Part one of this post is here.
In the formal language of game theory (GT), here is the pay-off matrix for the hunters (SK, PRC, Japan, Russia, US) if they capture the stag (NK’s better behavior in the region):
1. SK: SK is the most obvious winner from taking the stag because NK is an existential threat to the South – both physically and constitutionally.
2. Japan: Japan is the second big winner, because the NK nuclear and missile program increasingly represent a major physical threat to its cities, and perhaps even an existential threat if the North can put enough nukes on missiles.
3. US: The US is a weaker winner, because it is far less threatened by the North directly. The big pay-off from NK change (the stag) would be the reduction in troops and other expense from keeping USFK in Korea. Another benefit would be the reduction in the post-9/11 concern for proliferation of missile and WMD technology to terrorists and rogue states. But this is still far less critical than SK and Japan’s benefit. To the US, NK is more a troublesome, throwback-from-the-Cold-War headache when it would rather concentrate on salafism and the rise China.
4. Russia: Russia has essentially no stake in Northeast Asian security, given that it has basically retrenched from the region to focus on Central Asia and Eastern Europe. However, the Six Party talks are a prestige-generator for a country desperate to still look like a great power even as its lineaments erode. So Russia doesn’t get much from the stag.
5. China: The PRC’s portion of the stag is the smallest, while its rabbit is the biggest. A more docile NK would almost certainly fall heavily under the influence of its southern twin. The more ‘southernized’ NK becomes, the less sinified it will be. (This of course is the whole point from the Korean perspective – reunification.) And the PRC almost certainly reads greater southern influence in the North as greater American influence. So the Chinese rabbit is the long-term survival of a separate NK state to act as a buffer against the democracy, American influence, liberalism, and Korean nationalism that would all flood into NK were an inter-Korean settlement (the stag) finally struck. (A friend at the Renmin University of Beijing all but says this here, and I generally find Chinese scholars will openly tell you why the PRC props up the DRPK even though the PRC’s official policy is reunification.)
What to do then? How do the other hunters get China to stop defecting and start cooperating? The most obvious way is to equalize the pay-offs more, i.e., make it more valuable for China to coordinate by increasing China’s portion of the stag. Here is where strategic restraint on the Cheonan sinking may be useful. If SK holds its fire over the incident, it may be able to ‘sell’ this restraint to China as a hitherto unrecognized benefit. The SK claim to China would be:
See how small your rabbit really is? NK is so unpredictable, so erratic, so uncontrollable, that the stag is more beneficial than you think. Without a long-term settlement, NK’s erratic behavior could eventually generate a crisis the SK population will no longer choose to overlook. Next time this happens, SK government may be forced by popular outrage into coercive retaliation that could pull everyone in northeast Asia into the vortex.
Recall in early 1991 that Israel demonstrated similar strategic restraint as Saddam Hussein shelled it with Scuds before Desert Storm. This helped convince Saddam’s Arab neighbors that Saddam really was a danger to everyone. SK might be able to do the same here.
However, this is unlikely to be enough. China will probably as for a higher concession – a promise for the removal of USFK after unification. It is not clear to me if a unified Korea would need USFK, so this may be an option to explore.