[BOOK REVIEW]A confused road map to reunification

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[BOOK REVIEW]A confused road map to reunification

It's difficult to read and review a book that starts with premises you don't agree with, lays out routes to places you're not sure you want to go and asks you to rely on landmarks you're not sure exist.

Selig Harrison has had extraordinary access to North Korea and to its leadership. Any intelligence analyst who has made a career of studying the Hermit Kingdom would give a large chunk of his salary to see what Harrison has seen there and to talk with the persons Harrison has met. But is it his sympathy for the country that encouraged its leaders to give him access, or the desire to continue to be an interlocutor that encourages a certain continuing slant to his analyses?

Harrison makes assertions in this volume about North Korean policies and the personal thinking of its leaders that are difficult to accept at face value. The North has been interested in mutual arms reductions since the 1970s? Perhaps so, but on what terms? Kim Jong-il is a man of simple tastes? Has Harrison read the descriptions of the dear leader's railway forays through Russia?

The author details the obstacles to reunification and to detente that South Korea and the United States have thrown up in the past. He cites American foot-dragging on economic issues in implementing the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework, and it is certainly correct that allowing the imports of one mineral, magnesite, and saying that a North Korean basketball player would be allowed to play in the NBA are only ersatz olive branches.

The book is a road map for detente, eventual reunification of the Koreas and a withdrawal of U.S. forces and the U.S. nuclear guarantee from South Korea. Although Harrison is ultimately unconvincing, his research and insights cannot be dismissed out of hand.

by John Hoog

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