We Are Badly Misinterpreting What's Happening in Korea

News Abroad

Mr. McCormack is a research professor of East Asian history at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, co-author of Korea Since 1850 and author of The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence. His work is often published in Japanese and Korean.

1. "Sunshine"

The recent outpourings of analysis and comment on the "Korean problem" around the world are characterized by righteous indignation and denunciation. They tend to be shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by an "imperial" frame of reference, insisting that Pyongyang submit to the will of the "international community" when what is really meant is the will of Washington. To the extent that one adopts an alternative, Korean, frame of reference, and a Seoul-centered approach, the problem begins to look different. Nobody understands North Korea better, is in the present climate more positive and encouraging about dealing with it, and has more to lose from getting it wrong, than the government and people of South Korea.

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Years of "Sunshine" and multiple layers of contact and negotiation have begun to thaw the long-frozen "Demilitarized" line that divides North and South. The challenge for Seoul now is to build a buffer of protection and a bridge of communication linking Pyongyang to the world, while guaranteeing that international obligations are met and ensuring that Pyongyang's legitimate security concerns are fulfilled; the task ahead for the new Korean government is nothing less than internationalizing "sunshine." In the world empire currently under construction, however, "sunshine" is not only not a priority but it smacks of appeasement, and its exponents are to be restrained.

2. The Nuclear Prerogatives of Empire

The imperial realism of the emerging global system is nicely expressed by Zbigniew Brzezinski's formula, which was evidently taken to heart by the Bush court:

"The three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

Throughout the developing Bush imperium, vassals ingratiate their way into imperial favor, tributaries nervously weigh options to retain some measure of autonomy, and barbarians sharpen their spears. Of its vassals the empire demands sycophantic dependence; of its tributaries; obedience; of its enemies, unconditional submission. In East Asia, the wishes of the imperial regime are echoed in Tokyo (the vassal), questioned in Seoul (the tributary), and contested in Pyongyang (the barbarian). The possibility of tributary Seoul and barbarian Pyongyang actually "coming together" is a nightmare scenario, for it would not only frustrate and weaken American imperial designs on the Korean peninsula. This empire, like all empires, stands or falls not on the military force it can project but on its ability to convince vassals, tributaries and barbarians alike of its invincibility.

President Bush's statement to Congress in September 2002 referred to only two "rogue states," meaning quintessentially barbarian states that brutalize their own people, ignore international law, strive to acquire weapons of mass destruction, sponsor terrorism, "reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands." Iraq and North Korea both constituted "a looming threat to all nations." War with the first is now imminent; with the second, it seems to be approaching rapidly.

In October 2002, North Korea admitted to possession of uranium enrichment centrifuge technology; in December it disconnected the International Atomic Energy Agency's monitor cameras and then sent home the inspectors from its mothballed graphite nuclear plant, and in January it withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Though it insisted that "at present" it was merely starting-up (for energy purposes) the reactors mothballed as part of the 1994 "Agreed Framework" deal with the United States, neighboring states were understandably nervous at the prospect of unregulated plutonium production, while the enrichment technology (of which it admitted only possession) has no known use other than for the production of Hiroshima-type weapons. An "outlaw" regime, it was reported, now defied the world and threatened regional and global order.

On February 13, the International Atomic Energy Agency referred the case of North Korea to the UN Security Council. Director-general Mohammad El Baradei declared that country to be "in chronic non-compliance with its safeguards agreement since 1993." The question now is whether North Korea will persist in rejecting the nuclear non-proliferation regime, with the Security Council moving gradually from appeal to pressure to sanctions, or whether a satisfactory formula can be found to permit its return to compliance. Sanctions, Pyongyang has insisted, would be tantamount to "a declaration of war."

In a fateful meeting in October 2002, presidential envoy James Kelly made a series of demands of the North Koreans: that Pyongyang abandon its WMD [read: nuclear] programs, cease the development and export of missiles, refrain from threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism, and desist from "the deplorable treatment of the North Korean people." These were the kinds of demands that only regime change could satisfy. Washington then continued to insist that North Korea signal its unconditional acceptance of such demands, especially on the nuclear issue. In January 2003, when a bold "new proposal" was unveiled by the Bush administration, it still required Pyongyang to abandon all nuclear ambitions and accepted strict and intrusive inspections. Provided it did so, assistance could be given with thermal power generation and the provision of food aid, and a guarantee could be issued of some undefined sort against US attack.

However, the offer was predicated on a North Korean climb-down, made more unlikely by the increasingly hostile rhetoric that accompanied it. With an Iraq war looming, Donald Rumsfeld reiterated America's readiness to fight, and win, wars on two fronts, and North Korea was accused again of being a "terrorist regime" with "one or two nuclear weapons already in possession and sufficient material to construct six to eight more, and missile capacity to reach the continental United States." In his State of the Union address for 2003, President Bush also made a point of declaring his loathing for Pyongyang as "an oppressive regime [that] rules a people living in fear and starvation," and whose "blackmail" would not be tolerated. Long-range bombers and an aircraft carrier were alerted for deployment to the peninsula. Pyongyang responded, not to the "new proposal" but to the threats, with its own threat of possible missile or weapon tests or even a preemptive counterstrike, involving "unlimited use of means [sic]."

The underlying thrust of US policy had not changed. The core sentiment remained one of fierce antipathy, what historian Bruce Cumings has described as an "exterminist hatred" rooted in the fact that North Korea fought the US to a standstill in the 1950s and has resisted its power ever since. The Bush administration's hatred for Kim Jong Il matches that for Saddam Hussein, and it seems that nothing short of regime change, in Pyongyang as in Baghdad, is likely to assuage it. According to New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, a participant in White House strategy meetings offered this assessment of the mood of the moment: "Bush and Cheney want that guy's head on a platter. Don't be distracted by all this talk about negotiations. There will be negotiations, but they have a plan, and they are going to get this guy after Iraq. He's their version of Hitler." The Nautilus Institute's Peter Hayes says: "What they really mean is this: after we force Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations, we'll focus fully on North Korea to burn another hole in the map." Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is reported to be drawing up plans for a preemptive strike and, ominously, Japanese Defense Agency head, Shigeru Ishiba, recently declared that Japan, although committed by its constitution to the non-use of force in the settlement of international disputes, would launch a preemptive attack on North Korea if it thought missiles were being readied for launch against it.

