Engaging North Korea: Human Rights, Nuclear Weapons and a Path to Peace in the Obama Era The Obama Administration’s North Korea Policy: Sleepwalking to War?

Engaging North Korea: Human Rights, Nuclear Weapons and a Path to Peace in the Obama Era The Obama Administration’s North Korea Policy: Sleepwalking to War?

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Presentation of Dr. Hazel Smith, Author and Professor of Resilience and
Security, Cranfield University.

The Obama Administration’s North Korea Policy:
Sleepwalking to War?

Hazel Smith | September 7, 2009

Dr. Hazel Smith is Professor of Resilience and Security at Cranfield University and author of numerous books on North Korea, including Hungry for Peace: International Security, Humanitarian Assistance, and Social Change in North Korea. This talk was presented at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA on June 23, 2009 at a panel on human rights in North Korea sponsored by the Korea Policy Institute.

I’d like to start by thanking KPI, Christine Ahn, Christine Hong, Deann, Paul, and Nick (my fine colleagues who’s put up with me for the past few days), and everybody who’s been kind enough to invite me and host me here in San Francisco. I’m very privileged to be here, and the church of course for holding this event tonight. I’m very conscious I’m a guest in your country so I’ll try not to abuse that position. Even though I may seem a little bit critical at times, I’m very pleased to be here, very privileged to be here, so thank you very much for having me here.

I was asked by Christine Ahn to speak, and the title I was given was “A Path to Peace.” Given the events of the last couple of weeks, I really couldn’t in all honesty use that as a title, and so you’ll see my title here is about what I consider is happening at the moment, which is “The Path to War.” And I’ve been commentating on North Korea for nearly twenty years now, including through the nuclear crisis of 1993-94, when the War Rooms were meeting in the White House. We nearly went to war then, before President Carter went to Pyongyang, and I’ve never felt at the moment so dangerous as it is today, so I’m not using hyperbole in this title.

At a recent press conference, President Obama talked about the relationship between North Korean foreign policy and their being rewarded with food and fuel. President Obama is saying that ‘North Korea’s belligerent and provocative behavior will be met with significant and serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place.’ President Obama’s message is that food and fuel are something that is a risk in terms of the US’ relationship with North Korea and that we should be very conscious about belligerent and provocative behavior from North Korea. It’s a very, very strong statement being made here, just a week ago. I’ll come back to that at the end.

The questions that I want to respond to in this talk are: (1) What’s the relationship between human rights and security and peace on the Korean peninsula, and (2) secondly, how can external actors – and in this case I mean the United States, since Christine asked me to talk about the US – foster transformation of the human rights regime in the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea), and support moves to peace and stability in Northeast Asia? Human rights and peace, the things that Dr. Suh was just talking about.

Just to remind us where North Korea is, here’s a map of North Korea and its bordering countries. The border with China is a thousand miles; it shares ten miles of border with Russia on the northeast, fairly open through large chunks of it; and in the bottom, the border with South Korea, which as most of you know, is not open at all and is very heavily militarized. Another thing that’s important in terms of the discussion in recent weeks about ships and boarding ships is that Korea is, has got two coasts, and its trade, as it happens, is very much carried on through ships, these ships based in ports on the west and east coasts.

I’m going to first of all talk about human rights, and what we mean when we talk about human rights in North Korea. Secondly, I’m going to talk about the nuclear threat. Thirdly I’m going to talk about US policy towards both those issues. And finally I hope I’m going to be able to draw out some relationships between those three.

Human Rights in North Korea

So first of all, human rights. What are the sorts of questions that we’re asking when we’re talking about human rights in the DPRK? We might want to ask ourselves, why are human rights concerns in North Korea as politicized as they are? We know they are; why are they so politicized? We’re actually talking about another question when we’re talking about human rights and human rights regimes. We’re talking about human rights in a very vast level of generality here, so what are we talking about in particular?

Another question we might want to ask, because North Korea is often discussed in such a singular way, is: In what ways, if any, are human rights concerns in North Korea different from human rights concerns in other countries? Are there different sorts of violations, for instance, that take place there that are different from what happens in other countries?

