Jacob Heilbrunn

South Korea Defends Itself

South Korea has started to defend itself again against the North. It's about time. For too long South Korea has been lax about the threat it faces.

It's refusal to back down in the face of the North's bluster about a calamitous attack should it proceed with a military drill on Yeonpyeong island, part of an area that the North claims as its sphere, was a promising sign. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak entered office with the claim that he would toughen up policy towards the North. He didn't. The result was that the North kept hitting the South with impunity, whether it was attacking the South's sea vessels or the island. Further tests are surely in the offing.

The North, however, is dependent on China and may not be as mercurial as it's often depicted. The blunt fact is that it backed down from its dire threats against the South. The military drill went as it was supposed to. The North's bluff was called.

Maybe former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had a hand as well in getting the North to stay its itchy trigger finger. Richardson, a maverick operator if there ever was one, likes to hold powwows with the world's dictators, a trait he shares with former president Jimmy Carter. But Richardson often seems to get results, in contrast to Carter. Richardson is asserting that the North is offering some concessions on its nuclear program.

But this, too, is part of the bait-and-switch that Pyongyang likes to practice. The Obama administration has been laudably vigilant about not getting ensnared in otiose negotiations with the criminal regime in Pyongyang. Now it looks as though South Korea is starting to wise up as well.

The Obama administration has correctly backed South Korea, a vital ally. Were America to abandon South Korea, the consequences truly would be catastrophic for western interests. China would be emboldened. The North would wreak havoc. And Japan would go nuclear.

For now, America and South Korea have handled the latest "crisis" produced by the North. There will be new ones. But the lesson of this one should be remembered. Trying to placate the North will get South Korea nowhere. It's time for a new approach.