ACTION ALERT: No More Korean Wars — The Hidden Histories of the US and North Korea

December 15th, 2017 - by admin

Nation of Change & World Beyond War & Jimmy Carter / The Washington Post & Col. An Wright (Ret.) / ConsortiumNews & Bruce Cumings / The London Review of Books & Leon V. Sigal / 38 – 2017-12-15 00:28:49

No More Threats: Don’t Provoke War with North Korea

President Trump’s constant childish comments towards North Korea are putting millions of people in danger. Threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” is making diplomatic relations with the country even more strained then they have been in the past.

In August, President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Following this threat, North Korea revealed plans to launch missiles into the sea surrounding the island of Guam, where US Andersen Air Force Base and B-1 bombers are held.

War, especially a nuclear war, with North Korea is a very real possibility with this continued dialogue. We need diplomacy — not threats — in this situation. The possibility of nuclear war puts the entire world at risk.

ACTION:We need a peaceful solution to the current crisis with North Korea. Sign here to call on the President to end the threats towards North Korea and put diplomacy and peace first.

Messages of Solidarity to Peace Rally in South Korea
David Swanson / World Beyond War

(December 13, 2017) — There will be a big gathering for peace in Seoul, South Korea, December 23, 2017. Please send videos or text messages of support by December 16th to

What I’ve Learned from North Korea’s Leaders
Jimmy Carter / Op-ed The Washington Post

(October 4, 2017) — As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States.

This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement.

Over more than 20 years, I have spent many hours in discussions with top North Korean officials and private citizens during visits to Pyongyang and to the countryside. I found Kim Il Sung (their “Great Leader”), Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and other leaders to be both completely rational and dedicated to the preservation of their regime.

What the officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community.

I have visited with people who were starving. Still today, millions suffer from famine and food insecurity and seem to be completely loyal to their top leader. They are probably the most isolated people on Earth and almost unanimously believe that their greatest threat is from a preemptory military attack by the United States.

The top priority of North Korea’s leaders is to preserve their regime and keep it as free as possible from outside control. They are largely immune from influence or pressure from outside. During the time of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, this immunity has also applied to China, whose leaders want to avoid a regime collapse in North Korea or having to contemplate a nuclear-armed Japan or South Korea.

Until now, severe economic sanctions have not prevented North Korea from developing a formidable and dedicated military force, including long-range nuclear missiles, utilizing a surprising level of scientific and technological capability.

There is no remaining chance that it will agree to a total denuclearization, as it has seen what happened in a denuclearized Libya and assessed the doubtful status of US adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement.

There have been a number of suggestions for resolving this crisis, including military strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities, more severe economic punishment, the forging of a protective nuclear agreement between China and North Korea similar to those between the United States and South Korea and Japan, a real enforcement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by all nuclear weapons states not to expand their arsenals, and ending annual US-South Korean military exercises.

All of these options are intended to dissuade or deter the leadership of a nation with long-range nuclear weapons — and that believes its existence is threatened — from taking steps to defend itself. None of them offer an immediate way to end the present crisis, because the Pyongyang government believes its survival is at stake.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that “we have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation” is a good first step to defusing tensions.

The next step should be for the United States to offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is founder of the nonprofit Carter Center.

A Path Forward on North Korea
Col. An Wright (Ret.) / ConsortiumNews

(March 5, 2017) — Why are discussions for a peace treaty with North Korea not an option to resolve the extraordinarily dangerous tensions on the Korean peninsula? At long last, experts with long experience with the North Koreans are publicly calling for these negotiations.

Many in Washington’s think tanks finally acknowledge that the Obama policy of “strategic patience,” which relied on sanctions and other pressures to frustrate North Korea, did not result in a slowdown in the nuclear weapon and missile programs, but instead provided room for the North Koreans to expand their research and testing of both nuclear weapon and missile technology.

These experts now acknowledge that the US government must deal with the reality that sanctions have not slowed North Korea’s programs and that negotiations are needed.

William Perry, who was Secretary of Defense from 1994-1997 during talks with the North Koreans that led to an arms control framework, wrote in a Jan. 6 op-ed in the Washington Post that some Western perceptions of the North Koreans as crazy fanatics are false and meaningful negotiations are possible.

Perry wrote: “During my discussions and negotiations with members of the North Korean government, I have found that they are not irrational, nor do they have the objective of achieving martyrdom. Their goals, in order of priority, are: preserving the Kim dynasty, gaining international respect and improving their economy.

“I believe it is time to try diplomacy that would actually have a chance to succeed. We lost the opportunity to negotiate with a non-nuclear North Korea when we cut off negotiations in 2001, before it had a nuclear arsenal. The most we can reasonably expect today is an agreement that lowers the dangers of that arsenal.