First of all, why is the discussion so politicized? We manage to carry on a discussion about human rights in most countries, and I know some human rights discussions do become politicized; but in many countries they do not. There are a number of fairly obvious reasons for this, but it’s worth spelling them out to show the politicization context. First of all, the politics of Northeast Asia simply are conflictual. There are unresolved historical conflicts between Japan, China, South Korea and North Korea, and the United States as an extraterritorial power but an important power.

Secondly, the North Korean government is opaque in many sectors, particularly in sectors we get concerned about – its penal and criminal sectors.

Thirdly, given this opacity, policy planners tend to assume worst-case scenarios — perfectly legitimate for military planning, perhaps not so legitimate to transpose worst-case scenarios as factual analysis.

Fourthly, human rights violations appropriately elicit strong reactions. Appropriately.

And fifthly, in conflict (which goes back to our first point), we know historically and in contemporary terms actual, alleged, and sometimes fabricated cases of abuse are used by all parties in any conflict in order to sustain the legitimacy of each party in conflict.

If we know all those things about any conflict in the world, not just about North Korea, then it becomes more important to try to think carefully, to engage in professional analysis. In advocating for an end to human rights abuses, we must think carefully about why claims are being made, in what context they’re being made, and to get as much understanding as we can of both the violations and the context in which claims are made. We need to think very carefully about what we’re talking about, why we’re engaging in these discussions of why the politicization of human rights issues.

When we’re talking about human rights, we need to think also carefully about how we analyze human rights and how we think about human rights in North Korea. Sometimes we talk about North Korea as if it’s in outer space, you know, [as if] it’s a completely different country from the rest of the world, the people are different, they’re strange, and actually, that really isn’t very helpful to us. For most countries — and North Korea’s no exception — we think about human rights abuses in terms of social practices and structures that are more or less channeled through some form of historical practice and historical learning. And I think North Korea’s not much different from any other country in that it’s helpful for us to think of historical context and historical learning, in terms of what’s happening in North Korea today.

We also sometimes forget that North Korea, like any other society in the world, is a society that, by definition, changes every day. Politics might not change very much, but the society changes. And so again, we have to understand how and what constitutes that change. For example, if we think about societies as always being in transformation – there’s no society that never changes- we then can see that it’s completely illogical and probably not very helpful to us to use examples from thirty years ago as if they’re examples of something that’s happening today. Maybe they can inform us about something that’s happening today, but they can’t be representative of what’s happening today by virtue of the historical change that takes place in all societies. Also, just because a government says it’s going to do something — either in my country (the UK) or in the US or in the DPRK — even [when] it says that it’s going to do something — doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening on the ground. Government policy is different from social practice. We need to think about that, too. I’m not saying here at all that we should accept ethical relativity when we’re thinking about North Korea. It’s simply in my view straight racist to talk about North Korea as if North Koreans don’t want to have a decent job, a good future for their children and have a decent education and the freedoms to travel abroad and all the rest of it. North Koreans are no different from anybody else who wants to live these things. But we do need to lower the level of generality to have some sort of disaggregated analysis about what we’re talking about, the sectors that we’re talking about, why practices came into being and how things have changed.

If we apply these basics to thinking about North Korea, I think we can come to the conclusion — nothing very startling, all of you probably know much more than I on this — that if we want to talk about contemporary North Korean human rights regimes, we can understand them as a product of lots of different areas: the institutions and practices of Japanese colonialism, Soviet communism, and arguably part of the Confucian heritage. Combine the absence of exposure on civil and political rights at least to post-1945 laws of the liberalizing capitalist international political order. We’ve got in North Korea, historically, an institutional context in which the norms of political liberalism are absent. Therefore one can argue in the civil and political field that [there is a] fundamentally anti-liberal or non-liberal constitution of the society.

There is a different story to be told when we think about social and economic rights in North Korea. What we have in North Korea is a fairly typical understanding of social and economic rights in the communitarian sense, in the way that all the old Communist states also felt that education, health, access to jobs was a right, and should be implemented throughout the society. So you’ve got anti-liberalism in the political side, but you’ve also got a heritage of communitarian practices [wherein] socioeconomic rights are very embedded, at least very normatively, within the society since the 1940s. Again, if we can differentiate those two areas, probably what we’re talking about [when] we’re talking about human rights, is trying to find ways in which the illiberalism of North Korea, in which those norms have changed.

