Continued from page 2

But Lee, now more than halfway through a single five-year term, must balance calls for a tough response with the knowledge that Seoul — a city of more than 10 million people and the economic heart of the country — lies within easy range of North Korean artillery.

Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, said Mr. Lee also faces restraints that North Korea does not. He is leader of a robust democracy with an open economy that is vulnerable to the type of threats and tactics used by Pyongyang.

The crux of the problem, however, is that, despite “the Bulldozer’s” tough words, South Korea’s national security policy and defense readiness have weakened under his watch, he said.

“You have to be prepared,” Mr. Pinkston said. “You can’t be afraid to respond or go to war if you have to go to war.”

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Tini Tran in Beijing contributed to this report.