Given the extreme nature of North Korea's "Confucian-fascist" regime, Americans are scarcely aware that there might be a North Korean viewpoint on all this, nor do they acknowledge the degree to which the global hegemon puts itself above the law, reserving to itself the right to employ violence, virtually without restriction, in pursuit of its global interests, while labeling "terroristic" those who oppose it. Even as Washington demands that North Korea (and other) countries meet their various obligations, disavow any nuclear plans and substantially disarm their conventional forces, the US itself has for three decades ignored its own obligations under Article 6 of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty to "engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament" and is therefore itself in "material breach" of the treaty.

The US has also withdrawn from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Convention on Global Warming. It signals its intent to pursue nuclear hegemony including the domination of space; deploys as "conventional weapons" newly developed weapons of terror and mass destruction including cluster bombs, "daisy cutters," and nuclear "bunker busters;" holds its enemies indefinitely without legal warrant, representation, or rights, not only in the "no-man's-land" of Guantanamo but in the United States itself; proclaims its right to assassinate its enemies or launch preemptive war against them, and refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of any international court to try its actions or those of its citizens. This is not, however, "roguish" or "evil" because it is covered by imperial prerogative.

From Pyongyang's point of view, the US was in breach of the 1994 Agreed Framework almost from its inception. It had been promised two light-water nuclear reactors (capacity: 2,000 MW) by a target date of 2003, half a million tons of heavy oil per year in the interim for power generation, moves "towards full normalization of political and economic relations," and a non-aggression pact. Pyongyang froze its nuclear development plans for a decade, hoping to hold the US to its word and secure its own removal from the American list of terror-supporting states. According to Colin Powell, addressing a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on February 5, 2002, the administration believed that Pyongyang was continuing to "comply with the [missile flight-test] moratorium they placed upon themselves and stay within the KEDO agreement [the Agreed Framework]." Whatever it then knew about the clandestine purchase of centrifuge technology, presumably from Pakistan, some time in the late 1990s, did not seem to affect this judgment, although much was to be made of it later.

After September 11, Pyongyang made every effort to associate itself with the mood of the international community by promptly signing the outstanding international conventions on terrorism and declaring its opposition to terrorism in the UN General Assembly. For all these gestures in the end it got nothing. The new Bush administration arrived in Washington convinced that the Agreed Framework should be a one-sided North Korean commitment to abandon its nuclear program. Even though the Department of State could find no North Korean connections to terror (other than the refuge it still offered to aging Japanese perpetrators of a 1970 hijacking), Bush nevertheless chose to describe it as part of the "axis of evil" and his government named it, along with other non-nuclear countries, a potential nuclear target in the Nuclear Posture Statement submitted to Congress in December 2001. The "2003" reactor pledge was never taken seriously. Delays were chronic and construction on the site, such as it was, only began in 2002, when a few large holes were dug and some foundations laid. Meanwhile, North Korea's energy sector steadily deteriorated. In November 2002, the US stopped the scheduled oil supplies, and in January 2003 canceled the entire deal, saying there would be no nuclear plant of any kind, ever.

As few Americans understand, starting with the Korean War in the early 1950s, when the US went so far as to dispatch solitary B-29 bombers to Pyongyang on simulated nuclear bombing missions designed to cause terror, Pyongyang has always viewed its nuclear program as a response to a perceived US nuclear threat. The North Korean government still takes the view, not unreasonably, that the only defense Washington respects is nuclear weapons -- a point made recently by the IAEA's Mohammad El Baradei who commented that the US seems bent on teaching the world that "if you really want to defend yourself, develop nuclear weapons, because then you get negotiations, and not military action." While Washington wrung its hands over, and vehemently denounced, Pyongyang's outlaw behavior, Congress was being pushed to authorize the development of small nuclear warheads, known as "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" weapons, or "bunker busters," specially tailored to attack North Korea's bunkers and underground complexes. Yet Pyongyang, the barbarian, not Washington is always the one accused of "intimidation."

The path Pyongyang seems to be taking has the potential to lead to a nuclearization of the Korean peninsula and possibly the region. It is therefore a disastrous path to set out on, and it allows Washington to label the North Koreans a "rogue" regime pursuing incomprehensible policies that threaten innocent neighbors; yet there's an alternative interpretation -- quite obvious to most South Koreans, if not to Americans -- that Pyongyang is seeking nothing so much as an end to the half-century of its own threatened nuclear annihilation. Its leaders have repeatedly stated that the country would submit to an international inspections regime provided only its security was guaranteed. However, it is not the fifty years of intimidation, but the call to end it, that is now treated as roguish.

The world is outraged at North Korean attempts to end the intimidation to which it has been subjected for a half-century, treating with something akin to derision what in a sane world would be seen as a just demand worthy of international support. The justice of the cause is ignored, while the shrillness with which it presents its case is cause for scorn. Pyongyang is recalcitrant, to say the least, but its recalcitrance, brutality, and incompetence at governing its people is matched by Washington's arrogance, preemptive unilateralism, and refusal to be bound by international law, treaty, or multinational institutions.

In much of the debate over "nuclear proliferation," the nuclear privilege of the acknowledged nuclear powers – US, Britain, France, Russia and China – passes without question. Yet it is increasingly clear that US attempts to combine nuclear privilege with deterrence and non-proliferation do not work. As Jonathan Schell writes, "Deterrence equals proliferation, for deterrence both causes proliferation and is the fruit of it." The call for non-proliferation, or abstinence, falls on deaf ears when issued by the addicted who cling to their own privilege. Only a global movement to achieve universal prohibition can have moral, and in the end political, credibility.

3. The Tributary and the Barbarian

South Korea, after 55 years of tragic confrontation with its northern compatriots, has in the past decade staked its future on a "Sunshine Policy." It has good reason to try to understand the complex crisis Pyongyang faces and is motivated by a desire to take whatever steps might be necessary to avert the North's political and social collapse. The disruption caused already by the steady stream of refugees across the Tumen and Yalu rivers into China would be nothing compared to the chaos that would ensue if the regime were actually to collapse, sending millions of desperate people fleeing by boat across the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea as well as on foot into China. A vast humanitarian catastrophe, exacerbated by the difficulty of controlling nuclear and other materials in the confusion, would be dumped in the South's lap. Its agenda is therefore fundamentally different from Washington's. It has little sense of threat from the North, and instead sees the need to help Pyongyang deal with its economic, security and diplomatic problems, even by dint of providing a security "guarantee," as incoming president Roh Moo-Hyun suggested during his campaign.

As a senior advisor to the South Korean president put it, the North Korean problem will only be resolved "when the country suspected of building nuclear weapons [North Korea] doesn't feel any security threats and builds relationships of trust with other countries." South Korea therefore aims to "create an environment in which North Korea will feel secure, without nuclear weapons. After all, that is the quickest way to have it give up nuclear development."