“The goals would be an agreement with Pyongyang to not export nuclear technology, to conduct no further nuclear testing and to conduct no further ICBM testing. These goals are worth achieving and, if we succeed, could be the basis for a later discussion of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.”

Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker — an expert on the North Korean nuclear program, emeritus director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (US nuclear program), and the last US citizen to see part of the North Korean nuclear program in 2010 — also called for talking with the North Korean government.

A Trump Envoy?
In a Jan. 12 op-ed in the New York Times, Hecker wrote: “Mr. Trump should send a presidential envoy to North Korea. Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Mr. Trump has little to lose by talking. He can risk the domestic political downside of appearing to appease the North. He would most likely get China’s support, which is crucial because Beijing prefers talking to more sanctions. He would also probably get support for bilateral talks from Seoul, Tokyo and Moscow.

“By talking, and especially by listening, the Trump administration may learn more about the North’s security concerns. It would allow Washington to signal the strength of its resolve to protect its allies and express its concerns about human rights abuses, as well as to demonstrate its openness to pragmatic, balanced progress.

“Talking will help inform a better negotiating strategy that may eventually convince the young leader that his country and his regime are better off without nuclear weapons.”

John Dulury, in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs in an article titled, “Trump and North Korea-Reviving the Art of the Deal,” said, “If the United States really hopes to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula, it should stop looking for ways to stifle North Korea’s economy and undermine Kim Jong Un’s regime and start finding ways to make Pyongyang feel more secure.

“This might sound counterintuitive, given North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and human rights record. But consider this: North Korea will start focusing on its prosperity instead of its self-preservation only once it no longer has to worry about its own destruction. And North Korea will consider surrendering its nuclear deterrent only once it feels secure and prosperous and is economically integrated into Northeast Asia. . . .

“With Kim now feeling far safer at home (because of economic progress despite international sanctions), the United States needs to help him find a nonnuclear way to feel secure along his borders. A comprehensive deal is the best way to accomplish this, but it will require direct dialogue with Pyongyang.

“Trump should start by holding back-channel talks. If those make enough progress, he should then send an envoy to Pyongyang, who could negotiate a nuclear freeze (and, perhaps, as a goodwill gesture on the part of Pyongyang, secure the release of the two US citizens imprisoned in North Korea). Trump could then initiate high-level talks that would culminate in a meeting between Kim and himself.”

Seeking Talks
The National Committee on American Foreign Policy is attempting to hold informal talks with the North Korean government in this month. Since 2003, the committee has sponsored other talks in Germany and Malaysia.

The committee requested the Trump administration to allow the talks to be held on US soil, however, as with the Obama administration, the Trump administration did not issue visas for a North Korean delegation to come to the US due to the continuation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the holding of two Americans in North Korea.

Ultimately, a peace treaty is the key to having peace on the Korean Peninsula. Virtually unknown to the American public due to the media blackout on anything positive from North Korea is the North Korean annual request for negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that was signed to end the Korean War in 1953, sixty-four years ago.

In January 2016, as in many previous years, the North Korean government specifically stated that it would end its nuclear testing if the US and South Korea would end military exercises and sign a peace treaty. The US responded that until North Korea ends its nuclear weapons program, the US would not talk about a peace treaty. So there is a deadlock.

Yet, it is not rational to think that the North Korean government will stop its nuclear weapons and missile testing until they are guaranteed that the United States will not attack them and has signed a peace treaty to that effect.

The North Korean government feels its nuclear weapons program is what is keeping the US from adding North Korea to its list of targeted attempts at violent regime change.

Having seen what has happened to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen under the Bush and Obama administrations, the North Korean government will not give up what it perceives to be its major deterrent to an attack by the US and South Korea — its small but growing nuclear weapons program. (On a personal note for North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un, all he has to recall is what happened to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi after they surrendered their arsenals of unconventional weapons.)

And the US is signaling that “regime change” is still its policy. The annual US-South Korean military exercises practiced military operational plans with the mission of the overthrow of the North Korean government. The not-so-subtle title of the 2016 exercises was “Decapitation.”

Dulury, the author of the Foreign Affairs article, suggests that to convince Kim to freeze the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the missile programs, as a first step, the Trump administration must design a package of security guarantees such as scaling back or suspending US-South Korean military exercises and delaying the deployment of new US military equipment such as the THAAD missile to South Korea.

Ending the War
Then, convening four-power talks among China, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States to negotiate and sign a treaty formally ending the Korean War, as Pyongyang has long demanded, would provide the basis for halting further development of its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs and allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back into the country to verify compliance.

Of course, other issues eventually would be raised such as improving North Korean human rights, relaxing restrictions on travel abroad, allowing foreign humanitarian organizations more freedom in North Korea, and closing political prison camps.

But direct negotiation is the only way to determine what Kim may be ready to do. As President Trump said during the campaign, he would be willing to talk with Kim as long as there was “a ten percent or a 20 percent chance that [he could] talk him out of those damn nukes.”

