Corruption and irregularities haunting some Korean cultural centers overseas have earned them the disgraceful nickname of "corruption centers," an opposition lawmaker said Tuesday.
"In the case of the Korean Cultural Center in Russia, all of its four directors since its inception in 2006 have had to leave their post after getting punished for one irregularity or another," said Rep. Park Kyung-mi, of the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, during the parliamentary inspection of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports.
The government operates 29 cultural centers in 25 countries, and there were 11 cases of accounting fraud or employment-related irregularities between 2012 and 2015, according to data the ministry submitted to the opposition lawmaker.
At the Moscow cultural center, its first and second directors embezzled government money amounting to tens of millions of won each. The third chief employed his wife and daughter as the lecturer and administrative clerk at a Korean language institute attached to the cultural center, paying them about 100 million won ($90,000) as wages. The Korean ambassador to Russia warned him to rectify the irregularity but to no avail. The fourth head was dismissed in May for failing to maintain his dignity as a public official.
Preemptive strike: now or never?
The idea of a preemptive strike, spoken or unspoken, abounds as North Korea appears to be cresting with its nuclear development. Is it just cheap talk or is any party ― the North, South Korea or the United States ― in this cauldron worth taking seriously?
The North has uttered the most concrete "first-use" threat of nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the Korea-U.S. Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise in August, Pyongyang said that it "will turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through a Korean style preemptive nuclear strike." The drill involved nuclear-capable U.S. strategic assets such as B-1B Lancers and submarines.
The North's response was a rhetorical exercise. By then, the North had detonated its fourth nuclear blast and was, in hindsight, planning a fifth that took place on Sept. 9 but still it is unlikely that it has reached the point in miniaturization where it can have reliable nuclear payloads for its missiles.
Then what did the North mean by the term Korean style? Has it developed a backpack nuclear bomb? It's possible but by no means did it intend to conduct an underground nuclear blast in the middle of Seoul as it did in its hinterland.
Experts forecast that the North is closer to making a long-range missile to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States. Such a scenario may come true although a great deal of technology is needed to ensure re-entry and delivery to the target. The North also has had some success in a cold launch ― hurling a missile from a submarine. Does it pose a clear and present danger? This is not yet certain.
It's possible that the North wants to make a leap in its military capability, knowing it has been slipping behind South Korea, allied with the United States, and thinks that going nuclear is the key to making the asymmetric situation in its favor again.
Still, the question stands: what would comprise a North Korean preemptive strike, if it mounts one?
For now, it would be conventional, using its thousands of artillery pieces targeting Seoul together with a barrage of missiles with non-nuclear warheads. With a bit of a twist, it would be similar to the one it mounted with the help of Red China and the defunct Soviet Union at the start of the 1950-1953 Korean War. The South was pushed back by Soviet T-34 tanks; but now the North's current aging ranks of war machines, whether on the ground, at sea or in the air, won't survive for long. In a total war on the basis of conventional weaponry, another war will likely bring devastation to both Koreas but the North would be decimated in the process.
So a preemptive attack by the North could only be possible if Kim Jong-un feels suicidal.
What about the other side ― South Korea and the United States?
It is a widely shared idea in the South that any preemptive or preventive attack would invite the North to retaliate and cause the collapse of the two Koreas. To many South Koreans unification is no longer a priority and one through war is a no-no. To them, it should come slowly without affecting their current standard of living. Their nightmare about the North is similar to the Chinese one ― the sudden collapse, refugees and massive subsidies with the accompanied destabilization of the status quo.
Recently the mood appears to be changing but on the margins.
The government now talks about a preemptive strike under the name, "Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation," in which all offensive assets are used to annihilate the North when the first signs of a nuclear attack are made certain. This new strategy is hard to implement since it is hard to define what signals trigger an attack. For the South that is hobbled and resigned to the role of watching the North engage unhindered in its nuclear development, it may seem like a consolation strategy to soothe its hurt pride together with the talk of nuclear armament or the suggestion of the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Both suggestions were rejected by the U.S.
Backed up by a rabid sense of patriotism by some conservative newspapers, some politicians have signed on a preemptive strike but most of them appear either not in full command of what it means or on board for just showing off.
The great hurdle for Seoul's preemptive attack as it is typically known is the U.S. which will take control of ROK forces in a time of war. Their consent is pivotal to any key military decision. The two allies are in agreement in principle but often differ on the details.
The only party that can mount a preemptive strike with fewer fetters than the two is the U.S. It has a track record.
U.S. President George W. Bush implemented the doctrine named after him ― the so-called Bush doctrine that allowed the post-9/11 U.S. to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, and go after the Taliban in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden. More close to home was Bill Clinton's decision to nix the plan to take out the North's nuclear facilities in 1994 through such an attack. The plan was put on hold because of former President Jimmy Carter's meeting with Kim Il-sung that arranged an inter-Korean summit. Kim died shortly after the meeting and an opportunity for a breakthrough was gone but the North's nuclear program was shelved for a while through the Geneva Agreement. The attack plan by Bill Perry, the then defense secretary, was averted. But the real reason for it was the estimation of millions of casualties expected from an all-out war that followed such an attack together with GIs stationed here.
Now, some U.S. experts and officials talk about a preemptive strike that they see as the means of last resort to derail the North as it is perfecting its intercontinental missile program that can hit the U.S.
It's impossible for any sane U.S. leader to order such a strike unless it is an act of self-defense.
But Bush did it against Iraq by using his secretary of state Colin Powell to sell it to the world. We know the rest of the story.
It remains to be seen whether a new U.S. leader will follow Bush and concoct or misjudge the seriousness of the North Korean threat to go for another preemptive attack. But the North is not Iraq because it is armed to the teeth and any conflict with it will most likely entail an all-out war that deterred Perry from going after it. Now, White House spokesman Josh Earnest neither denied nor confirmed it when asked about the possibility of a preemptive strike against the North. Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor who worked for Bush, is raising the prospect for one. Even hot air could lift a balloon, if enough is put together, can't it?
More seriously, what if the target is not the North's Yongbyon nuclear plant or Punggye-ri nuclear test grounds but the head of the serpent ― Kim Jong-un ― ending his nuclear program and democratizing his state? Is it worth the risk?