Essentially, the two sorts of human rights we end up talking about in North Korea are individual freedoms and very often food rights, because of the famine of the early 1990s. In a sense we can think about individual freedoms as negative freedoms – freedoms for the individual to have rights against the State. Food security freedoms we can think of as positive freedoms; we expect the State to do something positively towards its citizens so that citizens have food security. When we talk about human rights in North Korea, we’re talking about negative freedoms — freedoms of the individual against the State, for the State not to be part of their life — and positive freedoms, for the State to be part of their life, in terms of the food security agenda. This is a classic division in human rights discourse since the end of the Second World War. Different societies also — not just in North Korea — have emphasized different sorts of freedoms, not just between the Communist nations and the liberal nations. For instance, if you look at the difference between the United States and Europe, western and eastern Europe, in terms of thinking about fundamental human rights norms, in the United States, we’ve seen a priority for the negative freedoms, the individual’s rights against the State. Whereas arguably in Europe we’ve seen negative freedoms emphasized and also the positive duty of States to do things, like social welfare. For instance, health care’s a really good example of how human rights are pursued differently between the US and Europe, so forget about even North Korea and communism and capitalist nations. Coming from Britain, [where] we have a National Health Service, I don’t actually think of the United States as a human rights abuser because it doesn’t choose to deliver universal free health care. Instead, what I understand the United States as being, is concentrating normatively on the idea of negative human rights freedoms as being more important than positive freedoms, such that the individual has the responsibility and duty to provide for themselves. Now, these are simply different conceptions of, or different priorities in terms of the rights agenda. But I think it’s important for us to really remember that even the normative standards that we think about when we talk about human rights differ, depending on where we come from and what our own priorities are.

North Korea does continue to adhere to the notion that the community has rights over and above the individual, so you can see the rhetoric of building the socialist nation, even though that rhetoric has diminished somewhat since the 1990s. Also since the 1990s we’ve seen the ascendance of the military in domestic politics over the nation. Today’s rights are shaped inside North Korea by the military-first rule, which is all about regime maintenance, but also an economic policy where the state doesn’t have the ability to feed people, to give them income. Essentially the market rules in terms of provision of goods and services for individuals. Economic freedoms are fought for in North Korea, but again, this sort of heritage of Soviet-type practices and egalitarianism are built into the delivery of health and education when the resources are available.

What we’ve seen in North Korea in the past 15 years in human rights changes, is that there’s been considerable improvement in economic freedoms — to buy, to sell, to trade, for ownership, to hold foreign currency. Some of this has spilled over into the civil realm, in that there are increasing freedoms to travel around the country. When you go to North Korea, people are walking around, and if they’re hitching – their public transport doesn’t work very well – they benefit from trade to buy a second-hand Japanese car or they might bicycle. There are increasingly visible freedoms to travel.

There have actually been changes also in the criminal law. For instance, in 2004, there was a major change in the criminal law system, where the old socialist principle that applied to all socialist law (where you could be tried for virtually anything, provided the State wanted to try you on something) was abandoned, and the principle which underpins UK law (for instance, that a person cannot be tried for an offense unless that offense was specifically identified in law), was instituted as a fundamentally North Korean law. We’ve seen some changes in the human rights situation in North Korea.

We haven’t seen changes, in my view, in political freedoms, and we don’t know enough about the penal system to ultimately be making any big judgments about it. Nevertheless, we don’t see anything but token representation in politics. There’s no opposition party, and there’s no ability for anybody to engage in political dissent.

The more controversial issue is the right to food. Now this is an important one because I think there’s actually a lot of rubbish written about this internationally, sad to say. The allegation is sometimes made that North Korea is a human rights abuser, because it (a) deliberately withholds food from parts of the population, and (b) its economic, agricultural and food policies are such that they prevent the full enjoyment of the population to exercise their right to food, or (c) spends more on the military in terms of feeding them. These are three variations of the allegation made that North Korea is a human rights abuser in terms of the right to food.

Now we do actually have a lot of information about food, agriculture, nutrition policy in North Korea; it’s one of the sectors in which we do have a lot of quantitative and qualitative information, if people can be bothered to get hold of it. So we can go through those claims fairly easily.