As Dulury wrote, “Wishful thinking about North Korea’s imminent collapse has compromised US strategy for far too long. Obama’s strategic patience, envisioning a day when ‘the Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free,’ wasted the early years of Kim Jong Un’s reign in the mistaken belief that the regime would not survive long following Kim Jong Il’s death.”

Dr. Hecker agreed: “Talking is a necessary step to re-establishing critical links of communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.”

Former Defense Secretary Perry added, “We should deal with North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

North Koreans are very smart and resilient. As well-documented by historians, their country was purposefully destroyed by the United States during the Korean War and they rebuilt it as best they could with minimal outside assistance.

Yet, despite virtually no external help for the past 35 years ago — since the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s — and despite expanding international sanctions over the past ten years, North Korea has been able to develop its nuclear program and its missile program and put satellites into space — all, of course, at the expense of funding the level of social and economic programs it would like to have for its citizens.

If the international community really wants to resolve the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and give the North Korean people a chance to rejoin the community of nations, a peace treaty that gives North Korea the assurances it needs for its survival is the first, not the last step.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat for 16 years and served in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.

She resigned in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq and in her letter of resignation mentioned the lack of effort of the Bush administration in resolving issues with North Korea. She went to North Korea in May 2015 as a part of the 30-woman delegation of Women Cross the DMZ that held a two-day peace conference with 250 North Korean women.

A Murderous History of Korea
Bruce Cumings / The London Review of Books (Vol. 39 No. 10)

(May 18, 2017) — More than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world.

This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’

American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’

How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet?

We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension.

No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932.

After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance. Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender.

This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism — as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. B

ut it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers — just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one.

Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

The story of Kim Il-sung’s resistance against the Japanese is surrounded by legend and exaggeration in the North, and general denial in the South. But he was recognisably a hero: he fought for a decade in the harshest winter environment imaginable, with temperatures sometimes falling to 50° below zero.

Recent scholarship has shown that Koreans made up the vast majority of guerrillas in Manchukuo, even though many of them were commanded by Chinese officers (Kim was a member of the Chinese Communist Party).

Other Korean guerrillas led detachments too — among them Choe Yong-gon, Kim Chaek and Choe Hyon — and when they returned to Pyongyang in 1945 they formed the core of the new regime. Their offspring now constitute a multitudinous elite — the number two man in the government today, Choe Ryong-hae, is Choe Hyon’s son.

Kim’s reputation was inadvertently enhanced by the Japanese, whose newspapers made a splash of the battle between him and the Korean quislings whom the Japanese employed to track down and kill him, all operating under the command of General Nozoe Shotoku, who ran the Imperial Army’s ‘Special Kim Division’.

In April 1940 Nozoe’s forces captured Kim Hye-sun, thought to be Kim’s first wife; the Japanese tried in vain to use her to lure Kim out of hiding, and then murdered her.

Maeda Takashi headed another Japanese Special Police unit, with many Koreans in it; in March 1940 his forces came under attack from Kim’s guerrillas, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

Maeda pursued Kim for nearly two weeks, before stumbling into a trap. Kim threw 250 guerrillas at 150 soldiers in Maeda’s unit, killing Maeda, 58 Japanese, 17 others attached to the force, and taking 13 prisoners and large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

In September 1939, when Hitler was invading Poland, the Japanese mobilised what the scholar Dae-Sook Suh has described as a ‘massive punitive expedition’ consisting of six battalions of the Japanese Kwantung Army and twenty thousand men of the Manchurian Army and police force in a six-month suppression campaign against the guerrillas led by Kim and Ch’oe Hyon.

In September 1940, an even larger force embarked on a counterinsurgency campaign against Chinese and Korean guerrillas: ‘The punitive operation was conducted for one year and eight months until the end of March 1941,’ Suh writes, ‘and the bandits, excluding those led by Kim Il-sung, were completely annihilated. The bandit leaders were shot to death or forced to submit.’

A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories.

Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders.

Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher.

Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.

In the West, treatment of North Korea is one-sided and ahistorical. No one even gets the names straight. During Abe’s Florida visit, Trump referred to him as ‘Prime Minister Shinzo’. On 29 April, Ana Navarro, a prominent commentator on CNN, said: ‘Little boy Un is a maniac.’

The demonisation of North Korea transcends party lines, drawing on a host of subliminal racist and Orientalist imagery; no one is willing to accept that North Koreans may have valid reasons for not accepting the American definition of reality.

Their rejection of the American worldview — generally perceived as indifference, even insolence in the face of overwhelming US power — makes North Korea appear irrational, impossible to control, and therefore fundamentally dangerous.

