Wednesday, July 20, 2005

North Korea: book review and more

Gavan McCormack is a veteran Asia watcher from ANU, and his latest book is Target North Korea, a new and surprisingly generous take on North Korea and the nuclear issue. McCormack argues that North Korea's woes are largely the fault of the US, whom he argues has pushed the DPRK into a diplomatic and intellectual corner. Faced with humiliation at the hands of an arrogant US, the North has reacted as any other state would under the same pressure, and lashed out.

Some of the background provided by McCormack is illuminating to me as a relatively new Korea watcher. The account of the Korean War are interesting, and suggest that the truth lies somewhere part way between that told at the Korean War Museum in Seoul and the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. From McCormack's account, the US was brutal in the long and fruitless war, with many of the most vicious acts all its own. Equally, the history of South Korea was checkered. Up until its 1987 "democratic revolution", South Korea appears to have been a thuggish state which used its conflict with the North to justify its constant clamp downs on democracy and its oppressive network of state spies.

Perhaps most provocative, though, is McCormack's take on the current nuclear conflict. Seemingly, the US can't do anything right, and the analysis represents the sort of desperate anti-Americanism which has become fashionable recently. From the selective evidence presented in the book, North Korea presents little threat to the rest of the world, and we are asked to take it on its word when it says that it poses no threat. Of course, this was writen prior to the North Korea's announcement in February this year that it did indeed possess The Bomb (a promise, we should, no doubt also believe according to McCormack's unfailing belief in the honesty of the word of KCNA). His solution to the nuclear threat seems to be to ignore that such a threat exists at all, and instead paint it as a product of the overactive imaginations of Washington's hawks.

For what it's worth, here's my solution to the North Korea tensions (you listing George, Hu, Kim?): at the next round of Six Nation talks next week in Beijing, the other five states should do a deal with Kim Jong Il. Give him an absolute assurance that the world will not seek his removal, if - and only if - the DPRK shut down its nuclear plants and give open access to IAEA inspectors. To be sure that he'll do the deal, the quiet threat needs to be made by the Chinese that if Kim doesn't play ball, then the energy pipeline that keeps the fledgling North Korean economy functioning will be progressively shut down. Given the reliance Kim has on the Chinese, there's little doubt that he'll sign on. In the short term, this will ensure peace on the Korean peninsula. In the long run, wait until Kim goes to meet his father (with or without the aid of an assassin) and in the ensuing confusion, push for reunification. That's the tricky part.

3 comments:

Jeremy said...

Faced with humiliation at the hands of an arrogant US, the North has reacted as any other state would under the same pressure, and lashed out.

We hate the US! The US cares about human rights! Therefore we must brutally abuse our own citizens, also conveniently ensuring our own permanent dictatorial rule, and it's all the US' fault!

John Lee said...

I haven't read McCormack's book but I saw him speak as part of an East Asian expert panel at AIIA about 3 weeks back. His basic argument struck me as quite reasonable, viz. that the North Korea problem is one of a failed state, not of a rogue state. I'd suggest the same applies to Iraq, which is a prime example of why the Bush admin's foreign policy approach is not working

I've elaborated on this in two separate posts on my blog
www.bowlingforillidan.blogspot.com
if you think I'm nuts writing 2000W posts, they're articles going into the next issue of the MU Political Interest Society magazine. having been told that, you can still think I'm nuts

John Lee said...

my mistake - the guy at the panel wasn't McCormack but John McKay, former director of the APEC Study Centre at Monash.

McKay made the interesting comment that according to his contacts in the ROK (South Korean) military, Seoul could have The Bomb in 6 weeks if it wanted to. Like Taiwan, South Korea once had a nuclear weapons program but snuffed it when the Americans leaned on them. Given how bad relations US-ROK relations are right now, it makes intresting speculation that South Korea might decide to go nuclear as a step towards breaking the diaper strings with Washington. Unlikely though, since this would upset the whole power system in NE Asia, the very outcome that Seoul's trying to avoid in pushing its 'sunshine policy' towards the North.