|Seoul's warning to
the US on Pyongyang
The South Korean government has
withdrawn its financial support for an influential
Washington DC-based policy institute to show its
displeasure over a series of articles about the
North Korean nuclear weapons situation that the
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published in
the summer issue of its magazine, The American
"Nip it Now," reads the cover
line of the July-August issue, with a picture of a
huge nuclear explosion. The sub-heading reads,
"Averting a Nightmare in North Korea." Inside, the
authors lay out the case for dissolving the
alliance with South Korea, stifling China if it
doesn't pressure the North into giving up its
nuclear weapons program, and waging a preemptive
The American Enterprise is a
publication of the AEI, which has provided many of
the senior figures of the current Republican
administration. Part of its US$30 million annual
budget has been underwritten for years by the
Korea Foundation, a government institution under
the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon recently told a
committee of the National Assembly that the Korea
Foundation had ended is support for the AEI
because of the articles. He said that South Korea
had contributed about $1.4 million to the
institute's activities since 1992. President Roh
Moo-hyun fired back himself: under no
circumstances will South Korea allow the US to
attack North Korea.
The authors of the
controversial articles are Daniel Kennelly,
managing editor of The American Interest,
conservative writers Gordon Cucullu and Victor
Davis Hanson, James Lilley, a former ambassador to
South Korea and China, and Nicholas Eberstadt,
author of The End of North Korea.
That a major publication aimed at
conservatives should raise the issue of North
Korea's nuclear weapons program, and advocate
preemptive war and regime change, is fairly
standard neo-conservative fare. What is unusual is
the amount of venom that was directed at America's
presumed ally in any such endeavor, South Korea.
"The current government in Seoul is the
most anti-American in the short history of the
Republic of Korea. It is a left wing
administration that has fanned public sentiment
against US troops," writes Kennelly in a
provocative essay, "Time for an Amicable Divorce
with South Korea". He writes that the alliance has
become a "straight-jacket" that inhibits any
military action against Pyongyang.
articles urge Washington to adopt a new policy as
an alternative to the six-party talks on
Pyongyang's nuclear program. It includes ending
the alliance with South Korea, withdrawing
American troops and a pre-emptive strike and
blockade against North Korea. "With some luck and
determination, we could have a long-awaited moment
of another liberation looming over the horizon as
we have had in Afghanistan and Iraq," writes
In their view, the 32,000
American servicemen and supporting troops no
longer serve as a defensive "trip-wire" against a
North Korean invasion. They are just in the way.
"The presence of these brigades allows the North
to hold us hostage because the North would likely
respond to any US air strikes by firing thousands
[sic] of missiles at our bases in the South,"
"Simply put, our troop
presence in South Korea no longer deters the
North. It deters us [emphasis in the
original]," he writes. "Repositioning and trimming
our troops in South Korea is a signal that we are
preparing seriously to deal with the danger posed
by the North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-il."
The authors argue that South Korea is
capable of defending itself against a conventional
attack without America's help. "The South Koreans
are now grown ups fully capable of taking care of
themselves." South Korea, Kennelly writes, has the
resources to field a military capable of ripping
North Korea's million-man "paper tiger" to shreds.
"It's time to let the South Koreans defend
Cucullu goes on to ask,
"Could the United States join with its regional
partners to get rid of an atrocious dictator and
his nuclear threats once and for all?" One has to
wonder, though, what "partners" he has in mind.
Certainly none of the countries close to Korea
would take part in any such adventure.
the moment, however, the Bush administration seems
to be taking just the opposite tack from the
course the writers advocate. Last weekend, North
Korea agreed to return to the six-party talks, now
scheduled to reconvene in Beijing on July 25.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that
Washington offered no special inducements, but it
seems that, in fact, quite a few carrots are being
offered to Pyongyang.
administration has toned down its rhetoric - no
more references to "outposts of tyranny" - and
agreed to contribute some food aid. At the same
time, South Korea has announced that it will offer
a big carrot in the form of a promise to supply
the North with reliable electric power from its
own power grid if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear
"The AEI-North Korea issue is a
retread of past positions by all of its authors.
Nicholas Eberstadt's call for the US to 'work
around' the Roh Moo-hyun government was first made
in The Weekly Standard [another neo-con
publication] nine months ago and contained an
implicit call for CIA support of Roh's rivals that
is softened in this article," said Selig Harrison,
author of Korean Endgame.
government enjoys a solid base of popular support
for its policies toward North Korea, and the US
efforts to displace it advocated by Eberstadt have
no prospect of success. American interests would
be served by a gradual US disengagement if it
would be linked with North Korean force pullbacks
as part of an accommodation with Pyongyang.
Regrettably, the Pentagon has redeployed US forces
as part of a posture of confrontation."
What bothers the neo-cons is the fact that
Seoul considers the government of North Korea to
be a legitimate, possibly even a trustworthy,
partner for normal inter-state interactions in
political, economic and other fields. That and the
fact that Roh's government is firmly against
forcible regime change or any warlike action, such
as a quarantine or blockade. At times it has taken
on the color of being North Korea's protector.
Cucullu picks up on this theme: "Because
of the South's craven politics, Kim Jong Il ...
has been under little pressure to reform or abide
by his nuclear weapons agreement. South Korean
politicians have moved toward a bizarre neutral
stance that presumes to mediate between Pyongyang
and Washington, declaring both sides must make
concessions. The North Koreans have thus made
progress toward their longstanding objective of
splitting South Korea from the US."
would seem obvious that breaking the alliance
would accomplish nothing except to push South
Korea firmly into China's orbit. Beijing wants to
see North Korea gradually reform its economy,
following its own example, leading to its eventual
reunification as a neutral state. What it fears is
a sudden collapse and North Korea's incorporation
into a South Korean state that is still an ally of
the US. At the moment, things are moving Beijing's
Todd Crowell comments on
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