The dictatorship, however, overplayed its hand when it tested a nuke in 2006. That detonation killed the Sunshine Policy, though it took a national election to confirm it. Last month, South Korea's Unification Ministry officially declared the Sunshine Policy a failure.
With this year's attacks as bitter evidence, coaxing the North is out and countering it is increasingly favored. South Korea is discussing military reprisals against the North's nuclear facilities. The 2010 attacks may have closed the gap between older South Koreans prepared to confront the North and the younger generation who until recently believed peace could be bought like an iPod.
This week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak outlined a plan for Korean reunification with Seoul in charge. A government spokesman said Lee's plan reflects long-term trends and is not predicated on a near-term collapse of the Kim regime.
The North sees the plan as political and psychological warfare. It is indeed such warfare, but based on political and economic reality, not lies and bombast, for it emphasizes the South's immense strength and the North's weakness. It also encourages factions in North Korea's government and military that may oppose Kim Jong-Il and his likely successor, his son, Kim Jong-Un. South Korea is saying it is the future, the Kim regime the past, so make your choice.
To make that gambit work, South Korea will have to stick to its guns, literally and figuratively. How the North will respond to a determined South remains unknown, but for the next 12 to 24 months, the situation in East Asia will be particularly precarious.
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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