What about the claim that North Korea is a gross human rights abuser because it withholds food from sectors of the population? Well it’s certainly true that in North Korea, as in any country in the world, including this one, [that] some people get better access to food than others. Absolutely true. But that’s a different matter than to claim that some are directly excluded from food and basic health care provision on political grounds. You often see a slippage made between one and the other. These are two different claims and they should be separated. In my view, there is no evidence that for the second claim, that people are deliberately excluded from food on political grounds. But there is much to suggest that this is not a valid claim. Why are some families then, and some individuals, better off than others? And one of the main reasons these days that some people are better off than others is because how you get food and how much you get is determined by your relationship to the market, not to the State. And that’s been so since the mid-1990s, when the State could no longer provide food, income and goods to its people.

There is also no evidence — sorry to say, absolutely zero evidence of any sort whatsoever, believe it or not — that food allocation is based directly on class background. There is evidence, as in this country and every country, that your class background shapes the sort of jobs you might get, or the contacts you might have, and therefore indirectly, your access to food and income. But there is no evidence that class background is a determinant to food allocation. In fact, there is increasing evidence that if you come from a background where you’ve been forced to get around the interstices of the State — in other words, you don’t have good relations to the Party, you’re in a position where you know how to engage in trade semi-legally and sometimes outside the law, and therefore you can make money and benefit in the current situation whereby the State can no longer provide.

There is a lot of evidence that food distribution mechanisms broke down in the early and mid-1990s and never recovered. The provinces that previous to the 1990s received food re-distribution, the northeastern ones in particular, never received grain re-distribution after the 1990s. The evidence these days is that the only food redistribution from province to province takes place from two of the southern provinces to Pyongyang, and that services do go to Pyongyang, but there’s no effective State re-distribution mechanism of grain anywhere else in the country.

There is a lot of evidence that women are sacrificing food for their children and their families. There have been lots of surveys of mothers, and mothers tend to be very malnourished in the population. And there is lots of evidence, in terms of who gets what food and who doesn’t, that if you’re engaged in doing trade networks, particularly if you’ve got access to the China border, that you can be doing very well indeed, to the extent that there’s a small nouveau riche of a trade-related class, growing up in North Korea.

What about the issue that, by its very existence that the economic, agricultural and food policies of North Korea are abusive in human rights terms? One sub-variant of this argument is that government resources are diverted towards the import of non-food items, and therefore this is inherently human rights-abusive because more food should be imported. It’s convoluted but you can see it. A difficulty with this argument, on pure empirical grounds, is that if you look at the imports which the DPRK is bringing into the country, the non-food imports, what they turn out to be is petroleum, coke and coal, machinery and equipment, textiles and some grain. All of these could be argued contribute to improvements in health and therefore food security of the population. We don’t see, if you look at the import breakdowns, a vast diversion from food to items that could be seen as frivolous items.

What about the idea that without wholesale change in the type of government — i.e., regime change to a freedom-based society, food rights will always be at risk and therefore the government is abusive simply by being in power? There’s an argument to this, but one of the problems with this argument is that it assumes automatic improvements in food rights with a change in regime. The problem with that is that we’ve seen the transformation of communism to capitalism in the former Soviet Union, and this hasn’t been the case. We’ve seen a rise in the numbers of orphans, mortality rates get worse, and poverty increase in large parts of the former Soviet empire. Therefore even the possibility of regime change, were this to happen, is not an automatic outcome that there would be food available for poor people in North Korea. The other difficulty with this argument is: How does one achieve regime change, which is not a minor issue? The North Korean government is certainly not going to give up power voluntarily, so therefore, if we want to follow the logic of this argument, that the only way we can go forward is we have to have a regime change, is to go to war. Now I have a problem with going to war with people to improve their human rights. Killing them in order to make them feel a bit better. We saw this in Vietnam I think, this rhetoric, those of us just about old enough to remember all that. This same sort of rationale was used even in the Korean War, and we’ve seen it revived in the last decade or so in the notions of humanitarian intervention. Intervening in order to kill in order to help people. I’m not saying there weren’t some instances where we’re absolutely convinced that this is the only thing to do. It shouldn’t be on the agenda. But it’s a very difficult thing, and if we’re going to argue it, we have to make it explicit, to argue that we really have to go to war on the Korean peninsula, if that’s the only way to improve the human rights of North Koreans.

