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  Global Views
Seoul's Warning to the US on Pyongyang
By Todd Crowell
South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun (second from right) shakes hands with Mr. Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for US State Department's East Asia and Pacific Affairs, while US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice looks on at the presidential Blue House or Cheongwadae in Seoul on July 13, 2005. Rice and her entourage paid a courtesy call to Cheongwadae.

The South Korean government has withdrawn its financial support for an influential Washington DC-based policy institute to show its displeasure over a series of articles about the North Korean nuclear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 Enterprise.

"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 war.

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.

Korean 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.

Nicholas Eberstadt, researcher of AEI, has pocketed a total of 375,530 US dollars from the Korea Foundation for his research and publishing activities for the last six years. He authored four books on Korean Peninsula including "The End of North Korea." The Korea Foundation has supplied AEI with 1.4 million US dollars since 1992, according to a local media.

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.

The 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 Cucullu.

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," writes Kennelly.

"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."

US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice (left) and here South Korean counterpart Foreign Minister Ban KI-Moon, answers questions in a press conference held at South Korea's Foreign Ministry building in Seoul July 12, 2005.

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 themselves."

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.

For 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.

The Bush 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 program.

"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.

"The Roh 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."

It 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 way.

Todd Crowell comments on Asian affairs.

The above article is from Asia Times.




 

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