Following Kim Dae Jung's visit to Pyongyang in June 2000, South Korea engaged North Korea on a wide range of economic, cultural, sporting, and transport fronts. The Seoul-Pyongyang railway line, cleared of mines, now awaits only the completion of a narrow 300 meter strip of track to link North and South (and thereby create a through connection from South Korea to Russia, China and Europe). The service could be open in months, but is blocked by Washington's objections. The pipeline is full of joint South-North projects, including one to open the North Korean city of Gaesong, less than 100 kilometers from Seoul, as a special economic zone; that too is now frozen. Although Seoul has been slowly accomplishing something once thought impossible - the restoration of a measure of trust between north and south, one Korea and the other – its "sunshine" policy is dismissed in Washington as vain and worthless, or worse, dangerous appeasement. Delegations are entertained and contracts signed and implemented, mutual trust is engendered, fear diminishes and confidence grows, but from Washington's perspective Pyongyang is simply "evil" incarnate, a regime with which there can be no compromise.

The developing crisis not only pits Washington against Pyongyang but also potentially opens a rift between Washington and Seoul. The relationship with Seoul has been frosty since the advent of the Bush administration and its avowal of an explicitly imperial agenda. South Korea's Nobel Prize-winning president, Kim Dae Jung, was insulted by Bush on the occasion of their first meeting and has been treated highhandedly, occasionally contemptuously, ever since. Seoul was skeptical of the Kelly mission to Pyongyang in October 2002, believing the Americans misunderstood what Pyongyang was saying to them, perhaps deliberately. In February 2003, the South Korean Prime Minister pointedly rejected the official US position that North Korea was in possession of nuclear weapons. A few days later, CIA Director George Tenet insisted on the US's "very good judgment" that Pyongyang possessed one or two plutonium-based nuclear weapons, as well as the long-range missiles to deliver them. On this crucial issue, the world chooses to believe the CIA, not the South Korean Prime Minister.

As time goes on, the gap has only widened between the thinking of the global hyperpower, reliant on massive force projection capacity, and the small Asian country still struggling to achieve national unification, heal the wounds of civil war, and establish the modest goals of peace and development. A new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, takes over on February 25. Like Kim Dae Jung, Roh is a pragmatist, expected to continue the approach of his predecessor that, "love him or hate him, Kim Jong Il has been and will be in the foreseeable future the dictator with all the powers. You cannot exclude him or refuse dialogue with him." While Washington urges Tokyo, Moscow, Beijing, even Canberra, to pressure Pyongyang into nuclear disarmament, it is careful to avoid offering any central role in the diplomatic process to Seoul; in fact, the collective effort is designed to contain Seoul and rein in its "sunshine" fantasies.

Not only do the old and new presidents distance themselves from Washington's hard-line, but anti-American demonstrations now draw huge crowds and, in various recent opinion surveys, more than half of all South Koreans profess "dislike" for the US. Between 60% and 70% claim no longer to see North Korea as a threat, favor normalization, and oppose US attempts at "containment." Only 31% support cooperation with the US. On March 1, Seoul is to host, for the first time, a joint South-North ceremony to commemorate the 84th anniversary of the Samil movement, a peaceful uprising for national independence brutally crushed by Japan in 1919. The strengthening sense of a shared past and a common identity opens up the possibility of sharing dreams for the future. To Washington, these are ominous trends. The South Korean conservative, anti-communist and pro-American right-wing, shaken by defeat in the December presidential election, is now reorganizing. Pro-American demonstrators are beginning to take to the streets, undoubtedly with encouragement from the US.

4. Imagining Non-Imperial Futures

For the present in South Korea, however, the passions of war and of the Cold War are a thing of the past. While security is not neglected, both government and non-governmental think-tanks are focusing ever more of their efforts on economic challenges. The state-funded Korea Development Institute has a blueprint for generating a 7 per cent annual growth rate in the North to raise per capita income from its present pathetic $91 to $1,000 by 2008, to feed the population, and to attract the foreign capital necessary to rebuild the economic infrastructure. Outside government circles, a key figure responsible for hauling South Korea out of abject poverty only four decades ago now has offered suggestions to Pyongyang on how it might do likewise. Having played a key role in Cold War confrontation, O Wonchol, right-hand man of dictator Park Chung Hee in the 1960s and 1970s and one of the principal architects of South Korea's industrial transformation, now seeks ways to help Pyongyang ‘normalize' and develop. Pragmatism and confidence that the North is not lunatic or beyond redemption characterize such an approach. None of these qualities are evident in current official US thinking on North Korea.

The challenge for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, writes O in the January issue of the monthly Wolgan Chosun, is to become a North Korean Deng Xiaoping. If Kim would learn from the experiences of both South Korea and China, adopt an export-oriented economic system in place of the current "Juche" policies of economic autarchy, and launch an all-out development drive, the prospects could be quite bright. O recommends that Kim do what Park Chung Hee did in the 1960s: empower the country's best technocratic brains to form a staff headquarters and lead an export revolution. The conditions for industrialization in North Korea, he points out, are favorable: all land is state-owned, labor cheap and of high quality, minerals abound, and educational levels are high.

A million engineers and technicians should be sent abroad (many to South Korea, as part of a necessary peninsula-wide division of labor and resources), thus generating immediate revenues and reducing the surplus agrarian population. Most existing industrial plant, already obsolete, should simply be scrapped. The Rajin-Sonbong area (a remote site near the borders of both Russia and China, developed under UN auspices in the 1980s but unsuccessful in attracting investment), should shift its focus from light to heavy and chemical-oriented industry, and a deep-water port dredged to service it. Plants in some sectors should simply be moved from South to North, one immediate candidate being the South's surplus briquette plants, thereby solving the North's heating problems and arresting its chronic deforestation. However, O recognizes that the preconditions for success must be a normalization of relations with South Korea as well as with the US and Japan, opening the path to low-interest international development funds from the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

However odd North Korea looks, its uniqueness lies not in its goose-stepping soldiers, mass game mobilizations, or bizarre messages to the world but in its experience of having lived out the nuclear age under constant threat of nuclear attack. No other nation has experienced anything like it. Even before that, the North Korean state was founded on the memories of guerrilla bands that fought desperately against Japanese fascism in the 1930s, and those memories, still awaiting the "closure" of formal settlement with Japan, remain sharp and close to the surface. If a kind of collective neurosis, even insanity, has overtaken the North that is not altogether surprising. Facing complex crises and society-wide exhaustion from decades of mobilization, war, mass campaigns, fear, tension and failure, it now gives strong indications of a desire for change. These were evident not only in the extraordinary apology its leader offered Japan, its former occupier and enemy, or in the admissions of possession of forbidden nuclear technology offered the US late in 2002, but in the sweeping economic reform policies adopted since 2001.

