[Viewpoint] Korea needs a KissingerThe U.S. Embassy in Moscow received a telegram on Feb. 3, 1946. Washington was asking about the Soviet Union’s foreign policy. As the ambassador was out of town, the 42-year-old deputy chief of mission, George Kennan, replied. In the preface of the secret telegram, he asked for Washington’s understanding for his unusually long reply because it “involves questions so intricate, so delicate, so strange to our form of thought, and so important to analysis of our international environment that I cannot compress answers into a single brief message without yielding to what I feel would be a dangerous degree of oversimplification.”
He then, submitted an answer in five parts, 19-pages long. It was an unusually long telegram, and the Long Telegram eventually became the bible of the cold war ideology that dominated the international politics of the 20th century.
The Long Telegram was, in fact, concise. Kennan described Soviet foreign policy from the view of Russian history, the characteristics of the people and the nature of Marxism pursued by Lenin. It was the insight of a far-sighted strategist. At the time, Western countries had fairly good feelings toward the Soviet Union, its ally during World War II. Kennan, however, crushed that hopeful fantasy instantly and accurately predicted the future behavior patterns of the Soviet Union.
According to Kennan, the marriage of the Russian traditions and Marxism produced an evil empire. In the rule of fear by the Russian Tsars and the fantasy ideals of the Bolsheviks, humanity and morality were completely ignored.
The strategy to counter the Soviets was containment. Foreign policies can be divided between containment and engagement.
Containment is about besieging the enemy, and the fall of the enemy is the victory. In contrast, engagement is a compromise and it aims at changing the enemy. For Kennan, containment was a firm confrontation of any attempt to threaten world peace and stability.
The cold war ideology of Kennan was fiercely supported in the United States. Four years later, when the Korean War broke out, the United States reversed its policy that the Korean Peninsula was outside the U.S. Pacific defense line and joined the war. Kennan is a hidden contributor to the Korean War.
And yet, the situation was different in the Vietnam War. That was a massacre that cannot be justified by cold war ideology. In Vietnam, the black-and-white logic that the Communists were the enemy and the Saigon government was the friend did not work.
The world had changed, and cold war ideology had to be revised. Henry Kissinger opened the door of detente. Kissinger was an American diplomat who studied diplomacy in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. His philosophy values reality more than ideology. And he paid attention to China. At the time, the United States treated China as more of an enemy than the Soviet Union.
In his book “On China,” Kissinger wrote that he started to pay attention to China because of the Vietnam War and nuclear arms programs. The Usuri River dispute between China and the Soviet Union, which started as a fist fight between soldiers but eventually turned into battles, was the cause, he wrote.
At the time, Mao Zedong ordered the Chinese leadership to flee Beijing, showing his worry. It was a great opportunity for the United States. For the closure of the Vietnam War, China’s help was crucial. Washington reached out to China. In 1972, President Richard Nixon visited Beijing. The Bamboo Curtain was lifted.
Forty years have passed, and the United States is leading the world in partnership with China, as predicted by Kissinger. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death is not much of a shock because China and the United States share an understanding.
Kissinger’s strategy provided a safety net for the Korean Peninsula today.
Since the Korean War, South Korea was dominated by cold war ideology. Inspired by Nixon’s visit to China, the two Koreas announced the July 4 Inter-Korean Joint Statement in 1972. But the South’s October Revitalizing Reforms and the North’s juche Ideology forced the two sides to jump back to cold war ideology.
Sixty-six years have passed since Kennan’s telegram, and 40 years have passed since Nixon’s visit to China, but Kennan’s cold war ideology still has power in Korean society. But we are living in an era that is completely different from 1994, when Kim Il Sung died.
North Korea won’t give up its nuclear arms programs, and China won’t give up North Korea. Although the nuclear arms programs must be ended, we cannot deny the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea. Turmoil is expected in 2012, and we are in need of a South Korean Kennan or Kissinger who can present a strategy with a far-sighted vision.
*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Byung-sang
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?