This is the photo [of young school girls] I took of Haeju in the south, when I was working there. Going back to President Obama’s statement, how does withholding food imports from these little girls that are being taught and relying on international aid, help human rights in North Korea?

Finally, on the argument that North Korea’s a human rights abuser because it spends more on the military than it ought to. Certainly, the North Koreans prioritize the army for food distribution. They’ve said it, we know it, and that’s absolutely without a doubt. When we look at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which is the big military think-tank internationally, [with] the most reliable figures on all armies in the world, we find however that what North Korea’s spending on its army, with its million-strong soldiers, in real terms is about $20 per soldier per year. That includes everything from their armaments to their clothing, to their food, to their housing. It’s not a big amount of money, $20 per soldier a year.

We also find no visible evidence that the military — these young men and women, many men in arms — are better off than other sectors of the population. Probably a number of you have been around North Korea and have traveled around North Korea. When you come across a young guy in the military, they don’t look any better off than anybody else. They’re not wearing gloves in the winter; they’re pretty skinny. They look like they could take on a good meal. They’re not carrying guns because there are probably not enough armaments to be carried around. The serious thing is that you don’t see evidence of a fat military within this skinny population. And these million young men and women in arms do not receive food for their families. They hardly receive enough for themselves. Military units have to grow their own food. Unless one argues that the military shouldn’t be feeding them at all, which I suppose is a reasonable argument, then there isn’t really any evidence that they’re receiving excessive amounts of food. However, cutting down the military would certainly allow resources to go elsewhere. These young men and women could be used for economic reconstruction, and food could be re-distributed according to different priorities.

But for that to occur, the North Korean government would have to be convinced that it wasn’t vulnerable to attack from outside. Another issue is that you have to actually have a plan for demobilization. One of things that we learned from the demobilization in Central America in the 1980s, and one of the things I think the UN was quite good about, was that you have to supply land, livelihoods and food in order to integrate these young men and women back into society. If you don’t do that, you’ll have demobilized, military-trained young men and women who can cause a lot of nuisance to communities up and down the country. There needs to be a plan for demobilization.

When I talk about the military not being particularly better off than the rest of the population, if I could just show you a few photos to indicate what I mean… I subtitled this picture “DPRK Armored Personnel Carrier” because it shows you both the scrawniness of some of the military (and the cow behind him actually) and the sorts of equipment we’re talking about. This is not unrepresentative of the sort of vehicle you might see in North Korea. You never see in North Korea, or in rare instances, advanced technology being used in building. This is not untypical either of buildings in Pyongyang. You see these soldiers? They’re probably a bit better off than most. One’s got a pair of gloves on and the other hasn’t. And you see the basics with which they’re working.

Nuclear Threat

What about nuclear threat? How does that work? First of all, that [picture shows] a 1998 [rocket] launch [that flew over] Japan. We do have a fair amount of data on the nuclear threat, and we now need to think as much about the data on the nuclear threat as we need to think about the data on human rights. What’s a nuclear threat, anyway? Conventionally, a military threat is seen as a capability of a State, plus the intent of the State. What I want to argue in terms of North Korea is that we need to think about capability and intent, plus something very important, actually, which is the unanticipated consequences of action and reaction and non-action. And this is what concerns me a great deal at this moment that we’re in. A nuclear threat is a conventional military threat plus capability, and I suppose I’m asking us to think about this, the idea of unintended consequences in particular situations.

Now what is North Korea’s nuclear capability? Well, it’s done two nuclear tests, which we know about, and there is certainly evidence of a nuclear program. What scientists say is evidence of a technological ability, but not the engineering capability yet of producing a deliverable nuclear weapon. But there is certainly the technological capability to do so.

