In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Note of Optimism for the Future of Relations with North Korea

I would like to put my head above the parapet, so to speak, and make a radical suggestion; contrary to the pessimism in the Western media, there may be hope for better times ahead in respect of the West's (ie the USA's) relationship with North Korea.

The sour relationship between the USA and North Korea stems from the unresolved debris of the Korean war; which was fought in the 1950's between UN troops and the forces of North Korea, who were attempting to overthrow the pro Western regime in the South.

The world was on the brink of nuclear conflict; as China sent her troops in to push the US troops back from the border, and General MacArthur threatened to use nuclear weapons on mainland China. Truman, rather wisely, pointed out that as President that decision was down to him; and consequently sacked MacArthur.

After a bloody campaign, the war was brought to a close by an armistice that divided the country into two. The North ended up being ruled by the world's last remaining Stalinist regime, and the South entered a period of democracy in the 1990’s.

As we know in Europe, armistice's are messy things; the rise of Nazi Germany and the Second World War were a direct result of the unresolved issues between the European powers emanating from the First World War armistice.

The armistice of the Korean war has left a heavy military presence of US troops in the South; whilst the North maintains an army of a million or more and seeks, so they say, nuclear weapons. The two sides glare at each other across the demilitarised zone at Panmunjon, this is one of the most dangerous borders in the world.

Whilst the South has become one of Asia Pacific's economic success stories, the North has declined and its people starve; as the USA has imposed an economic blockade for the past forty or so years.

The Western media portray North Korea in, to put it mildly, a very negative light; common stories include:

 The "Dear Leader" is an erratic, paranoid autocrat; who has a penchant for fine brandy and Marilyn Monroe films.

 North Korea already has a significant nuclear arsenal, which it will use in a first strike against the South.

 North Korea believes that the USA is ready, and willing, to invade.

 The citizens of North Korea are starving; as the harvest has failed, and what little food remains is diverted to the army.

 North Korea is a rogue state selling WMD, and associated technology, to anyone with the money to pay for them.

 The existence of the current regime in North Korea is a threat to the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region; which has been a beacon of peace and prosperity, aided of course by the pacifying presence of American troops in many of the countries there.

 North Korea will implode economically and politically if the current situation is not resolved. Therefore, do nothing.

Now, elements of the above may or may not be true. However, there is usually more to an issue (especially one as complex as this). I would like to venture a few observations:

 The "Dear Leader" may have an eccentric taste in clothes (eg Mao style boiler suit, elevated shoes and exaggerated hairstyle), that does not necessarily mean that he is mad. On a trip to Russia by train a few years ago, the senior Russian official accompanying him had good opportunity to talk to him and observe him. He reported that the "Dear Leader" had a sound grasp of world events, and was perfectly lucid and rational.

 North Korea has had several crop failures, and its people are starving. However, this situation could be alleviated if it were allowed to trade freely with the world.

 The economic disparity between the North and the South is due, in no small part, to the fact that the North has endured an economic blockade for the past forty years. Free trade equates to prosperity, and greater understanding between countries and peoples. If you isolate a country, not only do you stifle its economic growth, you also stifle its intellectual and political development.

 Given the lack of trading partners, the economic blockade and the hostility of the USA; North Korea has been forced to adopt a siege mentality. It is highly likely that it genuinely believes that it may be invaded; it has taken the decision that the only way it can defend itself is to maintain a large army and indeed (as abhorrent and risky as it is), build up a stockpile of WMD.

 President Bush is known to totally despise the leader of North Korea; that in itself, from most peoples’ perspectives, would make it prone to a pre-emptive strike by the USA.

I am no lover of dictatorships,my articles clearly demonstrate this. However, you have to work with what ther eis, not with what you would like to be there.

I am tilting in favour of optimism with regard to the future of this area:

 The USA has, after forty years of blockade, finally started to engage in discussions with the North. Albeit diffident and via third parties, such as China. This indicates an acknowledgement, a reluctant one admittedly, that the policy of blockade has not worked.

 The situation in Iraq, which was an easy military victory, shows that winning the peace; and forcing a regime change, against the wishes of the locals, is no easy task. Defeating the North Korean army would be a very different prospect; Seoul would very likely be obliterated in the first two days of any offensive, and the level of resistance by the North Koreans would make the Iraq situation look like a Sunday picnic. I believe that the USA would be very reluctant, to put it mildly, to take military action unless forced to do so.

 The same can be said of North Korea, it would not be logical to consign oneself to the dustbin of history; without good reason. The fact that they are trying to engage in direct negotiations with the USA indicates that they wish to improve the situation, rather than worsen it.

 There are the signs, albeit very small shoots akin to a rare and beautiful orchid protruding from the earth, that North Korea wishes to emulate the Chinese in their movement to a Western style free market economy. This is a strong indicator that they wish to engage with the rest of the world, and not remain isolated.

 North Korea has brandished its nuclear threat, in my opinion, to gain the attention of the USA; in order for it to be treated as an equal in discussions, and not be ignored as it has been in the past. It should be remembered that "loss of face" in this area of the world is unacceptable. I think it fair to say that it now has the attention of the USA.

In my view, pragmatic engagement with the North can do both the North Korean people and the region nothing but good. There are some very real risks ahead. However, if both sides keep level heads there is real hope for a breakthrough; and the normalisation of relations.

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