It takes a world to prevent North Korea from using or selling a nuclear weapon. Indeed, soon after the North's first atomic test Oct. 9, the UN Security Council required all nations to set sanctions against the North by Nov. 15. Yet one nation, South Korea, may decide to keep sending cash to its threatening twin.
This potential leak in the sanctions regime will not only damage the legitimacy of the United Nations in dealing with issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions, it also runs straight against the interests of the United States, which needs to block the possible export of a North Korean bomb to terrorists and its nuclear know-how to other nations.
The South's subsidies indirectly power the North's military machine. Its reluctance to cut off these subsidies comes despite the fact that the US still shields it from the North's massive army and at a critical time when Seoul hopes to win a free-trade agreement with Washington.
South Korean money flowing to the North now arrives through two projects: Visits by hundreds of thousands of South Korean tourists a year to the much-beloved Mount Kumgang, and South Korean companies employing some 8,000 North Koreans in an industrial zone in Kaesong – with the workers' wages given directly to the regime of Kim Jong Il.
Since the South began a "sunshine policy" in 1998 to support the North's economy and put off reunification for the time being, it has given the regime more than $2 billion in cash and goods. Despite all this "sunshine," the world now has the dark cloud of a nuclear threat.
At the same time, an anti-US mood has arisen in South Korea. More of its people believe the North is not a big threat to their country. Some see the US as a greater threat. And their leaders prefer that the Kim regime not collapse until the North's economy is built up over decades.
One top security official, Song Min Soon, said this month that "the US has probably been involved in the largest number of wars in the history of mankind.... If we leave our fate in the hands of the US just for the sake of falling in step with the international community, it would amount to giving up our own destiny." And the foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, who was just selected to be the new UN secretary-general, praised the two South Korean projects in the North.
What's more, the South Korean president, Roh Moo Hyun, seems reluctant to participate in a joint effort by some 70 nations to use various means to find ships possibly carrying black-market materials for weapons of mass destruction from countries such as North Korea.
The South's attempts to engage the Kim regime with more carrots than sticks has failed and it now jeopardizes a long alliance with the US. Despite its own concerns about the economic consequences of suddenly living with 22 million impoverished North Koreans, South Korea must recognize its global responsibilities. It should help prevent North Korean nuclear proliferation.
While Seoul has signaled displeasure with its belligerent neighbor with very limited sanctions, a reluctance to back both the UN and US with full financial sanctions will erode the very alliances on which it has relied for its own prosperity.