But if American commentators and politicians are ignorant of Korea’s history, they ought at least to be aware of their own. US involvement in Korea began towards the end of the Second World War, when State Department planners feared that Soviet soldiers, who were entering the northern part of the peninsula, would bring with them as many as thirty thousand Korean guerrillas who had been fighting the Japanese in north-east China.

They began to consider a full military occupation that would assure America had the strongest voice in postwar Korean affairs. It might be a short occupation or, as a briefing paper put it, it might be one of ‘considerable duration’; the main point was that no other power should have a role in Korea such that ‘the proportionate strength of the US’ would be reduced to ‘a point where its effectiveness would be weakened’.

Congress and the American people knew nothing about this. Several of the planners were Japanophiles who had never challenged Japan’s colonial claims in Korea and now hoped to reconstruct a peaceable and amenable postwar Japan. They worried that a Soviet occupation of Korea would thwart that goal and harm the postwar security of the Pacific.

Following this logic, on the day after Nagasaki was obliterated, John J. McCloy of the War Department asked Dean Rusk and a colleague to go into a spare office and think about how to divide Korea. They chose the 38th parallel, and three weeks later 25,000 American combat troops entered southern Korea to establish a military government.

It lasted three years. To shore up their occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.)

After the Americans left in 1948, the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950.

Inside the South itself — whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ — there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism.

The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began.

My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces.

In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast.

In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work — and were then put back into power by the Americans.

Americans like to see themselves as mere bystanders in postwar Korean history. It’s always described in the passive voice: ‘Korea was divided in 1945,’ with no mention of the fact that McCloy and Rusk, two of the most influential men in postwar foreign policy, drew their line without consulting anyone.

There were two military coups in the South while the US had operational control of the Korean army, in 1961 and 1980; the Americans stood idly by lest they be accused of interfering in Korean politics. South Korea’s stable democracy and vibrant economy from 1988 onwards seem to have overridden any need to acknowledge the previous forty years of history, during which the North could reasonably claim that its own autocracy was necessary to counter military rule in Seoul.

It’s only in the present context that the North looks at best like a walking anachronism, at worst like a vicious tyranny.

For 25 years now the world has been treated to scaremongering about North Korean nuclear weapons, but hardly anyone points out that it was the US that introduced nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula, in 1958; hundreds were kept there until a worldwide pullback of tactical nukes occurred under George H.W. Bush.

But every US administration since 1991 has challenged North Korea with frequent flights of nuclear-capable bombers in South Korean airspace, and any day of the week an Ohio-class submarine could demolish the North in a few hours. Today there are 28,000 US troops stationed in Korea, perpetuating an unwinnable stand-off with the nuclear-capable North.

The occupation did indeed turn out to be one of ‘considerable duration’, but it’s also the result of a colossal strategic failure, now entering its eighth decade. It’s common for pundits to say that Washington just can’t take North Korea seriously, but North Korea has taken its measure more than once. And it doesn’t know how to respond.

To hear Trump and his national security team tell it, the current crisis has come about because North Korea is on the verge of developing an ICBM that can hit the American heartland.

Most experts think that it will take four or five years to become operational — but really, what difference does it make? North Korea tested its first long-range rocket in 1998, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the DPRK’s founding. The first medium-range missile was tested in 1992: it flew several hundred miles down range and banged the target right on the nose.

North Korea now has more sophisticated mobile medium-range missiles that use solid fuel, making them hard to locate and easy to fire. Some two hundred million people in Korea and Japan are within range of these missiles, not to mention hundreds of millions of Chinese, not to mention the only US Marine division permanently stationed abroad, in Okinawa.

It isn’t clear that North Korea can actually fit a nuclear warhead to any of its missiles — but if it happened, and if it was fired in anger, the country would immediately be turned into what Colin Powell memorably called ‘a charcoal briquette’.

But then, as General Powell well knew, we had already turned North Korea into a charcoal briquette. The filmmaker Chris Marker visited the country in 1957, four years after US carpet-bombing ended, and wrote:
‘Extermination passed over this land. Who could count what burned with the houses?. . . . When a country is split in two by an artificial border and irreconcilable propaganda is exercised on each side, it’s naive to ask where the war comes from: the border is the war.’

Having recognised the primary truth of that war, one still alien to the American telling of it (even though Americans drew the border), he remarked:
‘The idea that North Koreans generally have of Americans may be strange, but I must say, having lived in the USA around the end of the Korean War, that nothing can equal the stupidity and sadism of the combat imagery that went into circulation at the time. “The Reds burn, roast and toast.”‘

Since the very beginning, American policy has cycled through a menu of options to try and control the DPRK: sanctions, in place since 1950, with no evidence of positive results; non-recognition, in place since 1948, again with no positive results; regime change, attempted late in 1950 when US forces invaded the North, only to end up in a war with China; and direct talks, the only method that has ever worked, which produced an eight-year freeze — between 1994 and 2002 — on all the North’s plutonium facilities, and nearly succeeded in retiring their missiles.