Taken together, these suggest that the North Korean monolith is cracking, and that powerful elements in that state wish to set aside the guerrilla model of secrecy, mobilization, absolute loyalty to the commander, priority to the military, and instead pursue Perestroika (for which in 2001 the Korean word kaegon was coined). However, economic reform is impossible to implement under conditions of continuing confrontation. According to Chinese sources close to Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il has determined that without security guarantees and access to international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF -- to which the US holds the keys -- further social chaos and possibly economic collapse loom. The nuclear imbroglio therefore cloaks a desperate cry for normalization.

After all the humiliating apologies and explanations that have borne only sour fruit, an even greater challenge faces Kim Jong Il: can he can bring himself to make a more important but far more difficult and potentially humiliating gesture to South Korea? Can he apologize, in however general terms, for the violent and tragic past, thank the South Korean government and people for having turned from containment to "sunshine," rule out any repeat of fratricidal violence, and begin charting the only possible course for survival – détente leading towards reunification? The cold fact is that North Korea has no allies, few options, little time. Only South Korea today views it with any sign of understanding, even sympathy. Only South Korea, for that matter, does not seem to fear it.

Building on the trust that slowly accumulated during the Kim Dae Jung years, a recent Nautilus Institute paper by Alexandre Mansourov, a Russian-born Korea specialist now working in Honolulu, suggests:

"President-elect Roh Moo-hyun should use the current nuclear crisis as a unique historical opportunity to fundamentally reshape the inter-Korean relations and radically redefine the missions of the ROK-U.S. military security alliance in the future. President Roh needs to develop path-breaking strategic vision, which will guide the entire Korean nation in the South and North on the path toward national unification."

In response, North Korea would "invite a goodwill expert delegation from the ROK to tour the Yangbyun nuclear complex to see that all 8,017 spent fuel rods are still kept in place at the storage site and that the reprocessing plant is still shut down." Mansourov continues:

"Only the South has to take the North Korean demands seriously and, in turn, can guarantee the North's security and assist in economic development. The only sacrifice the North will have to make is to accept some practical limitations on its sovereignty, including in such strategic areas as WMD development … After all, if Korea is indeed one, as Koreans like to stress, it is all one nation, one family business."

He goes on to suggest a South Korean "protectorate" over the North in the realm of national security and foreign policy as a possible first step in a multi-stage process of peaceful transition to a unified Korean state. The very word "protectorate" has negative and ill-omened historical associations in the Korean context, but the general thrust of his argument – the need, on the "Korea problem," to substitute a Seoul-Pyongyang framework of thinking for the present Washington-Pyongyang one - makes good sense. Koreans themselves, North, South and overseas, will have to come up with an alternative to "protectorate," some more historically sensitive formula that reflects legitimate concerns over face, history, and ‘correct' relationships, so that through a deepening of North-South conversation and cooperation "Korea" can find a voice with which to address the world.

5. "1+1" in Korean Mathematics

The situation today on the Korean peninsula bears an uncanny resemblance to the situation of one hundred years ago. Modern Korean nationalism, frustrated by foreign intervention for over a century, remains a powerful force, and beneath the state structures of north and south lies a shared Korean-ness. From the Korean standpoint, whether in Pyongyang or Seoul, the issue is one of sadae (reliance on powerful friends and neighbors) versus juche, self-reliance. One hundred years ago, and at successive moments since, many thought it wisest to look to great and powerful neighbors. That mindset made possible a century of national division and catastrophic, internecine bloodshed. Facing unprecedented crisis now, South and North Korea have to find some way to trust each other more than they trust any of the great powers that surround them. The stakes are even higher than they were a century ago, for this time the peninsula itself, and all of its people, are at risk.

As the IAEA refers the North Korean nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, and as politicians, editorial writers and experts crank up their denunciations of Kim Jong Il's "evil empire," it would be well to remember the lesson of history: a desperate, impoverished but proud people, back against the wall, oil supplies cut off and sanctions threatened, is not necessarily a good candidate for surrender. The best hope for a way out of the impasse is not likely to be pressure exerted through some combination of "5+2" (the Security Council Five permanent members plus Japan and South Korea) or "5+5" (the Security Council Five plus South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Australia and the European Union), but a deepening of the accommodation between Pyongyang and Seoul, based on a simple formula of "1+1=1." However mathematically unorthodox, such a formula holds an essential truth that Koreans at least recognize. With such a connection, aversion to violence, fraternal trust, and the historical memory of the disastrous consequences caused by past decisions to rely on the intervention of powerful outsiders may still combine to point a path forward.

On February 25, Roh Moo-Hyun assumed the presidency in Seoul. The achievement of a non-violent solution to the growing crisis will depend on the initiatives he takes, the kind of consensus he can forge with Kim Jong Il's regime, and the kind of leverage he can exercise on both Washington and Pyongyang. As the region stands poised before a potential spiral into nuclear rivalry and war, he will need firm nerves and above all a clear strategic vision. His insistence on peace, negotiation, cooperation, and "sunshine" contrasts sharply with the ultimatum diplomacy of Washington. If Roh can play his cards well, however, the prize could be huge. If the tributary Korea and the barbarian Korea evolve into a single entity -- ultimately a united, peaceful, non-nuclear Korean state, located in the heartland of the world's most dynamic region -- it could become in time an economic powerhouse to rival Japan, a global center rather than the "hermit of Asia." Without the "North Korean threat" the justification for US bases in Japan and South Korea disappears, the case for the construction of an anti-missile system in Japan collapses, and the moves towards militarization and even nuclearization of the region lose their momentum. The Bush version of empire could find itself confronting in East Asia the genesis of an alternative, non-imperial order.

Copyright Gavan McCormack

This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.

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Gus Moner - 3/9/2003

Hello Mr Thornton,
It may surprise you, but in a sense I agree with your initial comment regarding Bush’s N Korea policy. Our policy, I believe, is weak and poor; however ‘not aggressive enough’ is a bit over the top. It seems everyone’s solutions to problems these days is to be militarily aggressive.

N Korea has the right to have nuclear weapons, as distasteful as it seems to you and I. It’s easy to sit here with 3,000 nuclear warheads and say to others you oughtn’t or mustn’t have them, depending on who you are and how we get on.

