Inter-Korean Politics and U.S. Enigmas

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Inter-Korean Politics and U.S. Enigmas

Enigmas Surround U.S. Politics, with Implications for the Korean Peninsula


Even many Americans, let alone America-watchers in other countries, do not understand the United States thoroughly. Winston Churchill called the Soviet Union a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but Karl Deutch, a Harvard University professor of politics, once said that the United States was also a riddle no less complex than the USSR. Now, the United States is in a diplomatic game with a still-veiled North Korea, just like in a James Bond movie.

South Korea and other countries interested in the Korean Peninsula are busy trying to solve the enigma of the diplomatic game in which the U.S. and North Korea are rapidly becoming closer. International observers have commented on the complementary characteristics of U.S.-North Korea relations and North-South Korean relations. At the same time, they also pay close attention to the negative impact of the recent rapid development in U.S. - North relations on the process of establishing peace on the peninsula. Some in Tokyo and Seoul have already raised their voices in hoping that George W. Bush, the Republican Party candidate, will win next month''s U.S. presidential election.

Japan and Korea seem to have a different focus, though. Japan worries about the U.S. making unilateral diplomatic decisions for only its own benefit. South Korea has shown more concern about the North''s policy of negotiating directly with the U.S. and ignoring Seoul. Every day, the South Korean press harshly criticizes the North for avoiding political and military talks. North Korea, the only country in North East Asia without the protection of a nuclear umbrella, will rush to gain a guarantee of the security of its political system from the United States. Therefore, it is natural that talks with the South are a lower priority for Pyongyang.

We must pay more attention to unilateral U.S. foreign policy. Would we be more comfortable if a conservative administration hostile to the DPRK occupies the White House next year? The answer is "no," because of the enigmatic nature of U.S. politics.

There are two major possible outcomes of the upcoming presidential election. First, the U.S. might continue to have a divided political system-a Gore administration under the influence of the Democratic Party and the Congress ruled by the Republican Party. In this case, there is a good possibility that the U.S. would continue its unilateral foreign policies, meaning no advance discussions with South Korea.

Quite possibly, the U.S. administration would toss the economic burden of North-South relations to Korea and Japan, just as KEDO has done, in order to avoid a confrontation with the Congress.

The second possibility is that both the legislature and the executive branches of the U.S. government would both be under Republican control. In this case, U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula may move sharply to the right. Their goal could be victory through confrontation rather than thawing relations. Diplomatic sages in the Bush camp are dubious about the Clinton administration''s embrace of North Korea. In this case, South Korea''s sunshine policy, aiming to overcome the cold war through peaceful coexistence with the north, will also have tough going.

Another possibility is a return to the failed policy of isolationism. Dick Cheney, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, pledged in August to reconsider the presence of U.S. forces in foreign countries. If North Korea is no longer considered an enemy of the U.S., the reason for the U.S. troop presence in Korea and Japan would be gone. Then U.S. foreign policy might easily turn toward isolationism.

In the enigmatic diplomatic game between the U.S. and the North, we have to seek our proper role, but we may find that we are out of step with other diplomatic developments. This is why we must also solve the enigmas surrounding our sunshine policy.




The writer is a professor of politics at Seoul National University.

by Chang Dal-joong

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