On 1 May, Donald Trump told Bloomberg News: ‘If it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim Jong-un], I would absolutely; I would be honoured to do it.’

There’s no telling whether this was serious, or just another Trump attempt to grab headlines. But whatever else he might be, he is unquestionably a maverick, the first president since 1945 not beholden to the Beltway. Maybe he can sit down with Mr Kim and save the planet.

Bruce Cumings teaches at Chicago, and is the author of The Korean War: A History.

Bad History
Leon V. Sigal / 38

(August 22, 2017) — Nuclear diplomacy with North Korea has a bad history by most journalistic accounts. That bad history, however, is mostly just bad journalism. The latest example is Russell Goldman’s erroneous account in the August 18 edition of the New York Times.[1]

The negotiating record is much more successful than he or other journalists acknowledge and far superior to the record of pressure of sanctions and isolation without negotiations. Any achievements have been temporary, however, because neither side kept its commitments or sustained negotiations.

At the root of that bad history is a misreading of Pyongyang’s purpose, which has never been about blackmail or money. During the Cold War, Kim Il Sung played China off against the Soviet Union to maintain his freedom of maneuver.

In 1988, anticipating the collapse of the Soviet Union, he reached out to improve relations with the United States, South Korea and Japan in order to avoid becoming overly dependent on China. That has been the Kims’ main aim ever since.

From Pyongyang’s vantage point, that aim was the basis of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which committed Washington to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” or, in plain English, end enmity.

That was also the essence of the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement in which Washington and Pyongyang pledged to “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies” as well as to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

For Washington, suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs was the point of these agreements, which succeeded for a time in shuttering the North’s production of fissile material and stopping the test-launches of medium and longer-range missiles.

Would North Korea have kept its word? No one will ever know because both agreements collapsed when Washington did little to implement its commitment to improve relations and Pyongyang reneged on denuclearization.

The Agreed Framework and Its Collapse
The 1994 agreement is a case in point. Not only did the North shut down its 5 MWe reactor and reprocessing facility at Yongbyon under inspectors’ watchful eyes, but it also stopped construction of two much larger reactors that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year, by US estimates.

No sooner had the agreement been concluded than Republicans took control of the House and Senate, putting it in jeopardy.

In 1997, after the Clinton administration had taken only minimal steps to end enmity, was slow to get the reactor project off the ground, and seldom delivered promised heavy fuel oil on schedule, Pyongyang began warning that if Washington did not live up to the Agreed Framework, it was not obliged to either.

It then began to acquire the means to enrich uranium from Pakistan and elsewhere. Yet it made no attempt to reprocess the spent fuel stored under inspection at Yongbyon or to restart its reactor. Indeed, it let its other nuclear facilities deteriorate to a point where they could not be salvaged.

Pyongyang Tries Again —
This Time with Missiles

Pyongyang tried again to get Washington to end enmity, this time offering to curtail its missile programs as an inducement. The United States had begun missile negotiations with North Korea in 1996 but had held just two rounds of talks, hardly a sign of seriousness. On June 16, 1998, North Korea made public an offer to negotiate an end not only to its missile exports but also to “development” — its word—of new missiles.

It linked that offer to the conclusion of a “peace agreement.”[2] Along with the offer, it issued a threat to resume missile tests, a threat the North carried out on August 31 when it launched a three-stage rocket, the Taepodong, in a failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry broached the possibility of a missile deal in talks in Pyongyang in May 1999. He also gave the North a draft of a joint communique that would be issued during the visit to Washington of Marshal Jo Myung Rok, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, in October 2000, pledging “steps to fundamentally improve . . . bilateral relations,” including “replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement with permanent peace arrangements.”

It was explicit about an end to enmity: “As a crucial first step,” it noted, “neither government would have hostile intent toward the other.”[3]

That helped pave the way for the first ever North-South summit meeting. It also led to the resumption of missile talks and North Korean acceptance of a test-launch moratorium while the talks proceeded.

Within weeks of Jo’s visit, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Il, who offered to end not only exports of missile technology but also development, production and deployment of all medium and longer-range missiles in return for an end to enmity.[4] In Perry’s recollection:

In October of 2000, we had already come to a full verbal agreement on a detailed agreement on North Korea, by which they would agree to give up their nuclear program, and their long-range missile program. We were, I think, three to six months from having a signed, formal, agreement for doing that.[5]

Persuaded that President-elect Bush would continue the negotiation once in office, Clinton decided to leave the matter to him. Clinton’s assumption proved wrong.

In October 2002, having balked at talks for nearly two years, President Bush sent James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, to Pyongyang—not to negotiate but to confront it over its clandestine uranium enrichment program.