We let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, and through the UN we have more or less reined it in. However, along with N Korea, Israel, S Africa, India and Pakistan all have them now. Nations enjoy the deterrence and respect these weapons provide.

N Korea violated an agreement with a number of signatory powers. This matter has to be addressed, although the US failed to build the alternative reactors promised them as well, also a violation of said agreement. As usual, there is more than one angle to a dispute in this complex world.

Your strategy to remove the troops and take out the reactor sounds dangerous- as much or more than their possessing these weapons. Withdrawing the troops merely sentences Koreans to a possible nuclear conflagration supposedly without direct US casualties. On its best reading, it is cruel and provocative.

Why not try to address all the grievances, in an multi-national setting, at least right now, to get to the bottom of it? So many nations border N Korea and the radiation from an explosion can affect so many people around there that it’s simply unthinkable to go and take out N Korea unless the imminence of a conflagration was there.

I dare say we might even agree (no! Not us!) that the timing and nature of this proven threat requires precedence over Iraq’s as yet unproven potential for future mischief. In this sense I agree with your urgency. However, attempting to institute regime change in every state we disagree with will soon have us targeted as the real planetary terrorists. It’s just not the way to go anymore.

Gus Moner - 3/9/2003

The explanation was redundant, for I understood the reason and thought I had so said. Nevertheless, thanks for the effort to sort me out. To set the bases, my comment, I repeat, has been and remains directed at the definition of imperialism, itself part of this rather bizarre N Korea commentary, and some views on your additional comments, OK?

I agree with your reasoning for directing me to N Korea again, as the article was about it. No problem there. Still, I do stand by my definition of imperialism rather than yours for obvious historical reasons. Since Roman times, or before, client rulers have worked as well as or better than occupation. Remember Petra? More recently, one only need look at Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia, Finland, et al. States that have, for convenience, due corruption of their leaders or merely to choose the lesser of two evils, have chosen to follow or play along with the more powerful at a certain time in history.

We have even to distastefully disagree on your comment regarding Powell’s assertion. I say distastefully not because he made it, although one would have to question his historical analysis, but because it speaks to millions of innocent deaths and not just those of US soldiers alone.

For starters, you are probably aware that we hold some 60% of the USA (i.e. Hawaii, Western US from Mexico and the natives), due to wars of conquest, liberation, intervention, extermination, annihilation and an apartheid-concentration camp regime. Recall, please, that we bought Louisiana after Napoleon temporarily seized it from the Spanish. Possession is 9/10 of the law, no?

Thus, regrettably and ignobly, not all the US has asked for or taken is land to bury their dead in wars of liberation. Or are you pretending we have liberated Native Americans from some tyrannical dictator?

At risk of being disparaged for entering into a “laundry list of things that you don't like about this country's foreign policy”, I’ll anyway do so. Historically, the USA has always entered war for its own interests. Wilson did so with meditation, as did Roosevelt, and while there were political reasons that could have argued for war, one decisive element in both cases was economic. Eisenhower did it in Vietnam, and it can be argued that despite the self-interests, there were indeed good-will reasons to help imperilled peoples and resurrect values.

Let’s stop the glorification and the adulation of propaganda, and speak to what is truly there in historical analysis. The Mexico and Spanish wars were trumped up. Japan was economically strangulated with sanctions, leading to their desperation and an attack. Needless to say, they were involved in imperialistic expansion and a brutal war. They were wrong, however, and we were not innocent bystanders. We acted when it was convenient for us, not before. China had been under attack for years.

The US declaration of war on Germany in 1917 was motivated in part by serious concerns from bankers regarding the saving of the enormous debt contracted by the allies and other economic interests, the looming default of Russian debt, and yes, of course, there was submarine warfare. Notwithstanding that the Germans had taken measures to warn travellers of the dangers, declared a blockade and were themselves blockaded by the UK. But many issues were on the table in WWI. We were not liberating anyone, by the way, in that war. We were ‘making the world safe for democracy and fighting a ‘war to end all wars’. Does it sound familiar? Our agenda varied dramatically from the UK and France, who had serious designs on defeating a powerful challenger in Europe, seizing the German colonies and Ottoman lands and repartitioning the world to suit their imperial designs. They got themselves into that mess, the US helped extricate them. Was it right?

From there we obtained the current Middle East and its present mess. Not from 1991. So, we're back at it, going where we don't belong, nowhere we understand, to sort out the natives, control trade routes, resources, people, what have you. If this vein interests you, read A Peace to End All Peace by Mr Fromkin.

But, my point is not that I dislike US foreign policy, as you’d perhaps prefer. I do dislike the farce, propaganda and mendaciousness of having us all believe how glorious and good we are and were. This, like all wars is about geo-political, and economic issues, heavily tinged with political aspects derived from a Masonic religious fanaticism hard to comprehend the given history of those movements. Bear in mind we are led by politicians, of all people, and the origins of the word point to the nature of the beasts. Remember, Bush has murdered his own people too. Electric chairs, gas, injections or whatever they fancy in Texas has been alright by him.

Steve Brody - 3/8/2003

Gus, inasmuch as you profess an inability to understand why I interpreted your reference to imperialism as applying to North Korea, allow me to explain: this article concerned North Korea.
My original posting concerned North Korea. The passage that you commented on from my original posting was a reference to the author's “steady drumbeat of complaints alleging American imperialist designs in Asia". Moreover, the examples that I used to refute the authors contention were the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. I was talking about Asia.

Nonetheless, I believe your "definition" of imperialism is really just a laundry list of things that you don't like about this country's foreign policy. Even if I thought that your list was an accurate accounting of the US's actions (I don't), I don't believe that it could be called imperialism. Certainly not in the way that McCormack alleges US imperialism.

I believe imperialism is the conquest and permanent occupation and political control of one country by another. This country has no such history. I agree with Colin Powell: from all the wars of liberation that this country has fought, the only thing we have ever asked for is enough land to bury our dead. That is the only land occupied by US troops.

Gus Moner - 3/8/2003

Well, I see my comment on defining imperialism was interpreted in a much narrower sense than I intended when I wrote it, as I had even made reference to Iraq. I am unsure why you think that it was made in specific reference to N Korea, but, so be it.

Thus I'll 'formally' clarify I was speaking not specifically to N Korea, rather in general as the US stomps about the planet.

Steve Brody - 3/7/2003

Gus, is that what we're doing with North Korea? Throwing our weight around with North Korea? It's the US being bellicose, not North Korea? The US is being autocratic and demanding of North Korea?

Get real.

