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by Sol Schindler

Albert Einstein once remarked that a sign of insanity is repeating continually a failed process and expecting the next procedure to be successful. He was not thinking of the past thirty years of negotiations between the United States and North Korea but his remarks are nevertheless pertinent. North Korea has violated every agreement it has made with the United States consistently and with clear intent and it has now reached a point where it no longer wishes to negotiate about virtually anything. As Kim Jung Un has stated they will not give up their nuclear weapons even if we offered them billions of dollars. Those who used to intone negotiate with complete devotion now do so with little conviction. We have reached an impasse and no one seems to know quite what to do. True, we have sent two (not one but two) stealth bombers to South Korea and have inched some naval defense facilities closer to the South Korean shore but our administration has made no pronouncements on the situation. We have, as everyone knows, an infantry division with supporting elements, and air force and naval elements posted there, and they are on their usual alert.

There are within our society those who because they find it difficult to see evil in anyone consider China our friend. After all we owe them a great deal of money, they have bought hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of bonds from us, and we buy a great deal of junk from them, and they are paying hard cash for an increasing number of American and Canadian firms. They would suffer financially if the American economy were to collapse; therefore, they have to be on our side, so to speak.  Equally embarrassing to the Chinese, they feel, would be the collapse of North Korea. Refugees would come flooding over their border with consequent unrest and disorder in the neighboring provinces. This last argument is not that convincing. Because of the Chinese restrictive birth policies young Chinese bachelors have difficulty in finding young women to marry — there are very few of them.  Consequently any marriageable Korean woman who sneaks across the border is welcome with open arms. In general terms the Chinese can seal the border if they follow their usual procedures:  announce publically and widely that the border is sealed, and then publically shoot or imprison those guards known to have accepted the most bribes to allow people in. This has been past practice and can be resumed easily, and the border will then remain fairly well closed.

On the broader and more complex question of American Chinese relations, clearly there is some economic interdependence.  The Chinese, however, have already taken some steps to distance themselves from the dollar and we have begun at least to talk about a balanced budget which in time will free us from financial constraints. When there are two large trading partners such as ourselves, however, there are bound to be financial ties. The question still arises, however, as to who will be the hegemon in the East Pacific. It is no secret that the Chinese military see us as the enemy of the future. It is only natural for them to take pleasure in seeing the North Koreans make us look foolish and inept. Our allies do not want to rely on a foolish and inept behemoth and the more that image is propagated the more comfortable the Chinese become. It would be naive to expect meaningful help from them at this time.  What then can we do?

First, we should rationally determine why the North Koreans are behaving the way they do.  To this writer, the only answer is ego gratification. They want to see us grovel. Why? Because in 1950 they took a terrible beating after they thought they had won the war they had started and the peace treaty that ended that war was basically between the United States and China as were ensuing discussions. They are willing to acknowledge, if reluctantly, that China and the United States are the big boys on the block but they want the world to know that they own a piece of it also, and are, therefore, a major player. To counter this lunatic though dangerous policy our armed forces, both American and South Korean, should be on diligent alert, to ensure that no element becomes vulnerable to ambush or is otherwise taken advantage of. Our administration should begin talking like a mature and seasoned world power. When Kim Jung Un says he will not take billions for his nuclear arms we should calmly assure him he has nothing to worry about; that we have no intention of offering him billions. We should, calmly as always, announce that we will not be intimated and that our alliance with South Korea will continue as before.

When all this has blown over, as we hope it will, we might take another look at our military position in South Korea. After the ‘50s war ended we kept two full army divisions in the country. We were so afraid of the Syngman Rhee government’s urge for unification which could result in another war that we kept the South Koreans from even building a simple ammunition plant. By the time Richard Nixon became president that danger had long vanished and he removed one of the two army divisions with consequent relief to our army’s budget. Jimmy Carter thought it was a great idea and talked of removing the other one but that action did not materialize. When and if the situation returns to a non-violent prospectus, we should reconsider.

The removal from Korea of an army division would give our defense budget some much needed financial relief.  More importantly it would tell the South Koreans that we rely on their ability to defend themselves.  They have a much larger population, a higher education base, and a far greater industrial capacity than their northern neighbor. They have all the resources needed for a successful defense and we should tell them to make use of their wealth to do so. We should keep our alliance, but tell them we are their ally, not their nanny. This new relationship could bring on a healthier atmosphere in the entire region and in this time of cut-backs aid our over-all defense effort.bluestar

The views expressed by the author are his own.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer  who has spent three years in Korea. Schindler was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1924, served in the army (ETO) 1943-46, MA Univ. of Iowa 1951, majored in English, minored in philosophy. USIA 1952-1980 served mostly in Asia, Indonesia, Burma, India, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Korea, with the exception of 3½ years in Yugoslavia. Final assignment, Deputy Chief of Programs, ICS, USIA. Upon retirement worked part time for the State Department, Freedom of Information, 1980-2003. After retirement published more than 100 op eds and book reviews in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Mediterranean Quarterly, the Middle East Quarterly, and a number of smaller publications. This is his second appearance in American Diplomacy.


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