The North Koreans offered to forego uranium enrichment, as well as plutonium production, in return for diplomatic recognition, legal assurances of nonaggression, including nonuse of nuclear weapons, and not impeding its economic development, as Kelly himself acknowledged three weeks later: “They did suggest after this harsh and—personally, to me—surprising admission that there were measures that might be taken that were generally along those lines.”[6]

Under strict instructions, Kelly ignored the offer. In her memoir, Condoleezza Rice is more forthcoming. Kelly, she recalls, was bound in a diplomatic straitjacket:

Usually there is enough trust in an experienced negotiator that the guidance is used more as points of reference than as a script. But in this case, given the fissures, the points were to be read verbatim.

There were literally stage directions for Kelly. He was not to engage the North Koreans in any side conversation in any way. That left him actually moving to the corner of the table to avoid Pyongyang’s representatives.[7]

Rice’s conclusion is worth underscoring: “Because his instructions were so constraining, Jim couldn’t fully explore what might have been an opening to put the program on the table.”[8]

Instead, administration officials claimed that the North Koreans had “admitted” they had an enrichment “program” and said they should be punished. They overcame resistance from South Korea and Japan to suspend shipments of heavy fuel oil, thereby tearing up what little was left of the Agreed Framework.

While US forces were tied down preparing to invade Iraq, North Korea retaliated by reprocessing the five or six bombs’ worth of plutonium, which, when weaponized, would allow it to conduct nuclear tests for the first time.

It also moved to restart its plutonium reactor, ramped up imports of enrichment equipment, and aided Syria in constructing a reactor of its own. The North’s nuclear effort, largely held in check for a decade through negotiations, was now unleashed.

Bush Goes Back to the Negotiating Table

Bush’s initial response was to ignore North Korea’s nuclear actions while hard-liners in his administration began touting regime change. On the very day that Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled from its pedestal in Baghdad, Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton said, “We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.”[9]

Far from making Pyongyang more pliable, however, the war on Iraq strengthened its determination to arm. As a DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman noted on April 6, 2003, “Only military deterrent force, supported by ultra-modern weapons, can avert a war and protect the security of the nation. This is the lesson drawn from the Iraqi war.”[10] Yet Pyongyang was still prepared to suspend arming if Washington moved to end enmity.

Pressed by President Kim Dae Jung in Seoul and Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro in Tokyo, President Bush eventually relented and resumed talks in 2003. It took two years before Washington, again under allied pressure, allowed its negotiators to meet directly with the North Koreans in August and September 2005.

Diplomacy worked. Pyongyang grudgingly accepted a Six Party joint statement, incorporating the main goal Washington was seeking, a pledge to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.”

Yet Pyongyang was not about to settle for fine words any more than Washington was. It insisted on phased reciprocal steps by Washington to reconcile—end enmity—as it eliminated its nuclear programs.

The September 19, 2005, joint statement embodied that point: “The six parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the aforementioned consensus in a phased manner in line with the principle ‘commitment for commitment’ and ‘action for action.'”[11] The accord laid out some of the steps Pyongyang sought.

The United States undertook to “respect [the DPRK’s] sovereignty,” diplomatic code for not attempting to overthrow its government. It stopped short of agreeing to normalize relations, wanting the North to reduce its forces along the DMZ and embrace human rights first.

At the urging of the other parties, Washington committed to “respecting” Pyongyang’s right to nuclear power and “agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactors [LWRs] to the DPRK.” The North would not be entitled to reactors until it eliminated its weapons and weapons programs to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency and rejoined the NPT as a member in good standing.

Yet the ink was hardly dry on the September 19 accord when administration hard-liners struck back, undoing the deal and hamstringing US negotiators.

In a closing plenary statement, US negotiator Christopher Hill announced a decision, dictated by the hard-liners, to “terminate KEDO,” the international consortium set up to provide the reactors.[12] Later that day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice implied that the “appropriate time” for discussion of replacement reactors was when hell froze over: “When the North Koreans have dismantled their nuclear weapons and other nuclear programs verifiably and are indeed nuclear-free . . . . I suppose we can discuss anything.”[13]

Pyongyang reacted sharply. “The basis of finding a solution to the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the US is to wipe out the distrust historically created between the two countries and a physical groundwork for building bilateral confidence is none other than the US provision of LWRs to the DPRK,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. “The US should not even dream of the issue of the DPRK’s dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs, a physical guarantee for confidence-building.”[14]

Even worse, having declared in the September 19 accord that it had “no intention” of attacking the North “with conventional or nuclear weapons” and having pledged to “respect [DPRK] sovereignty,” renounce military attack and regime change, and “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” the Bush administration backed away.

Under pressure from hard-liners, Hill undercut those commitments in prepared testimony to Congress days later by echoing a familiar refrain, “All options remain on the table.”

