Korean Delusions

News Abroad

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org.

What is it about democracies that at critical moments they delude themselves into thinking that they can contain their totalitarian enemies through a policy of niceness?

In the 1930s, the British and French leaderships believed that appeasement - accepting Adolf Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia - would satiate the German dictator's aggressiveness.

In the 1970s, three American presidents thought that détente with Leonid Brezhnev would make it possible to build a U.S.-Soviet"structure of peace"

In the 1990s, four Israeli prime ministers engaged in a"peace process" that offered Yasser Arafat substantial rewards on the expectation that the Palestinians would then accept Israel's existence.

Each of these forays in diplomacy harmed the democratic states' interests. 1930s appeasement stimulated German demands, increased tensions, and partially caused World War II. Détente in the 1970s helped build Soviet military power and encouraged Kremlin adventurism, culminating in its invasion of Afghanistan. The 1990s peace process persuaded Palestinians that Israel was weak, leading to an outbreak of suicide bombings and other violence underway for two years now.

But, ignoring this disastrous record, yet another democratic state (U.S.-backed South Korea) is deep in the throes of making nice to another totalitarian enemy (communist North Korea), as Nicholas Eberstadt persuasively shows in the fall issue of the National Interest.

Since the Korean War of 1950-53, the North-South confrontation along the 38th parallel has been perhaps the most consistently venomous and tense of any on the globe, with the North permanently menacing an invasion of the South.

With the possible exception of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, no regime on earth matches the North Korean for repression of its own people and aggression against neighbors. The North's monomania for building up its military forces means that these are (in the words of one U.S. general) getting"bigger, better, closer and deadlier."

For decades, the central fact of public life in South Korea had been the threat from the North - how to deter it, prepare for it, remain vigilant against it and defeat it.

At the same time, the balance of power generally shifted in the South's favor. As the North's economy has gone from disastrous to catastrophic, the South has become an industrialized and rich country. As the North's leadership has gone from megalomaniac to deranged, the South's has become increasingly democratic and responsible.

This has led to a confidence in the South and the election in December 1997 of a former dissident, Kim Dae-jung, as the South's eighth president. He instituted a"sunshine policy" to reduce tensions with the North by encouraging political, business, cultural and family links with it. He declared the North"our compatriot" and promised that"there will no longer be war."

The"Sunshine Policy" makes the outside world swoon, of course; Kim received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 in recognition of his work for"peace and reconciliation." It has also deeply influenced perceptions in South Korea. Opinion research shows a surge in hope and trust toward the North that is accompanied by a burgeoning hostility to the United States and the 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea as a tripwire to protect it from the North.

This is where, as Eberstadt rightly notes, South Korean policy"has inadvertently set in play powerful forces" that could not only jeopardize South Korea's military alliance with the United States but could"trigger a major diminishment of American influence in the Pacific." East Asian stability and economic growth could lastingly be harmed were this to happen.

South Korea's policy of wishful thinking, in short, potentially endangers not only its own welfare but that of its entire region.

Which returns us to the question: Why do democracies lull themselves into thinking they can tame an enemy with smiles and generosity? Key factors would seem to be:

* An inability to imagine evil: citizens of successful states mirror-image and assume that the other side could not be that different from their own.

* Fatigue: having to be vigilant, seemingly without end, inspires wishful thinking.

* Self-recrimination: a tendency to blame oneself for a foe's persistent enmity.

Knowing how badly prior cases of appeasement turned out, we can only tremble while watching the South Koreans march down the same path of folly.

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Rafael Gomez - 10/18/2002

OK, I should clarify some of what I said.
For some reason I was only thinking of the appeasement efforts immediately preceding the war, when Germany was already fully armed and ready for action. Those are the ones I think didn't make much of a difference. I wasn't thinking about the previous years, when Germany was just starting to rearm.
I agreee that things might have turned out differently if Britain and France had confronted Hitler when he first started violating the Versailles treaty. I don't know though, exactly what Britain and France should have done. Give some sort of warning that they would attack Germany if it didn't behave differently? Did they really have the strengh to do that, even before Germany had rearmed fully?

