|JPRI Critique, Vol. X, No. 3 (April 2003)
Its Time for Kim Jong-il to Visit Seoul
by Peter M. Beck
What President Roh Must Do
by Chalmers Johnson
Its Time for Kim Jong-il to Visit Seoul
by Peter M. Beck
With the Bush administration now embarked on an unprovoked and unsanctioned by the U.N. attack against a member of the Axis of Evil rumors are swirling in Washington that North Korea will be next. I wonder if South (and North) Koreans realize just how seriously Team Bush is contemplating a surgical strike against North Korea.
This administration is obviously unconcerned about having America seen as the worlds bully. President Bush seems to be on a Christian crusade to rid the world of evil doers who pose a threat to the United States, regardless of whether those threats are real or imagined. With slogans straight out of George Orwells novel, 1984 (such as war is peace), the Bush administration has used false links to the tragedy of September 11 to convince a majority of Americans that taking out Saddam Hussein is the only way to protect the United States. It also seems to matter little what the world thinks. As the first American diplomat to resign in protest last month put it in his letter to Secretary Colin Powell, When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry.
The Bush chicken hawks (Rumsfeld conveniently avoided the Korean War; Bush and Cheney dodged Vietnam) will not allow even a close ally, NATO, or the United Nations to stand in the way of attacking their enemies. Instead of listening to our allies concerns, House Republicans have taken the absurd step of changing the House cafeteria menu to read freedom fries instead of French fries. Some Republican leaders are also calling on Americans to boycott French products, but with the people of the world opposed to the Bush approach, it would be easier just to proclaim a ban on all imports.
Koreans may not have to worry about kimchi becoming victory cabbage or Hyundai cars being boycotted, but the stakes are actually much higherthe fate of the entire Korean Peninsula. If the Bush war hawks are willing to put America itself at greater risk of terrorist attack and potentially subject American forces to biological or chemical attack by invading Iraq, why would they even think twice about risking war in Korea? The administrations complete disregard and even contempt for world opinion sadly reminds me of the saying that became popular in Korea just after the end of World War II and its liberation from Japan: Dont believe the United States (migukun mijji malla). Would a trustworthy and true ally announce to the world, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld recently didand at the height of a nuclear crisis no lessthat it was seriously considering moving its forces out of Korea or at least out of artillery range? For an administration that insists it will not reward North Korea for bad behavior, how could it suddenly contemplate fulfilling one of North Koreas most cherished dreams at a time of escalating provocations?
I am increasingly convinced that once Saddam Hussein is dead or in hiding, the Bush Administration will train its weapons preemptively on North Koreas nuclear facilities. The mistrust and name-calling have reached such high levels that meaningful negotiations are virtually impossible. The Bush administration has painted itself into a rhetorical cornerhow do you negotiate with someone you have said you loathed and called a pygmy and evil? At the same time, the White House will not just sit by and watch North Korea develop and export missiles and nuclear materials. A preemptive strike quickly becomes the only option left. Pyongyangs preference for provocative acts, like the test firing of missiles and the recent intercept of an American spy plane, will not help bring the United States to the negotiating table; instead, they will only strengthen the U.S.s conviction that the North poses a threat that cannot be tolerated.
If Kim Jong-il wants to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein, his only choice is to redirect his energies and reach out to his countrymen in the Southsooner rather than later. Despite the South Korean publics profound disappointment with former President Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun managed to win the presidency precisely because voters favor engagement over confrontation with North Korea. Ironically, at least part of the disappointment in former President Kim was the result of the Norths failure to reciprocate Seouls efforts at engagement.
President Roh represents a second chance for North Korea to undertake the reforms it has been contemplating for the past decade, achieve a meaningful and lasting rapprochement with the South, and rekindle the dreams created by the 2000 North-South Summit. Now is the time for Kim Jong-il to fulfill his promise to visit Seoul and take North-South cooperation to the next level. Or, will Kim act according to one of the most popular sayings in Washington, The North never fails to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. If Kim misses this opportunity, then I fear the entire Korean people could be the loser. The stakes could not be higher.
PETER M. BECK is Director of Research at the Korea Economic Institute and a Lecturer at Georgetown University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KEI. An earlier version of this article appeared in March 13, 2003 issue of Dong-a Ilbo.
