A Dangerous Game in Korea
Can the situation in Korea be resolved? By directly addressing North Korea's concerns about its survival, the Bush Administration has an opportunity to negotiate a new relationship with both Koreas that could finally transform the armistice that ended the Korean War fifty years ago into a lasting peace. The first step would be a joint declaration of nonaggression combined with a US pledge not to obstruct North Korea's economic development; in return, the North would agree to a verifiable halt to its nuclear program and welcome back the UN inspectors. Next would come orchestrated steps, such as mutual pullbacks from the DMZ, designed to create the peace that will allow both Koreas to move ahead on their long-delayed unification.
A growing number of Americans are pushing for a policy change. Harrison's book Korean Endgame lays out a comprehensive path for a settlement that would include US support for economic projects such as a railroad linking Korea with Europe and a pipeline connecting the oilfields on Russia's Pacific Coast to the two Koreas. Donald Gregg, the former national security adviser to George H.W. Bush, has courageously spoken out in favor of US engagement and visited Pyongyang several times to meet with senior officials. Nongovernmental organizations like the American Friends Service Committee and Nautilus Institute in Berkeley have forged institutional relationships in North Korea that could lay the foundation for future ties. It's unlikely Bush would have shifted ground without pressure from key senators, including Carl Levin, Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden.
Moving away from fifty years of confrontation means accepting North Korea as a legitimate nation, rejecting accusations that negotiations with Kim Jong Il are tantamount to appeasement and rethinking the idea that US troops must remain in Korea forever. It also means jettisoning the cold war thinking that, in many American minds, views South Koreans as junior partners ("It's like teaching a child how to ride a bike," a Pentagon official said about US relations with Seoul) and sees North Koreans as an inherently nasty and brutish people incapable of keeping agreements or joining the global community.
But building a constituency for peace in Korea requires pressure and action from a left that, since the end of the Vietnam War, has largely ceded Asia policy to conservative Republicans and the business community. For much of the past twenty years, as South Korea became a democracy and the collapse of the Soviet Union melted a half-century of regional animosity, many progressives have viewed East Asia as an economic competitor rather than a region whose complex political and economic problems are rooted in the cold war. Some critics of corporate globalization have joined with the far right in demonizing China, which is playing a key role in building peace in Korea and, like North Korea, is surrounded by US military bases. If progressives are to help Korea meet its goal of peaceful unification, they need to recognize the realities of contemporary Asia, reach out to the South Koreans and Okinawans who are sick of losing their daughters and their environment to US bases, and learn from their Asian counterparts about living with people they once loathed. If the Koreans can do it, so can we.