Magazine

Korean Road Map?


CRISIS ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA

How to Deal with a Nuclear North Korea

By Michael O'Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki

McGraw-Hill -- 230 pp -- $19.95

NORTH KOREA

Another Country

By Bruce Cumings

New Press -- 241 pp -- $24.95

North Korea is a charter member of George W. Bush's "evil empire," and it's easy to share the President's sentiments when he says: "I loathe Kim Jong Il." After all, Kim has presided over the starvation of perhaps 2 million of his own people, or about 10% of the population. He runs one of the most perverse states the world has ever seen, a place where tens of thousands of acrobats wow visitors with performances that would put the displays of the Third Reich to shame -- and then must walk home through a darkened city because there is no money for mass transit or electricity generation. Kim's nuclear program is a menace to the region and the world. Meanwhile, he has spurned China's offers of help with economic reform and remained cool toward diplomatic overtures from a series of increasingly friendly South Korean administrations.

As the U.S. is discovering in Iraq, however, it's not so easy to translate loathing into effective policy that enhances global security. Two new books help untangle the complexities of Korea. Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: How to Deal with a Nuclear North Korea, by Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon and George Washington University foreign relations professor Mike Mochizuki, is an incisive and detailed consideration of what it will take to bring calm to the region. North Korea: Another Country, by University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings, offers broader cultural insight into how the North Korean people and regime have survived in the face of unimaginable adversity. Both volumes convey a message that may displease some armchair warriors in Washington: We need to find a way to live with North Korea rather than make war on it.

Crisis on the Korean Peninsula provides a tough-minded, nuts-and-bolts plan for transforming the U.S.-North Korean relationship through a comprehensive set of negotiations. Under the authors' blueprint, North Korea would get the nonaggression pact with the U.S. it so badly wants. The U.S. (and the world) would get thorough inspections to ensure that North Korea is free of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang would stop exporting missiles. Finally, a pact would provide development aid, but only over time and as part of sweeping arms cuts in both parts of the peninsula.

The authors are looking at a much more ambitious deal than the narrow 1994 agreement that the Clinton Administration hoped would cap North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for aid. The book is indispensable reading, especially for North Korea hawks: Only by following its advice will the U.S. persuade China, Japan, and South Korea that it has gone the last mile in seeking peace -- and thus win regional support if a tougher stance should prove necessary.

Many observers expected that North Korea would have collapsed by now. Bruce Cumings shows how it has endured. The author of Korea's Place in the Sun first traveled to South Korea in the 1960s, as a Peace Corps volunteer, and subsequently produced a series of books that empathize with the North. In this volume, he says that the Hermit Kingdom can be understood only in the context of a civil war that has never ended, an earlier guerrilla struggle against Japan, the collapse of its Soviet ally, and the half-century clash with the U.S. In what will be a revelation to many, he details the savagery of the 1950s U.S. war against North Korea, especially the air campaign. Napalm was used widely against civilians, and most major cities were obliterated. The U.S. repeatedly considered nuclear strikes. Huge dams were destroyed by U.S. bombers, killing masses of people and devastating agriculture. Cumings says 3 million North Koreans died. The experience is etched into the country's psyche.

Today, Cumings shows, the country is playing a weak hand with skill. Unfortunately, the author's polemical asides undermine an effort that deserves serious consideration. Moreover, as he strains to offer glowing descriptions of Pyongyang and to justify North Korea's actions, Cumings' analytical skills sometimes slip. But these failings shouldn't obscure the larger message: War isn't just a bad alternative to the current situation -- it is unnecessary.

Read Cumings for his understanding of the Korean mentality. Read O'Hanlon and Mochizuki for clues about how to structure an agreement. But examine at least one of these books for fresh insights into a troubled peninsula. By Mark L. Clifford


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