On August 10, 1945...two young officers, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, were given the task to come up with a plan on how to divide the Korean peninsula. The time allocated for this undertaking was half an hour, the officers had little knowledge of the area and used a National Geographic map to divide the peninsula along the 38th parallel, thus splitting it exactly in half.So begins a Wikipedia article on the dividing of Korea. Placed above the article is a red Wiki stop sign with the ominous words, "The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page."
After reading through every comment on the talk page, Pundita finds no serious reason for the stop sign. Clearly, the author is not jumping for joy about the mess that the United States made with Korea but he provides a reasonably accurate account of how Korea was divided and how this played out. That throws much light on how the United States got from the Korean War to the Six Party Talks. The US can't hope to come up with good policy toward Korea unless we look squarely at how we got to this point.
"This point" to include the dustup between Seoul and Tokyo. This happened when a Japanese envoy told his South Korean counterpart to his face that Tokyo couldn't share US intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons program because the US government doesn't trust the South Korean government. You can imagine how that went over in Seoul, particularly after the envoy refused to retract the statement.
So Pundita asks that before you continue with this essay you read the Division of North Korea article. What I find striking about Korea is that this is one situation we can't blame on the French, the British, the Soviets or the Red Chinese, or the Japanese. Korea is one of the 'Tomorrows' we piled up while fighting the Cold War. Tomorrow has now come. We broke Korea; it's up to the United States to put it back together again--and hopefully in better shape than we found it in 1945.
That is one of two reasons why President Bush should order the US Department of State to immediately end the Six Party Talks, which are worse than counterproductive. Here's why:
With the exception of the United States, not one of the parties to the talks can provide a meaningful guarantee to Kim Jong-il if he agrees to order his military to dismantle the nuclear weapons program. In other words, by agreeing to negotiate with Kim's regime, the United States is boxed into accepting the regime if they comply with the US central demand. Tacking on a demand about addressing human rights violations has turned the talks into a free-for-all between Tokyo, Pyongang, and Beijing, with Seoul getting caught in the middle.
Kim has complained that the Japanese party to the talks brought to the table the issue of kidnappings of Japanese citizens--a human rights issue. This dredged up more discussion of Japan's human rights violations while they ran Korea and gave Beijing an opening to heap on complaints about what the Japanese did to the Chinese.
So this is the other reason for ending the talks: by bringing in the humans right issue, the US stuffed four dragons in a paper bag, shook it, then said, "Now all of yiz get along and negotiate for your best interests."
Then Washington wondered why Moscow heard their phone ringing every time Washington asked, "Can't you do more at those Six Party Talks?"
The third issue the State Department wanted negotiated by Russia, China, Japan, Seoul and Pyongyang is the opening up of North Korea to the outside world. But when large numbers of North Koreans learn that their government's method of population control is systemically starving the number down to manageable size, they will overthrow the government and kill the ruling class in Pyongyang.
There is no way that Kim's regime can open up the country; he would be forced to pull an Idi Amin, and his military and the ruling class would be left to face the wrath of about 19 million people. So that is a third reason for suspending the Six Party Talks: they have no basis in reality.
None of this means that the US should restart bilateral talks at this time. Before talk must come thinking. The question is how to organize thinking about Korea. I've chosen to start with separating two issues that got tangled together: the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation, and the issue of Pyongyang's role in the war against the United States.
Bush named three countries--Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--as making asymmetrical war against the United States via the use of terrorist armies. He didn't put it quite that way in his Axis of Evil speech, but that's what he meant.
I don't know whether there is intelligence to indicate that Pyongyang has cooperated directly with al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and so on. But the US military has collected enough intelligence to make it indisputable that Pyongyang is and has been participating in the attempts by several governments to build the Arab Bomb. That ties in directly with the US war on terror.
So the nuclear proliferation issue is superseded by the US war on terror. Pundita ventures that the US Department of State and Seoul need to get very clear on that point. This is because there is now a distinct and fast-gathering possibility that the US military will conduct a strike against North Korea. Is there a way to avoid the strike? We'll discuss that question tomorrow.