Steve Brody - 3/7/2003

Kevin, you lament the "emasculation" of the UN and its treatment by Bush as a doormat. The reality is that Saddam has treated the UN as a doormat for twelve years and the UN has largely emasculated itself by failure to enforce its mandates. Bush challenged the UN to regain a modicum of relevance.

You long for COLLECTIVE INTERNATIONAL ACTION AGAINST THOSE WHO VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL LAW? Well don't bother looking for it at the UN. The reality is that the UN almost never acts without being goaded by a US president. Even in 1991, Bush had to push the UN to do anything. Ultimately, it was a coalition of nations, not the UN that acted.

You complain that this nation constantly refuses to pay its UN dues. You must really detest Clinton, since almost all of the arrearage that existed at the time Bush took office ($1.7 billion) resulted from a bill he signed capping what the US would pay towards UN peacekeeping operations. The fact is that under the current administration, that arrearage has been mostly paid off.

You claim that Bush has repudiated the 1968 non-proliferation treaty. Check your facts. The US still participates in the NPT. It's North Korea that recently bailed on it.

You accuse Bush of repudiating the Kyoto Protocols. Be honest. The Kyoto Protocols were dead before Bush ever took office. Clinton signed them in the face of a 95-0 advisory vote in the Senate against Kyoto. All of the Democratic Senators who hold this up against Bush are guilty of the rankest hypocrisy--they voted against it. Clinton never really pushed for it after signing it in 1997. Kyoto's fate was sealed in this country, when the EU turned down Clinton's last, best compromise in 2000.

Kevin, certain things have become articles of faith, requiring no evidence, to the Left. One of these is that the Patriot Act was some horrendous piece of legislation that destroys the Constitution. The people who make this case never cite any specific part of the act which trashes the Constitution. The reality is that the Patriot Act is a relatively benign piece of legislation which mainly makes it easier for the intelligence agencies to share information which the law enforcement agencies. If you doubt this, look up the legislation on line. The whole thing is posted.

You cry that we can't and don't practice freedom at home? What rubbish. How have your freedoms been taken away?

I don't think you’re dull witted. Just misinformed. And very partisan. I missed all your postings railing against Clinton when he conducted operation Desert Fox, which rained down 500 cruise missles and thousands of bombs on Baghdad. All without UN approval. I didn't hear much from you during the Kosovo operation either.

Gus Moner - 3/7/2003

Hello Mr Brody,
Having not fully digested McCormack’s article and not knowing him as intimately as you, I’ll just briefly address your initial comments on imperialism.

Coming or going from a nation is not the defining aspect of what modern imperialism is about, although as Iraq shows, it’s quite relevant yet. Imperialism is throwing your weight around, being bellicose, demanding and autocratic, saying you are the supreme arbiter and henceforth any challengers will be pre-emptively eliminated.

Bill Heuisler - 3/7/2003

Dr. Gannon,
My intent was not to call you dull witted; this discussion is not about you. We are supposedly discussing an article that falsely considers North Korea and the United States ethically and altruistically analogous. We are discussing an article that ignores history to commit a series of morally equivalent assessments comparing the greatest Democracy in the world to a violent dictatorship. Those who agree with this world-view are obviously ignorant of history.
To quote the aforsaid garbage:
"As time goes on, the gap has only widened between the thinking of the global hyperpower, reliant on massive force projection capacity, and the small Asian country still struggling to achieve national unification, heal the wounds of civil war, and establish the modest goals of peace and development."

"Struggling to achieve ...unification...? Are we supposed to forget NK's aggression? Hatchet-killings on the DMZ? Tunnels wide enough for tanks under the DMZ? Missiles fired into the Sea of Japan during meetings with South Korean diplomats? Breaking the treaty with Carter and Clinton within a year? Underground Plutonium enrichment facilities built at staggering expense while North Koreans starve? Hardly a Utopia, sir. Hardly worth discussing in the same breath as our United States.

Korea aside, your naive hopes for a world body chronically unable to enforce mandates - that elects Syria to a position envoking humanitarianism, that stood aside for Rwandan genocide and has had only two successful long-term interventions among combatants in 55 years - also run contrary to history.

Dr. Gannon, your insipid antiwar ramblings about Iraq and the U.S. being morally equivalent do not interest me at all, and your propensity to ignore history on a history site is amusing for a PHD. But no one has assembled the obvious connection here. The heat seems to come from you, sir. After all, you called ex-Senator Ashcroft an "amateur, McCarthy-esque hack". We all must assume you know Mr. Ashcroft as well as you know "international opinion and...civil liberties at home".
Bill Heuisler

Garry Perkins - 3/7/2003

I have a few questions. Call me an anti-American, but maybe deterrence cannot work in the DPRK. The threat of ruin may be effective against a cruel, calculating tyrant such as Saddam, but would it work against a green jump suit-sporting, over-sized glasses-wearing freak who chose to travel to Europe by train in the 21st century? Kim Jong-Il may be more afraid of flying in a plane than facing a full US military retaliation.

Tough-guy foreign policy only works with rational actors. I think we can all agree that the workers’ paradise is far from being run by rational actors. Professor McCormack’s analytical flaw is not his American Imperialist Conspiracy Theories, but his failure to properly account for the lunacy of the paranoid Northern regime. South Korean would love to run the North. They would do a great job to develop the country into a vibrant new part of the ROK, but the DPRK cadres will not have it. None of them are even remotely close to the quality of Deng Xiao-ping. Even if they were, they could not emulate him simply because he is not Korean. Hyper-nationalism and the Kim cult will guarantee North Korean isolation. The US cannot really negotiate, but it cannot change the regime either. South Koreans more-or-less need to pay up to avoid a crises. The real key to the situation is how South Koreans can maintain stability in a way in which neither the US nor the DPRK loses face. Good luck Roh!

Also, where the f. is Gus Moner? I would like to read his two cents on this.

K Gannon - 3/7/2003


I find it interesting that one who urges us to check our "moral compass" now tells me that the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority, and seems to disregard its morally binding influence on the ideals of this nation.

Note also that I did not defend the current regimes of either Iraq or North Korea. Your accusations of sheltering national enemies, as do most of the indictments of anti-war Americans, ignore the forgotten alternative: COLLECTIVE, INTERNATIONAL ACTION AGAINST THOSE WHO VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL LAW. You know, like what happened in 1991.

I am no supporter of Saddam. I do not think North Koreans, if given the full and fair opportunity, would elect Kim Jong Il their president, nor am I so clouded by socialist ideology as to see North Korea as some magical utopia. Despite Mr. Hueisler's impression to the contrary, I did not come out in my previous post in favor of either of these regimes, both of which I find repugnant. But lost in this debate is the emasculation of the United Nations, born out of the ashes of the cataclysmic conflict of WWII, which involved genuine moral issues and a staggeringly evil plan of genocide, and meant to forestall such horrors in the future.

