Israel and Korea

The comparison of Israel and (South) Korea is not as strange as it may seem.

Both had historical periods of poverty and national disaster, and both have achieved military credibility and  economic success. They are currently very close on the World Bank's list of the most wealthy countries. 

And both are in the headlines. Israel is usually there, and Korea on account of the madman running the North, and the threat associated with the prospect of a nuclear disaster. 

The two countries also resemble one another in having extensive Diaspora populations, but those differ greatly on the details 

Israel's Diaspora has a history of more than two millennia, long familiarity with self-help institutions, and most recently more than a century of focus on the plight of the old-new homeland. 

Koreans are working to develop Diaspora institutions on the Jewish model, but they're not there yet. While the large and well organized Jewish communities of the US, Britain and France serve to influence or at least buffer their government's actions at home and abroad, overseas Koreans are more focused on personal and family concerns. 

Both Israel and Korea are to some considerable dependent on the man currently in the Oval Office, and this is a problem.

It's not stretching too far to worry about the combination of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. One is a danger because of inexperience and a loose tongue,  and the other is the world's most problematic national leader. What's ominous is a combination of his dominance over a regime beyond fanaticism, and what may be a nuclear arsenal and means of delivery, plus repeated threats to destroy the US and others.

The history of nuclear ambitions includes Taiwan and Libya, persuaded or pressured to desist, South Africa that dropped its program along with Apartheid, Iraq and Syria, whose nascent facilities Israel dealt with before they became a threat.

The US, Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan,  and Israel have kept what they have under control for decades, without recent anxieties.

Iran is a question, except for Obama and his chorus of supporters.

Obama, Bush, and maybe even Bill Clinton deserve condemnation for allowing North Korea's program to develop beyond the point when a surgical strike could end the danger without a catastrophe.  

Now we can wonder if the clumsiness of Donald Trump marks him as a man more likely to do something awful, or fail in whatever he tries.

The President and his chorus are cheering themselves while claiming a legislative victory on health care, but the product seems no less complex than what Obama produced. Analysts are confused, and the Senate is yet to act. Courts and insurance companies will also add to the confusion of Americans having to find and pay for medical care.

Trump will have to do better on Korea.

Signs are that Americans with a Cold War Armagedon view of the world are more inclined to obsess and act than millions of South Koreans living within range of their bizarre cousins. 

Two scenarios are frightening.  One is a mad Kim Jong-un, unhinged by Trump's clumsy rhetoric to launch something nuclear at an American base or a city in South Korea and/or Japan. Another is a similar North Korean response to an American strike like that on Syrian chemical weapons, that was more symbolic than destructive. 

Among the things that are missing is a strong American-Korean community, organized to pressure the American government in the direction of moderation.

China is a better bet. Its leaders should see the use of North Korean nuclear weapons as a threat to the stable world that buys it's products and funds it's climb to great power status, and use whatever leverage it has over North Korea.

The tight discipline and central control of the North Korean regime is not encouraging.  There is no sign of the social and political looseness of Iran, or the Iranian leadership's willingness to bargain some degree of restraint against the relaxation of sanctions.

Iran is not an angel,  especially when viewed from Israel, but it's mired down in Syria and Yemen, it has shown a measure of pragmatism, and has a lot to lose if it goes beyond rhetoric against Israel.

It's hard to express that limited degree of confidence in regard to the regime in the undisciplined hands of Kim Jong-un.

What may be undue optimism sees Kim's obsession with nuclear weapons as things not meant to be used, but only to be created and tested in order to firm up his ego and his control. In this, they join highly disciplined mass ceremonies, numerous women provided to him, and the horrible deaths imposed on senior officials and relatives who may have threatened his absolute control.

By this view, Kim's bombs and missiles are the toys of a mad child allowed to dominate a family impoverished under his control, but afraid to violate his wishes.

In what may be a mad fit of optimism,, we can hope that Donald Trump will measure the benefits of pressure or military action against the possibility that what he says or commands will create a catastrophe for Koreans (South and North), Japanese, and maybe even Americans.

"Don't make things worse" may not be a lesson learned by a man responsible for several corporate bankruptcies. 
To think that our futures depend on the combo of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un does not help us to sleep peacefully. 
Comments welcome.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]