What President Roh Must Do
by Chalmers Johnson
In the run-up to the U.S.s invasion of Iraq, critics of the Bush administration frequently pointed out that when it came to weapons of mass destruction, North Korea was a far greater threat than Saddam Hussein. After all, the North already possesses one or two nuclear bombs, and by restarting its plutonium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon it could soon have several more.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded that the U.S. was prepared to fight wars on several fronts simultaneously or seriatim, but that for now the administration regarded North Korea as a regional problem and would leave it to the Chinese and Japanese to pressure Kim Jong-il to cease and desist. At the same time, however, he said that the Pentagon was considering pulling many of its troops out of South Korea, or at least redeploying them away from the demilitarized zone. What could such a mixed message portend?
My own interpretation is that once the heavy military deployments in Iraq are somewhat reduced, the Pentagon will indeed turn its full attention to North Korea, with the probable mission (since the Bush administration has made it clear that it will not negotiate with Kim) of a surgical strike against Yongbyon. The suggestion that the U.S. is willing to leave the situation to its regional allies is on a par with its completely disingenuous efforts to leave the Iraqi situation in the hands of the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. is merely playing for time, and when it deems the time is ripe it will surely act alone, without consulting China, Japan, or South Korea. This is why Rumsfeld is considering moving U.S. troops away from the demilitarized zone: they were once considered a trip-wire in case the North attacked first. But if the U.S. attacks first, they are merely sitting ducks.
Unfortunately, the real sitting ducks will be the almost eleven million South Koreans who live in Seoul and South Korea as a whole. Even ifYongbyon is destroyed, Kim Jong-il has enough conventional weapons (and perhaps even a nuclear bomb launched from a secret locale) to destroy Seoul, which is only 50 miles from the demilitarized zone. To ease these insecurities President Roh, like President Kim Dae-jung before him, has stressed a sunshine policy of greater openness toward the North.
I believe that in order for this policy to work, President Roh must not only persist: he must do more to separate himself from the Americans and their intransigent and warlike posture. If President Roh were to ask American troops to leave South Korea altogether, with only a treaty promising an American nuclear umbrella in case the North did use nuclear weapons in the South, I believe a reconciliation between the two Koreas might come very speedily. Nor do I think the South risks very much by trying this strategy, since its own armed forces are fully capable of matching any northern threat short of a nuclear attack.
I believe the bellicosity of North Korea has been greatly exaggerated. It is, today, a failed Stalinist regime and much of its population hovers on the edge of starvation. Under the Agreed Framework of 1994, it was supposed to close its Yongbyon reactor in exchange for two light-water reactors to be built by a largely South-Korean funded consortium to ease the Norths power shortage in an acceptable way. The U.S. also promised food shipments and negotiations on a permanent peace treaty. The U.S. has reneged on all of these promises: the new reactors are indefinitely delayed, the food shipments have been curtailed in an effort to starve the regime into submission, and the Bush administration refuses to negotiate because it considers the Norths demands to be blackmail. Under these circumstances, starting up the Yongbyon reactor seems more like good sense rather than brinkmanship.
In the black-versus-white worldview of the Bush administration, it has become commonplace to characterize leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il as evil doers. In addition, Kim is sometimes portrayed as being mentally deranged. Such beliefs not only seriously underestimate the strategic seriousness of foreign leaders and their advisers; they also short-circuit all historical understanding of why these leaders are often revered by their countrymen and why even a disaffected or poorly fed population might nonetheless be willing to fight for them. In the case of North Korea, it is simply ahistorical and culturally ignorant to suppose that its people will not fight backand fight hardto retain control over their homeland. Noone knows this better than the South Koreans, who feel exactly the same way about their half of the peninsula.
Now that the generation that fought the Korean War in both the South and the North is passing from the scene, the time is ripe for younger people and more flexible approaches to resolve this last remaining legacy of the Cold War. It is only in the U.S. that the departure of the generation that fought in Korea seems to have created such a case of historical amnesia that a new generation is prepared to start a war there all over again. All I can say to young South Koreans is, Dont let that happen; take your future into your own hands. As Graham Greene said of The Quiet American, Pyle, He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance. Such people are often very dangerous to others as well as themselves.
CHALMERS JOHNSON is President of the Japan Policy Research Institute.