Worse yet, the administration began taking action under the Illicit Activities Initiative (IAI) to put a roadblock in the way of negotiations. On September 15, the day that the Six Party accord was reached but two days before it was made public, it had capitalized on a Treasury Department investigation of money-laundering at the Banco Delta Asia in Macao to convince banks around the globe to freeze North Korean hard currency accounts—some with ill-gotten gains from illicit activities, but many with proceeds from legitimate foreign trade.

By late summer, a senior official told the New York Times, the administration decided “to move toward more confrontational measures.” He described the strategy: “Squeeze them, but keep the negotiations going.”

In the words of Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, “We believe that they will reinforce the prospect for success of those talks.” What did success mean? Another senior State Department official put it this way: IAI turned Six Party Talks into nothing more than “a surrender mechanism.”[15]

How much the freezing of North Korea’s hard currency accounts curtailed its trade is unclear, but it looked a lot like regime change to Pyongyang, which responded by refusing to return to Six Party Talks until its accounts at the Banco Delta Asia were unblocked. In talks in New York on March 17, 2006, it proposed a bilateral US-DPRK mechanism to resolve the issue.[16] Hill, however, was not allowed to meet with the North Koreans.

Far from giving Washington leverage, the financial sanctions provoked Pyongyang to begin preparations for missile test launches. When a high-level Chinese delegation came to Pyongyang to urge top officials to call them off and warn of UN action, they were kept waiting for three days—and then ignored.

The July 4, 2006, fireworks display, conducting seven test launches including the Taepodong-2, prompted China to vote for a US-backed resolution in the UN Security Council condemning the tests and threatening sanctions. Undaunted, North Korea immediately began preparations for a nuclear test, which it carried out on October 9, 2006. It was demonstrating that it would never bow to pressure—whether from the United States or China or both. Only US moves to end enmity would get it to change course.

In announcing the nuclear test three days before conducting it, the DPRK Foreign Ministry denounced the UN Security Council resolution and warned, “The US extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering [our] nuclear deterrent, as a corresponding measure for defense.”

Nevertheless, the North insisted, its aim of negotiated denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remained unchanged. So did its price—an end to enmity:

The ultimate goal of the DPRK is not “denuclearization” to be followed by its unilateral disarmament but one aimed at settling the hostile relations between the DPRK and the US and removing the very source of all nuclear threats from the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity.[17]

“The North Koreans successfully gamed the United States,” Russell Goldman claims. Far from it: when President Bush took office, thanks to diplomacy, North Korea had stopped testing longer-range missiles. It had less than a bomb’s worth of plutonium and was verifiably not making more.

Six years later, as a result of Washington’s broken promises and financial sanctions, it had seven to nine bombs’ worth, had resumed longer-range test launches, and felt free to test nuclear weapons. The strategy of pressure had failed.

Implementing the September 2005 Joint Statement

On October 31, just three weeks after the nuclear test, President Bush returned to diplomacy, permitting US negotiator Hill to meet bilaterally with his DPRK counterpart. Hill offered a compromise on North Korean accounts frozen in the Banco Delta Asia.

That opened the way to negotiations to implement the September 2005 joint statement, which yielded a first-phase agreement on February 13, 2007, suspending nuclear testing, and shutting down the North’s reactor and reprocessing facility at Yongbyon. [18]

A second-phase agreement on October 3, 2007, committed the North to provide “a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs” and put Pyongyang on a path to disable its plutonium facilities at Yongbyon, making it more time-consuming and costly to restart and thereby whittling away its nuclear leverage.

In return, the other parties pledged to supply the North with energy aid and the United States agreed to ease sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act and delist the DPRK as a “state-sponsor of terrorism.”[19] The second-phase agreement said nothing about verifying the North’s declaration, which was left to a subsequent phase of implementation.

Once again, however, Washington failed to sustain this promising diplomatic course, this time with enthusiastic backing from the incoming president in Seoul, Lee Myung-bak, who was determined to back away from his predecessors’ “sunshine policy” and impede implementation of the Six Party agreements. [20]

On June 26, 2008, the DPRK handed China a written declaration of its plutonium program, as required by the October 2007 accord. North Korea reportedly declared it had separated 38 kilograms of plutonium — within the range of US estimates, albeit at the low end. In a side agreement with Washington, Pyongyang committed to disclose its enrichment and proliferation activities, including its help for Syria’s reactor.

Many in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul questioned whether the declaration was “complete and correct,” as required by the October 2007 agreement. The crux of the dispute was how much plutonium the North had separated before the end of 1991.

Washington decided to demand arrangements to verify the declaration. The trouble was the October 2007 agreement contained no provision for verification in the second phase of denuclearization.

The day that Pyongyang turned in its declaration, the White House announced its intention to relax sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act and to delist the DPRK as a “state-sponsor of terrorism” — but with a caveat.