Winston Bunker - 10/17/2002

Far better to confront a Hitler, like Saddam, earlier rather than latter. We had better act quick and get Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld and
all those incredible-misreading Saddam-appeasers out of Washington fast.

Quick ! Call Henry Hyde. Weapons of mass destruction are not as
serious as staining a blue dress, but we need an impeachment panel, and pronto, folks !

W. D. Bunker

Scratched Head - 10/17/2002

A problem in the world not caused by Muslim extremists ? !!

My, my, can we handle such complexity ?
Such an unprecedented conundrum ?

Must we stop shouting and think ?

Oh dear me.

Alec Lloyd - 10/17/2002

Mr. Gomez is correct that Hitler desired war; however the German public did not.

Perhaps Mr. Gomez is unaware of the various coup attempts formulated by the general staff, of which the Munich one is the best-documented. Chamberlain’s eleventh-hour surrender to Hitler’s demand undercut the high command, which felt that they had no right to intervene if Hitler was about to succeed.

Also of note is the dismay the German people displayed upon learning that Britain and France had declared war on them on Sept. 3, 1939. Hitler had hoped they would back down again, and the population did, too. However, when they did not, Hitler was enraged that the German people looked upon war with dread rather than joy. It was only his impressive string of early victories and Goebbels’ effective propaganda machine that finally roused the German populace to war.

Appeasement allowed Hitler to consolidate his power, making the war he desired easier farther down the road. It also allowed Germany to make massive strides in its rearmament program. Does Mr. Gomez seriously believe that the Germany of 1936 was stronger vs the Allies than that of 1939?

More to the point, the recent revelations of North Korean duplicity in developing nuclear weapons underscores the futility of Clintonian “engagement.” We offered danegeld to a dictatorial regime and they used it to build nuclear weapons. I don’t know how anyone can be surprised by that a hereditary dictatorship keeping its people in a permanent state of starvation would lie to its neighbors, but there it is.

Bob Greene - 10/16/2002

Mr. Gomez reply to Daniel Pipie's article betrays an incredible misreading of prewar Germany. Of course appeasement contributed to the outbreak of World War Two. Hitler was emboldened by the weakness displayed by Britain and France. At each encroachment by Hitler the allies weakness only convinced him that they would do nothing regardless of the actions he took. When the Germans marched into the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles treaty they were under orders to withdraw if there was any resistance. Hitler could and should have been stopped before his rearmament could reach the stage where his was a real threat.
Hitler knew what he wanted but in the early years at least he could have been deterred. This would not have lasted and that is Dr. Pipes point. Would be hegemons must be confronted and challenged, not contained nor appeased. Far better to confront a Hitler before he has a first class army and air force. Each case must be considered within the given context. Confronting Iraq before it aquires nuclear weapons will probably require direct military action. In the 1980's indirect methods made more sense in confronting the Soviets. But confront them we did in their client states, in rearming, in placing missiles in Europe but it worked and without question we hasten the demise of " The Evil Empire" Reagan detractors notwithstanding

Rafael Gomez - 10/15/2002

The following statement of Mr. Pipes' is ridiculous in my humble opinion: "1930s appeasement stimulated German demands, increased tensions, and partially caused World War II."

How can Mr. Pipes say with a straight face that the efforts to appease Hitler "partially caused WWII"? WWII would have happened with or without appeasement because Hitler wanted war. Historian Gerhard H. Weinberg, in two of his books about Hitler and WWII, presents very clear evidence that Hitler was very disappointed by the Munich agreement because he *wanted* war the moment he annexed the Suddetenland. Appeasement only delayed the start of the war, and probably didn't change much its scale and nature.

Appeasement didn't "stimulate german demands" either. Hitler knew very well what he wanted and his demands were in part designed to provoke war.

Finally, it's ridiculous to say that appeasement "increased tensions." Does Mr. Pipes imply that a preemptive attack on Germany, or a stronger stance against it, would have "eased tensions"? A stronger response towards Germany would have increased the tension even more; in fact, for a short time the tension decreased as people thought that war had been avoided.

There are many things to learn from the efforts to negotiate with Hitler's Germany (lessons both for or against appeasement), but Mr. Pipes' lessons are not very good ones.