick approach. They were only duped into weakness and financial giveaways, instead of sending a fleet of US naval vessels, which is the current policy. This liberal idea of bending over backward to bring North Korea into the fold of progressive nations by offering friendship failed. UN Security Council sanctions also did nothing to deter North Korean nuclear ambitions and created the appearance of weakness. Looking the other way and hoping for the best only assisted the North Koreans, who now menace Asia with nuclear weapons. Moreover, the Chinese now have zero incentive to work with the US and its Asian allies to deter North Korea from firing weapons at Japan and South Korea along with targeting the US west coast with ICBMs.

Understandably, the South Koreans were tired of corruption, and want good jobs, a thriving economy and an education system that will ensure prosperity for their nation. What they weren’t thinking about during this election – to the detriment of Asian self-preservation – was their hostile northern neighbor. But the power of emotions and non-rational thought overwhelmed South Korean voters when they should’ve voted for a candidate who took the US stance on North Korea. This would’ve nurtured economic and social stability in the most important geopolitical area in this century. Asia more than the Middle East, North America or Africa will be the hub for either vicious wars or unparalleled human ingenuity.

Yet South Korea will regret Jae-in for decades unless they expand THAAD (the US anti-ballistic missile system) shut down all economic ties with North Korea, and encourage the US and its Asian allies to continue conducting naval patrols throughout the South China Sea and Sea of Japan. Powerful militaries can defeat communism, which is only concerned with brutality and blind power exemplified by Nietzschian philosophy, not the concerns of the common citizen.

In addition, Jae-in has domestic troubles he can’t avoid. He doesn’t have much of a mandate because the opposition party is in shambles, his competition was an “utter disgrace,” and the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye has left the country rudderless. The most ominous sign for Jae-in is the term “pragmatist,” which The Guardian bestowed on him. While normally that is a positive term for a politician, in this case, it could lead to war for South Korea.

Jae-in’s pragmatism is positive when it comes to taming the chaebols – the multinational conglomerates that dominate South Korea’s economy and business environment. But this weak pragmatism takes a dark turn regarding North Korea – and that’s where South Korea may have chosen a leader who could guide them passively to annihilation. Jae-in has made it painfully clear that he will pursue the misguided policy of choosing a friendlier course toward North Korea by reopening the Kaesong joint industrial complex.

This facility was wisely closed by former president Park; a sham facility that employed slave labor and allowed hard currency to enter North Korea to fund its gulags and missile and nuclear programs. But the mindset of Jae-in isn’t about confronting evil – he wants to appease dictators and idle his presidency with environmental warnings about carbon dioxide emissions, which makes no logical sense.

This obvious feebleness of Jae-in’s new government will set South Korea and the Trump administration on a collision course, which is the last thing Asia needs at this time. According to The Weekly Standard’s Ethan Epstein:

North Korea will keep pushing, and Kim Jong-un did not test a nuclear weapon around the time of his grandfather’s birthday in April – as widely expected – to help Moon’s chances of taking the Presidency.”

But the votes are cast, and the fireworks of passivity and plea-bargaining South Korea’s soul are under way. Kim Jong-un got exactly what he wanted by bullying the South Koreans into electing a pacifist who believes he can lead North Korea to the path of glorious change and that his name will go down in the annuls of history, and of course a Nobel Peace Prize. Except the South Koreans, Asia and observers of the geopolitical framework currently changing in the clash between North and South Korea would be wise to read Peace They Say by Jay Nordlinger outlining the controversies and devastations of a morbid peace, instead of a decisive victory.

North Korea won’t give up, and the 38th parallel will only become further militarized. Was the former impeached president perfect – of course not – but South Korea should’ve swallowed their emotional pride and elected a leader who believes in strong, forceful, non-compromising deterrence. The hardest part of deterring North Korea isn’t the deterrence itself, but once it’s lost – and now it is – the deadly geopolitical maneuver to reacquire it usually means war when the fear North Korea should have towards its benign neighbor could’ve been kept in place by electing a military hardliner. Niccolo Machiavelli said in Discourse, “It is truer than any other truth that if where there are men there are not soldiers it is the fault of the prince, and nothing else.” Prepare yourselves South Korea for this lesson to come to fruition under the presidency of Moon Jae-in.

Todd Royal

Todd Royal has a master's in public policy from Pepperdine University and has worked for Duke University. He is published by the U.S. Library of Congress on hydraulic fracturing and the geopolitical implications of expanded US oil and gas production. He is a consultant and writer on international geopolitical strategy, energy, and US state and local government.

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