Austin Bay

South Korea's Samsung Corp. is one of the largest private employers in the Texas county I call home. Samsung's international headquarters, located in downtown Seoul, South Korea, lies within the range fan of North Korean FROG-7 type rockets. A North Korean fighter-bomber, flying south from North Korean airspace, will be over Seoul in two to three minutes.

Given the destructive effects of conventional artillery and bombs, North Korea doesn't need a nuke to wreak havoc on Seoul -- which means Kim Jong-Il's criminal regime doesn't really need a nuke to attack Texas' economy, either. Launch a conventional attack across the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), and the global managers and senior staff of a major Texas employer risk becoming immediate casualties.

Meet the 21st century -- at least, the economically, politically and technologically linked elements of the 21st century. This linkage explains, in part, why the United States says it regards any military attack on South Korea and Japan as an attack on the United States. This linkage also helps explain China's aversion to war (especially nuclear war) on the Korean peninsula. South Korea has become a major Chinese trading partner.

This is a radical, fundamental change from 1950, when Kim Jong-Il's father, Kim Il-Sung, began the Korean War. Kim Sr. and China's Mao were communist allies. In 2006, Kim Jr. remains a communist. China, while definitely an authoritarian state, now benefits from trade and markets, which means at some point China's leaders know North Korea's regime and rogues like it ultimately threaten the wealth-producing system modernizing their state.

While Stalinist North Korea starves and slips deeper into poverty, democratic South Korea has become a world-class economic and political success. South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon has just been nominated to serve as U.N. Secretary-General -- which gives Ban a global podium. Secretary-General Ban sends the message that South Korea is a world leader, while Kim Jong-Il's North is a criminal rogue that meets day-to-day expenses by counterfeiting cash and smuggling drugs.

Except South Korea lacks nuclear weapons. Nukes give Kim one shred of international prestige. For small men like Kim Jong-Il, nukes are their means of escaping tin-pot irrelevance. Instead of killing thousands with conventional munitions, he can now threaten millions with radioactive devastation. With a ballistic missile, his reach extends well beyond Seoul.

Hence Kim's nuclear extortion racket: "Pay me off and guarantee the survival of my impoverished, criminal regime, or I'll nuke my economic and human hostages and cost all of you more in lives and money than the bribes and media kowtow I demand."

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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