RM Archive - onsite copies of linked stories

RM Issue #031015

Korea: The real danger is the fantasy in Washington

William Pfaff IHT
Friday, October 10, 2003

SEOUL It is one thing to be imprisoned in a fantasy of your own. It is much worse to be imprisoned in the fantasy of someone else. The latter is the situation of South Korea today. It is a victim of the Washington world-view, a bureaucratized form of fantasy.

Washington people think they know, but they actually deal in a limited number of ideologically constructed "stories" about the world that rely heavily on stereotype and prejudice, and are infrequently submitted to serious pragmatic challenge (dangerous inside an increasingly politicized bureaucracy).

South Korea has been in a tough situation for 50 years. It understands its problem better than anyone else. North Korea is a paranoid totalitarian state on the brink of economic implosion. It plausibly claims to be able to produce nuclear weapons and has already shown that it manufactures ballistic missiles.

The South Koreans consider nuclear attack a remote possibility since its sole rationality would be as retaliation for an attack on North Korea.

The government in Pyongyang is ideologically isolated, extremely frightened of the United States and poorly informed about the realities of the world abroad. Its entire national effort goes into survival for the ruling group.

South Korea's fear is that the North Korean regime may collapse. Both China and Japan share this fear. They see the prospect of millions of desperate and starving refugees, with anarchy taking over inside the country. The prospect of Korea's “unification” in such conditions is genuinely terrifying.

South Korea wants North Korea's regime and economy liberalized, but expects this to come gradually, in an international context that reduces pressure on the regime while providing incentives for reform.

However neither Seoul nor its Asian neighbors is in control of the situation. Washington is ultimately in control, not only because it wants to be, deploys more than 30,000 troops in Korea, but because North Korea is part of the rogue nations “story.”

Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. generally allowed the South Koreans, together with the Japanese and Chinese, to judge the appropriate mixture of carrot (otherwise known as “sunshine policy”) and stick in dealing with Kim Jong Il.

The results were slender. North Korea prevaricated and was evasive about such agreements as were reached, but the situation was no worse than in the past and perceptibly getting better.

Then George W. Bush came to office and kicked over the negotiating table. He said the United States wasn't going to be blackmailed, and moreover that he didn't like the looks of Kim Jong Il. He named North Korea to the axis of evil.

The United States began planning the withdrawal of U.S. forces away from the North Korean border, where they served as a tripwire and thus protected Seoul. Then Washington asked South Korea please to send a division to Iraq to help out the United States.

The South Koreans wish that somehow they could wake up from this nightmare.

Tribune Media Services International

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