I want to remind us of the level of technology commonly used in North Korea: Transport [points to photographic slide of cart pulled by two men.] — common. Homemade carts used to transport things from A to B. This is taken in Wonsan, on the east coast. This is about the best you’ll see, in terms of vehicles in North Korea. No big container trucks there. This is North Korea in 2009. This is a common, representative technology in use. And we’re also talking about a labor-intensive economy, which does not rely on sophisticated quality assurance procedures and engineering facilities, and which relies, still, on collective work brigades doing work with very low levels of technology. This is in Nampo I think. You’ll see lots of women mending roads with low levels of technology, with a shovel here, and you can’t see it in this picture, but you’ve usually got lots of men hanging around telling them what to do…as in many places…

In terms of capability, I just want to illustrate with these pictures the relatively low level of technology throughout the country. In terms of capability, the development of the nuclear weapons, in many ways, is a product of the military weakness of the economy. Regionally, if you go through the Institute of International Strategic Studies figures, you’ll find that North Korea has, relative to the other countries in the region and internationally, very low levels of military spending relative to other countries. Those low levels — because it hasn’t got resources for spending — are reflected in a very large army, in terms of numbers in it (a million). But it’s a malnourished and, evidence suggests, a disaffected army. You’ve got evidence of some of these soldiers going to China and robbing banks to make money. It’s an army which isn’t supported — not enough fuel, has difficulty in obtaining spare parts both for weaponry and for any form of machinery, lacks up-to-date equipment, and suffers from general low level of support for all the various functions which modern armies need. That’s not saying it can’t do a lot of damage; it’s just that it’s a low-technology-type army. Its income from arms sales is actually very minimal now. Its arms sales that do take place, that we know about — there’s no indication that these are bringing in substantial sums of money anymore, if they ever were. And so the development of a nuclear weapon is in a sense a sign of its conventional military weakness.

If its military capability is fairly weak, then what about its intent? The evidence so far on its nuclear program is that it’s being used in a very classical manner, for deterrence. “Don’t come and bomb me because I’ve got a nuclear bomb and I’ll bomb you back.” It’s also used for political bargaining. All the evidence shows that these nuclear tests have been used as part of a strategy for political bargaining, particularly with the United States. One of the problems that arise is when the bargaining doesn’t take place. And that’s when you can have, in my view, where it is now, you can have unanticipated consequences of these various actions which are taking place with these very dangerous weapons. The last test [had the strength of the] Hiroshima [atom bomb] in terms of its potential impact.

This is where we get to the risks of the situation in which we’re in now. I’m very concerned about the risk of a nuclear accident in North Korea. There’s absolutely no quality control in the engineering industries in North Korea; there are no developed engineering mechanisms at all. Also, as I said earlier, for the last 15 years or so, the State has not been able to provide to its Security and Party officials. In that situation, where most people have to rely on trade, there’s every incentive in the world for some low-level official to engage in some form of smuggling, or selling some material to gain money. It would be inconceivable, that, unless there was very tight security, that there were not incentives for this to take place. Finally, the political risks of inaction, are if North Korea thinks that it has run out of all options, then there is no guarantee that even more militaristic elements within the domestic polity couldn’t take over, and then we could be seeing a new game plan which nobody would be in control of, in the next few years.

US Foreign Policy Towards North Korea

Within that context, with the US policy today, what’s taken place in the last twenty years? What’s worked, what’s not? What’s the role of the US?

I want to make a strong statement here. I want to say that current US administration policy is both banal and dangerous. And I say this being absolutely somebody who actually followed the [election] campaign for the last two years. Let me say as a person, I thought this was the most fantastic Presidential victory I have seen in my life. So is hard to say this and it’s a judgment [I don’t want to make] and profoundly disturbing to me. But I think that this is both a banal policy, that was enunciated in the first quote I gave you from President Obama, and dangerous. Why do I say that?

First of all, if you look at the history of US involvement over the past 20 years, we see this in human rights as well as in non-proliferation, we see with [Presidents] George Bush and Bill Clinton and George Bush again and now Barack Obama, these very cyclic patterns — not with President Obama because we haven’t got far enough down the route yet – of absolute uncompromising stance, belligerence, followed by negotiation. George Bush the first actually made some very large moves at the end of his administration, in terms of making statements that nuclear weapons were taken off the Korean peninsula, which allowed room for negotiation to take place. With President Clinton, we saw in the last few years of President Clinton’s administration, some negotiations with the North Koreans, which led to Madeline Albright going to Pyongyang in October 2000, and President Clinton almost visiting North Korea and not going because of the standoff with the election in Florida. So, movement from complete separation between the two major protagonists to negotiations between the two — not conflict-free, but negotiations between the two. And Madeline Albright, who is by no means a left-winger, went to North Korea to talk to Kim Il Jong.