As Secretary of State Rice told the Heritage Foundation on June 18, “[B]efore those actions go into effect, we would continue to assess the level of North Korean cooperation in helping to verify the accuracy and completeness of its declaration. And if that cooperation is insufficient, we will respond accordingly.”

Rice acknowledged Washington was moving the goalposts: “What we’ve done, in a sense, is move up issues that were to be taken up in phase three, like verification, like access to the reactor, into phase two.”[21]

In bilateral talks with Hill, the DPRK agreed to allow “sampling and other forensic measures” at the three declared sites at Yongbyon — the reactor, reprocessing plant, and fuel fabrication plant — which might suffice to ascertain how much plutonium it had produced. If not, he also accepted “access, based on mutual consent, to undeclared sites,” according to a State Department announcement.[22]

Yet Japan and South Korea insisted the North’s commitment be put in writing and insisted on halting energy aid. Washington went along. The North responded to the suspension of promised energy aid by assembling a rocket at its Musudan-ri launch site starting in late January 2009. It did not launch the rocket until April 5, giving the incoming Obama Administration more than two months to undo North Korea’s walk-back or open talks to resolve the issue. It did neither.

On June 12, the Security Council, with China’s backing, responded to the launch by enacting Resolution 1874, which “sharpened its weapons import-export ban . . . by calling on States to inspect, seize and dispose of the items and by denying fuel or supplies to service the vessels carrying them,” including intercepting vessels at sea.

It also banned “the provision of financial services…that could contribute to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs or activities.”

The DPRK Foreign Ministry responded within hours, saying that “nuclear abandonment has now become absolutely impossible” and warning that all the plutonium it had just removed from its reactor would “be weaponized” and that its uranium-enrichment program would move beyond the test phase to an operational plant.”[23]

As it had in 2006 when Washington and Beijing had agreed on sanctions at the UN Security Council, Pyongyang then conducted a nuclear test to drive them apart. It was demonstrating once again that an end to enmity with Washington, not tougher sanctions by Beijing, was the key to denuclearization.

Once again, the resort to pressure had failed to stop North Korean nuclear and missile advances. Now, Washington is again pressing Pyongyang to accept talks on its terms. If the past is prologue, pressure without negotiations to end enmity is a recipe for

[1] Russell Goldman, “How Trump’s Predecessors Dealt with Korean Threat,” New York Times, August 18, 2017, p. A-10.

[2] “Nobody Can Slander DPRK’s Missile Policy,” Korean Central News Agency, June 16, 1998.

[3] US-DPRK Joint Communique, October 12, 2000.

[4] As President Clinton described the deal this way, “They stop missile development and the sale of missiles. Now, they obviously need to earn some funds from some other places and we think there are ways they can do that.” (White House transcript of Associated Press interview aboard Air Force One, November 4, 2000.) North Korea’s version is in “Conclusion of Non-Aggression Treaty between DPRK and US Called for,” Korean Central News Agency, October 25, 2002.

[5] William J. Perry, Transcript of a 38 North Press Briefing, Washington, January 9, 2017.

[6] Doug Struck, “North Korean Program Not Negotiable, US Told N. Korea,” Washington Post, October 20, 2002, A-18.

[7] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington (New York: Crown, 2011), 161 (emphasis in original).

[8] Ibid., 162 (emphasis added).

[9] Guy Dinmore, “Heed Lesson of Iraq, US Tells Iran, Syria, and North Korea,” Financial Times, April 10, 2003, 4.

[10] “Statement of Foreign Ministry Spokesman Blasts UNSC’s Discussion of Korean Nuclear Issue,” Korean Central News Agency, April 6, 2003.

[11] Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of Six-Party Talks, September 19, 2005.

[12] Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, “Statement at the Closing Plenary,” Six-Party Talks, September 19, 2005.

[13] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Press Availability at UN Headquarters, September 19, 2005.

[14] “Spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry on Six-Party Talks,” Korean Central News Agency, September 20, 2005.

[15] David E. Sanger, “US Widens Campaign on North Korea,” New York Times, October 24, 2005, p. A-7.

[16] Mike Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 269.

[17] “DPRK Foreign Minister Clarifies Stand on New Measures to Bolster War Deterrent,” Korean Central News Agency, October 3, 2006.

[18] Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement, February 13, 2007.

[19] Second Phase Agreement for Implementation of the Joint Statement, October 3, 2007.

[20] Choe Sang-hun, “Lee Plans to Harden Seoul’s Line with North Korea,” International Herald Tribune, December 20, 2007; Jung Sung-ki, “Peace Zone Project Faces Derailment,” Korea Times, December 30, 2007.

[21] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Address at the Heritage Foundation, “US Policy towards Asia,” June 18, 2008.

[22] US Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, “US-North Korea Understandings on Verification,” October 11, 2008.

[23] “DPRK Foreign Ministry Statement,” Korean Central News Agency, June 13, 2009.

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