For Washington, the North Korean decision to go nuclear is dangerous, above all, because it creates a precedent of nuclear proliferation.
When viewed from the more limited perspective of Seoul, nuclear proliferation is worrisome, but not a direct concern. None of those rogue nuclear-armed states which might eventually arise in, say, the Middle East or Africa is likely to target Seoul.
At the same time, South Korea is not particularly afraid of a North Korean attack. South Koreans assume (perhaps correctly) that Pyongyang's goal is the survival of the Kim regime, and that the nuclear weapons are designed as a negotiating chip and a deterrent. South Koreans further assume that North Korean leaders know how slim Pyongyang's chances are of winning a real war, and therefore they will not start any large- scale violence unless feel completely cornered. Hence the South would shrink away from any actions which might destabilize or provoke North Korea - such as truly efficient sanctions.
It is also worth noting that nuclear weapons do not substantially increase the level of threat to the average South Korean. Half of the South's population, some 23 million people, lives in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is located within range of several thousand North Korean guns. In effect, North Korean artillery positions are right in the northern suburbs of the South Korean capital, and in the case of war an artillery barrage could kill tens of thousands before the batteries are silenced. One or two small and unreliable nuclear devices do not alter the balance of death too much.
Even if international pressure does not provoke a war but instead brings about the collapse of the Kim regime, that would not necessarily be good news to the average South Korean. People in Seoul are terrified by the thought of the tremendous costs of rebuilding the destitute North. The long-term goal of Seoul is the gradual evolution of North Korea, during which the income gap would narrow.
Hence if sanctions are tough enough to have a serious effect, they might either provoke a war or an internal collapse, and neither is in South Korea's interest. So in all probability, we will see Seoul joining the sanction game for a while, only to withdraw at the first opportunity.
Andrei Lankov is a Korean affairs specialist at the Australian National University, Canberra.Andrei Lankov International Herald Tribune
It might be helpful to compare the situation of South Korea with that of Japan.
The situation is quite similar.
Nuclear proliferation is not a " direct" concern for Japan in the same sense that it is not a direct concern for South Korea.
Japan would not want the action to provoke North Korea.
Nuclear weapons do not substantially increase the level of threat to the average Japanese. North Korea has no capacity to drop the atomic bomb as of now because it is not compact enough.
After the collapse of Kim regime, Japan somehow has to help to rebuild the nations.(Of course, South Korea would shoulder more burden though.)
Despite all of these factors, Japan is determined to sanction North Korea.
South Korea needs to think not in terms of short range, self-centered point of view, but she needs to consider the matter in
view of international relations, and South Korea's interest in the long term.
Lankov's analysis is not inaccurate, but it is misleading in that it
does not show clearly what is in the best interest and what is the right thing to do for South Korea.