And then we have under George Bush II, first of all, the Anything-But-Clinton policy where anything that Clinton did could not be supported, and then paralysis in Washington for about six years, where there was this huge fight going on between the neo-conservative elements (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and company), and the State Department people who wanted to settle on, “We know that this isn’t a government we like very much but the best of a bad job is to negotiate.” And what we saw in the last two years of the George Bush administration was actually extraordinarily positive, in terms of the relationship between North Korea and the United States. We saw Secretary of State Rice engaging along with Ambassador Chris Hill, who led the negotiations from the US in very profound and deep negotiations with the North Koreans on a day-to-day basis. We saw more progress in those two years between North Korea and the United States than we’ve seen in the last 50 years. There was an absolute different quality of negotiation that took place. There’s negotiation, and negotiation of a hugely different quality of negotiation. Now that negotiation was attacked by many in Congress who saw both Condoleezza Rice, surprisingly, and Christopher Hill as appeasers. In the end, those negotiations were paralyzed by the introduction of this demand for open-ended verification last summer in the talks, which the North Koreans saw from their perspective as introducing a bad faith element, because they understood the whole process of verification was to be negotiated with the United States, rather than made as an all-out demand before further progress could take place.

We also saw, of course, the transition between one administration and another, with Chris Hill going to Iraq, being rewarded for doing well in Korea, and then this vacuum in policy. And, then of course the transition in the administration from one to the other, as we know, in any transition between administrations in the United States, there’s always a big amount of time before we see what comes out next. The result of all that, in terms of these last two years being so positive in the moves between North Korea and the United States, is that now we’re in the situation where we have the rather unedifying sight of a liberal US President threatening almost implicitly not to give food to hungry people, as part of a negotiating tool in North Korea. We’re also seeing some tired old tropes about North Korea being repeated as a substitute for diplomacy. We see the aligning uncritically of the current US President with the current South Korean President, whose own people are engaging in critical dialogue, to say the least, about issues to do with democracy back in South Korea. And most concerning, I think, as an outsider looking in, you see the repetition of a policy which you had in the beginning of the George Bush era (Anything-But-Clinton) to Anything-But-Bush. Now, it might not be as vitriolic or as overt, but it’s absolutely there. And this is almost like saying, “We’re not going to take into account the last two years of what the Bush administration did for North Korea, because it came under George Bush and that would be admitting that George Bush did something right.” Now, this I think really is something that we should expect more from, with what we know is really a progressive administration.

So why is all this? And the only reason I can think of is that we have a very laudable priority within the Middle East and therefore perhaps Korea has slipped.

We’ve got a Secretary of State with no experience in Korea, and also we’ve seen the re-emergence of the American Enterprise Institute-type of analysis, which is still in play in Washington, and which, given this vacuum, has rushed to fill the vacuum, like bad money filling up where good money should be.

I’m not saying this is a conspiracy; I just think there are a number of factors why this is the case, and I think what we’re doing now potentially is “Sleepwalking to War.” And if we do that, improvements in human rights for North Korean citizens won’t take place, if war occurs. And if we do that, we won’t necessarily see stability in the Korean peninsula, in the south and in the north for a very long time to come. And one of the things we have to ask ourselves is why not look at Iraq? We know that good intentions don’t necessarily bring good outcomes. We know that there were intelligence failures, to say the least, in Iraq. And we know that we need to pay attention to detail in order to prevent all-out war and chaos, where people from all over the world end up getting killed over a long period of time. I want to end by showing you a photo I took in Japan, and which reminded me of why we should be very careful in these situations, that we call into account those whom we would want to think of as our natural allies. Even by having good intentions, we can end up doing very bad things. And those of you who have been to Hiroshima will have seen this. This is a memorial to the Korean victims of Hiroshima. I took this when I was out there not long ago. And this is an atom bomb, of course. It was dropped by the United States [during] a Democratic administration.

So let’s be careful of what we ask for, and think about these times as being urgent, and demand a good analysis, and demand that we call the people — whom we know can do good — to account. To do good.

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