I find it offensive and shameful that this administration rails against Iraq for flouting international law, for lying to the U.N., and for generally placing itself outside the moral bounds of the international community--while at the same time doing generally the same thing itself. The Bush administration treats the UN member nations as the bully treats the skinny kid with extra lunch money. Other countries' opinions and criticisms are disregarded out of hand, often in the most sneering and undiplomatic tones, unless they toe the US line. Valuable allies, such as Mexico, have now become _former_ allies, significantly crippling future diplomatic efforts before they are made. The fact that the US consistently refuses to pay its dues to the organization hamstrings it financially. The fact that the Bush administration has repudiated so many international agreements (the 1968 nonproliferation treaty and the Kyoto Accords, to name two) weakens its argument for the sanctity of international opinion. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, why should they go to war with Iraq for flouting international opinion when the US has done so with such stark impunity? The argument about the UN's impotence is misleading and circular--the UN would exercise greater legitimacy and effectiveness had the US not abdicated its moral position of leadership and thus rendered that body similar to a toothless shark--impressive in appearance, but condemned to nothing better than aimless swimming and slow starvation. If the UN had been treated by the US as anything better than a doormat, there would be alternatives to war--constructive ones, at that. The current situation is not as much of Iraq's making as it is Iraq exploiting a situation of the US's making: the emasculation of the United Nations and its legitimacy in the internaitonal community.

Many of us against the war feel that way NOT because we approve of Saddam Hussein's regime--nothing could be further from the truth. We feel that way because we admire the efforts of the WWII generation of leadership who placed great faith in collective representation as a model for international relations. We feel that way because the United Nations is and should continue to be the most appropriate forum for determining international opinion and appropriate measures in accordance with it. We feel that way because this administration's lust for war promises to undermine not only the efforts of a previous generation's faith in collective security, but the future prospects of international cooperation and mutual respect.

You tell me freedoms come with the responsibility to defend them. I agree. But in my America, the right of dissent and civil discourse is a noble right, which should not occasion shrill howls of hyper-patriotic screed. In my America, the greatest threat to the future lies in a systematic undoing of the foundations of international cooperation. In my America, freedom is threatened not by the prospect of UN inspections over warfare, but in the blatant violations of the Constitution by such horrendous pieces of legislation as the US "Patriot" Act, and by the amateur, McCarthy-esque hack masquerading as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. It is sickening to claim we are fighting for freedom and democracy abroad when we can't--and won't--practice it at home.

I will certainly be accused by those who disagree with me as un-American. I've already been called "dull-witted." I don't think I am, but I'm not willing to argue the point any further if my dissent with the administration is so sloppily characterized as an embrace of dictatorship. One might make the argument that those favoring this rush to war, with its attendant overriding of international opinion and curtailment of civil liberties at home, are the real coddlers of despotism. The foundations of our republic are well nigh forgotten in a frenzied rush to alter the course of world affairs singlehandedly, damn the torpedoes. That, sirs, is the real threat.

Kevin Gannon

Steve Brody - 3/6/2003

Having read some of McCormack's pathetic defense of some of North Korea's most despicable actions in the New Left Review, I wasn't surprised by the tone of this article. McCormack is mostly known for his steady drumbeat of complaints alledging American imperialist designs in Asia. The fact is that we are in Asia by invitation. When the Phillipines asked us to leave, we left and so it would be if South Korea or Japan made such a request. Where's the imperialism in that?

McCormack takes issue with Bush's discription of North Korea as a "rogue state". Well what do you call a state that engineered the bombing of a meeting in Rangoon that killed 17 South Korean high government officials (1983), the inflight bombing of a Korean Airlines flight killing 115 (1987), numerous plots to assassinate the South Korean president, the kidnapping of dozens of Japanese citizens, the numerous kidnappings of South Korean fishermen, the shooting down of a US surveillance aircraft in international airspace, the numerous incursions into South Korea by submarine, aircraft and tunnels? Sounds like a rogue state to me.

McCormack's assertion that the Bush administration demands on North Korea amount to demand for regime change is silly. What Bush demands is that North Korea do what it agreed to do in 1994.
How can that possibly amount to regime change? Should North Korea be rewarded for cheating on the agreement? Is it really an act of war to stop supplying North Korea when they are cheating?

If any nation is displaying a "fierce antipathy" and "extremist hatred" it is North Korea. And North Korea didn't "fight the US to standstill". North Korea enjoyed early success in the Korean War mainly because they "sneak attacked" South Korea when there were no significant US combat troops on the penninsula. after about three months, the US kicked the North Koreans out of South Korea, moved up North Korea and were fought "to a standstill" by 300,000 Chinese troops. We long ago came to terms with this and it's North Korea that can't let go.

McCormack implies, without any offer of proof, that it is US bad faith that has held up the construction of the KEDO light water reactors. In reality, the evidence is ample and persuasive that the delay has been caused almost exclusively by North Korea. North Korea has a track record of provocation and delay during the construction that, at times, has brought construction to a standstill.

McCormack's assertion that the US sent solitary B-29's on missions over Pyongyang is unsupported by evidence and silly on it's face. Ask any B-29 pilot you can find what would happen to an unescorted B-29 flying over Pyongyang during the Korean War. I tell you what he will say: it would be quickly shot down by a North Korean Mig fighter.

The simple truth that McCormack can't see because of the anti-American fog that he looks at the world through, is that North Korea's problems are caused by the 50 years of lawlessness that has marked its existence. When North Korea stops killing, intimidating and kidnapping its neighbors, the world will stop viewing it with suspicion.

James Thornton - 3/6/2003

In my opinion the Administration is not acting aggressively enough on North Korea. We should engage in direct negotiations, but not make any concessions until there nuke program has been dismantled. Worse comes to worse we withdraw our troops from South Korea and then destroy their reactor. That way we spare South Korea and our ground troops the wrath of the North. If they counterattack or strike Japan then we use all means at our disposal to change the regime there as well.

James Thornton - 3/6/2003

Evidently you did not pay attention in class.
1. Congress declares war, the President wages war.
2. As noble as it is, the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority.
3. Our freedoms are rights that come with responsiblities. Those responsibilities include defending the nation when threatened, which is presently the case.
4. I respect people who can use reason and logic to express their views opposing war, but once troops go into harms way they should shut up. All the "peace camp" is doing now is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and actually increasing the possibility of war. If the Iraqi government had been confronted by a united world demanding disarmament we would not be in the present predicament. Thanks to Saddam and to a lesser degree those like the French and Germans there are presently no constructive alternatives to war.

