Sunday, July 24, 2005


There are always articles covering a wide range of issues coming out about Korea. Predominant among the themes is the nuclear issue along with the six-party talks, non-proliferation, US relations to one or both of the Koreas, human rights and, perhaps less commonly, South Korean domestic policy. In the field of Korean studies there are a few core celebrities we can count on to produce quality work and we hope for new faces with some interesting takes. The National Interest,The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Quarterly are my picks for the best writings on Korea on sale now.

Starting with The National Interest, A-list celebrity in the field of Korean studies Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has a brief four-page article on, “North Korea’s Weapon’s Quest.” If you are familiar with Nick’s earlier writings and his recommendations for US policy this article is a must-skip. If you are not familiar as such, this is a good summary of his well-known position and arguments.

The article re-covers Nick’s view of the pillars supporting and justifying the continued existence of the regime, i.e.: unification under North Korea's system, boot out the imperialist Americans, and preparation for the coming war, and goes on to link how these aims of nationhood fit with the North’s pursuance of nuclear weapons. This creates an overall picture of a regime that is not insane, but calculating and one that is logically pursuing a policy that will enable it to meet its objectives. As Nick states, “Despite the North Korean regimes seemingly freakish face to the world, the leadership’s ability to make subtle and skilful calculations is underscored by the bottom line negotiations with the US government over the past decade.” The conclusion is of course that given North Korea’s historical reasons for existing and its current objectives, negotiation is futile and possibly dangerous.

Another appealing article in The National Interest is by Ted Galen Carpenter and Charles V. Pe?a entitled, “Rethinking Non-Proliferation.” Mr. Galen Carpenter is known for his recent book “The Korean Conundrum”, which he co-authored with Doug Bandow. I haven't read this book, but after reading this article it moved several notches up on my list of ‘to read’ books.

The article starts off sanely enough by recognising that non-proliferation efforts do not appear to be working all that effectively at the moment and in fact, there are precedents that run counter to non-proliferation efforts. Reasons for failing to drive home a non-proliferation message include disingenuous actions of the US itself. Despite the best intentions that non-proliferation activism might have, the behaviour of the US “may seem threatening to nations that have a less than cordial relationship with the United States.” Failure in preventing proliferation was also credited to the counter-effective interpretation of events in Iraq by countries such as Iran and North Korea. And of course, examples of India, China, and Pakistan, all of which got improvements in their relations with the US after declaring themselves nuclear are cited as poor precedents for now standing up for non-proliferation.

These arguments reminded me of Robert McNamara’s recent article in Foreign Policy. However, while Mr. McNamara advocated that all nukes need to be got rid of, Messrs Galen Carpenter and Pe?a went the opposite way advancing that proliferation ain’t such a bad thing. This point is argued by aligning non-proliferation rules to those of gun control ? strict gun control prevents peaceful people from getting guns to protect themselves, while the criminals get the guns regardless of the laws. That is to say, only the peaceful and stable countries like “Germany, Japan, Sweden and South Korea” are prevented from acquiring nukes while rogue regimes such as North Korea go on their merry way toward nuclearisation. Afterall, nukes don’t kill people, people kill people.

This article would be funny if wasn’t so scary. In a country with possibly the laxest gun control laws in the world outside of war zones, and possibly the highest death rate by guns outside war zones, I don’t think US gun control policy is anything this world wants to follow when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Most concerning is that the authors list of “stable democracies”. No nation is truly stable. I would hardly consider Taiwan to be a stable democracy, and South Korea for that matter. Even Japan which is currently having a revival of nationalism with the rise of right-wingers like Ishihara is hardly a stalwart of stability. And if you give all of them WMD at the same time, they are likely to lose their collective heads. All the more so if they think that the world’s most powerful military, the US, is backing them up.

The argument also pressed that sale of technology and weapons to non-state actors would be a red line. However, the sale of technology by Pakistani rogue, Kahn and lack of any punishment proves how hollow and unworkable such an idea is. This certainly implies that the NPT needs to be better but its no argument for abandoning NPT.

The Atlantic Monthly has a good commentary on the proceedings of a simulation ‘war game’ done concerning North Korea. The players were experts from various security, international policy, and academic backgrounds including Robert Gallucci famous for his role in devising the Agreed Framework, former IAEA nuke inspector David Kay, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Jessica Mathew of the Carnegie Institute, and DoD guy Kenneth Adelman. It highlighted the key issues and presented the arguments that different positions with the government would push and points of view based on the players’ different backgrounds providing a big picture of the issues and arguments concerning the North Korea nuclear issue. The biggest concern, through consensus, was not the weapons as such but the threat of their sale to terrorist groups.

The number of English articles on the divisiveness of domestic South Korean politics seems to be increasing. In TheWashington Quarterly Hahm Chaibong of Yonsei University provides an overview of the conservative versus progressives in Korean politics. It takes little discernment to see that Mr. Hahm is on the side of the conservatives. The bulk of the article is in the way of background on the rise of progressives to Korea’s political stage and is worth reading.

The author characterises the progressives as anti-capitalist, anti-US, anti-Japanese, and pro-North. They are criticised for their anti-chaebol reforms undertaken during Kim Dae-Jung’s administration (which he indicates was only elected because of the turmoil created by the economic crisis) and its effect of Korea’s competitiveness. As for the Sunshine Policy, he argues that progressives’ view this policy as the best way to exclude the US from Korea’s pursuit of national self-determination. He argues that “infantile leftist nationalism … is wreaking havoc on South Korea’s economy and its alliance with the United States, the country’s two mainstays.” And as for their political future, “The progressives were able to enter the political mainstream because they were willing to make a pact with the devil by making strategic alignments with conservatives” and will continue to use “political rhetoric and ideology to manipulate selective affinity or confusion…to its advantage.”

The following article in The Washington Quarterly is by Andrew Coe of the Institute for Defense Analysis. “North Korea’s New Cash Crop” is a great counter-argument to Ted Galen Carpenter and Pe?a’s article. Mr. Coe emphases the decline of the North Korean regime economy and analyses its sources of hard currency and recent trends in making more money. He concludes that from narcotics to counterfeiting, if the objective of the regime is to survive, then making money will be done by whatever means ? including weapons sales. Given this to be the case then, the potential are viewed for their attractiveness. Known buyers of North Korean arms include Egypt, Iran, Syria and Yemen. The potentials are listed as Tehran, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and possibly Venezuela. And of course, a nod is given to the potential to sell to terrorist organisations. In this, Mr. Coe argues that it wouldn’t be a matter of the North having the “moral clarity” or fear for their own regime’s survival that would stop them from making such a sale but more likely, the terrorist organisations wouldn’t have sufficient funds to cut a deal.

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"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui