SEOUL - The latest provocations from North Korea and the resulting rightward swing in South Korean public opinion have transformed South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's strategy for dealing with the peninsula's troublemaker. The old method: Act with caution. The new method: Get tough.Read the rest here.
Lee's shift in thinking has prompted modest but growing concern in the Obama administration, where officials worry that an overly aggressive South Korea could become a liability in its own right.
Political analysts in Seoul and Washington predict that Lee will soon face pressure from the United States to reengage diplomatically with the North. But Lee has turned increasingly hawkish in recent weeks after taking criticism for Seoul's weak initial counterattack to Pyongyang's Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.
"Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war," Lee said Monday in a radio address. "If we are firmly determined to brave any risks, we can fend off any emerging threats."
In Seoul, policymakers have long debated the best North Korea policy, finding downsides to every solution. Lee now faces domestic pressure to remain firm and international pressure to reduce tension on the peninsula. Of late Lee has given priority to the first of those demands. But with two years left in his term, how he meets what one Western diplomat called the legacy-defining challenge of "putting North Korea back into the box" will shape security in South Korea, where the U.S. stations 28,500 troops.
Lee recently overhauled the rules of engagement, making it easier to respond with greater force against the North. He also installed a new defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, who called for additional airstrikes if the North attacks again. Lee last week visited South Korean troops, telling them that future aggressions from Pyongyang would require a "powerful counterattack." Lee also said his old beliefs were mistaken: "We thought we could keep this land peaceful with tolerance," Lee said, "but it was not true."