Based upon these conclusions I don't find you un-American, just sorely mistaken and in need of re-education.

Bill Heuisler - 3/6/2003

Dr. Gannon,
Attacking Mr. Thornton and President Bush while defending Gavan McCormack's anti-American polemic exposes either ignorance of history or incredible chutzpah. Maybe both. Consider. McCormack twists or ignores history and you, a PHD, don't seem to mind.

Two embarrassingly large examples might remind you:
1) McCormack omits that North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950 with cooperation of Soviets and Chinese. Before dawn on Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korean forces, spearheaded by tanks and self-propelled guns, attacked over the 38th parallel. Just prior to the unprovoked invasion, Truman had changed American policy and was withdrawing U.S. forces. And there's more. Venona Papers uncovered in 1992 confirmed that the Soviet Union and China were supportive of North Korea's invasion plans. Yu Song Cho, deputy chief of staff of KPA during the invasion, said accompanying Soviet military advisers went so far as to rewrite his initial invasion order.

2) McCormack says, "North Korea fought the U.S. to a standstill in the 50s..." But we all know it was the Chinese Communists crossing the Yalu River who drove United Nations forces back -
Chinese Communists, not North Koreans...and United Nations forces reacting to North Korean aggression. McCormack's thesis of NK's stalwart independence and affronted innocence in the face of U.S. Imperialism is truly anti-American garbage.

Rude? HNN is a History Site. Mr. Thornton didn't go far enough. McCormack is anti-American, but he also assumes readers who agree with him are dull-witted. Evidently many are, Doctor.
Bill Heuisler

George Jochnowitz - 3/6/2003

There is something weird about calling North Korea a "Confucian-fascist" regime. It is a Marxist state and always has been. What does Marxism mean? More than anything else, it has meant famine. The worst famine in human history occurred in China between 1959 and 1961. Stalin imposed a murderous famine on the kulaks. North Korea's people have been starving to death for years.

Like all Marxist states, North Korea is obsessively anti-Zionist. As long ago as 1973, North Korea sent its pilots to Egypt to fly its MIGs against Israel, a policy that can only be described as cuckoo. North Korea has supplied missiles and built missile production facilities for Iran, Syria, and Libya.

Confucian indeed!

K Gannon - 3/6/2003

Mr. Thornton:
I think your response to the previous commentator was rude, and ignored the facts.
So I'll weigh in,and do so according to your criteria. I got an education (PhD), checked my gut (still there), and checked my moral compass. And here's what I concluded: according to the Declaration of Independence, people have a right to national self-determination. According to the Constitution, Congress--not the executive--has the power to wage war, and American citizens are entitled to the protection of their basic civil liberties. And according to the New Testament, Christ said (among other wise things) that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And by these criteria, I feel certain that the Bush administration has failed to meet any standard whatsoever of fairness, openness, consistency, or morality--and has violated the tenets of all three measures I cited.
And if you want to call me anti-American, that's fine. Since you don't know me at all, and would have no reasonable basis for such a slanderous and inaccurate accusation, I'm sure I'll recover.
And by the way--where are your "constructive alternatives?" All I've seen is venomous ranting and belittling of those who disagree with you. Perhaps you define "constructive alternatives" the way the Bush administration defines "UN cooperation"

James Thornton - 3/6/2003

I didn't assume anything. The tone of the article and the false logic of placing North Korean and American government on a common moral footing was evidence enough.

I know full well of the conditions inside of North Korea and the nature of Ment-A-Lee Il's regime.

If you were building a nuke or playing with smallpox in your basement do not think for a moment the police wouldn't knock your door in and haul you off to jail. North Korea, an irresponsible and dangerous regime, has no right to produce WMD. Don't even go there with "if the US has them so can they".

I suggest you getting educated, doing a gut check, checking your moral compass, and returning when you can offer up constructive alternatives. Otherwise you are not worth my time.

Michael Hipple - 3/6/2003

This article sums up very well the past and present, but the future would better be served for Korea to join together the strengths of both North and South. Why not 1+1=1 WITH nuclear deterrent capability? A United Korea would be a powerful economic as well as military country. Why give up the ability to protect itself with nuclear armed missiles?

dan - 3/5/2003

"If you so love North Korea and hate America sir, I suggest you live there, enjoy a steady diet of grass and tree bark..."

Why do you so imperiously assume the author hates America?

A better suggestion would be for you to live there and find out something for yourself. Or, how about we let North Korea dictate what YOU can and can't do in your own country. I notice you didn't make this offer...

James Thornton - 3/5/2003

This entire article can be summarized by the following passage.

"The world is outraged at North Korean attempts to end the intimidation to which it has been subjected for a half-century, treating with something akin to derision what in a sane world would be seen as a just demand worthy of international support. The justice of the cause is ignored, while the shrillness with which it presents its case is cause for scorn. Pyongyang is recalcitrant, to say the least, but its recalcitrance, brutality, and incompetence at governing its people is matched by Washington's arrogance, preemptive unilateralism, and refusal to be bound by international law, treaty, or multinational institutions."

Translation: Poor North Korea is being bullied by the world for stubbornly defending itself. Poyngyang's starving to death of millions of its own citizens is only matched by the Americans refusing to sign international treaties that damage American interests and their forceing Saddam Hussein to abide by international agreements.

McCormack obviously has a problem with the US. Disagreeing with US foreign policy is one issue, but using political disagreements to justify North Korea's foreign policy is illogical and dangerous. To put the US and North Korea on the same moral plateau is ludicrous. I would hope that he would feel differently if one of his loved ones had been hacked to death on the DMZ or abducted from their homes and held against their will for decades. Then again, if he were as reasonable as North Korea, I doubt he would. If you so love North Korea and hate America sir, I suggest you live there, enjoy a steady diet of grass and tree bark, and while you're at it grab your AK-47 and take your post on the DMZ.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/3/2003

As much as I respect Gavan McCormack's work in general, there is something about this essay which bothers me: it is predicated on the idea that there is no crisis, that if we just stop "bothering" North Korea, then there will be peace and prosperity in our time. The assumption that North Korea would *like* the future Mr. McCormack describes is shaky, given their complete lack of interest in cooperating with South Korea on even basic issues. The psychological profile here of a nation "cornered" fails to take into account the active role of North Korean leadership -- Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il -- in creating crises to justify their isolation and totalitarian policies.