Sunday, May 16, 2010

Logic Is a Necessary Part of Discourse

Broadly speaking, it is better to have various points of view on any one issue in the public domain than not, and this op-ed piece by Selig Harrison in the Hankyoreh does nothing to change that.

Nevertheless, it is an uncomfortable read. Inevitably, the most quoted part will be;

I don't know whether North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Lee Myung Bak has invited retaliation by repudiating the commitment to coexistence and eventual confederation enshrined in the two summit declarations negotiated with Kim Dae Jang and Roh Moo Hyun.

It is extraordinary to me that an expert could appear in a national newspaper and assert that playground logic ("If you don't listen to me, I'll break your toy") could possibly be appropriate in the international arena, but there it is.

However, that is in the introductory paragraph, and while I think readers of One Free Korea are perfectly within their rights to be aghast at it, if it were the end of the piece it would be dismissed out of hand. But it is not.

The lead paragraph is just an attention grabber. Let's go deeper into the piece, because that is where the interesting parts lie. Here are the points Mr. Harrison is really trying to make;

- What is needed is a series of explicit statements accepting the two summit declarations as the point of departure for the resumption of the efforts made by his predecessors to improve North-South relations in parallel with denuclearization negotiations.

- Seoul should push the U.S. to pursue bilateral denuclearization negotiations with Pyongyang, a trilateral peace treaty (North Korea, the United States and South Korea) and renewed six-party talks.

On the first, it is fair to say that Lee Myung Bak has violated some of the tenets of the summit declarations in question, but it is also much more to the point to say that North Korea abrogated them first, and abrogated them better. Every single provocation of the past ten years has been a violation of the summit declarations, which are rooted in non-aggression.

These are declarations which were designed to be adhered to in a state of peaceful coexistance. I could draw attention to a number of parts of the agreements, but I'll just leave it at article 3 of the October, 2007 "Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity";

3. The South and the North have agreed to closely work together to put an end to military hostilities, mitigate tensions and guarantee peace on the Korean Peninsula. The South and the North have agreed not to antagonize each other, reduce military tension, and resolve issues in dispute through dialogue and negotiation. The South and the North have agreed to oppose war on the Korean Peninsula and to adhere strictly to their obligation to nonaggression.

To which I simply say; last November, and the Cheonan. Can we now really use these declarations as "points of departure" for a renewed dialogue? Should we simply ignore all these North Korean violations, the deaths of 46 sailors?

On the second point, the U.S. was not in need of any pushing to revive the Six-Party Talks, at least not until Pyongyang put a torpedo in a passing vessel one Friday evening in March. Yes, the U.S. was and is reluctant to engage in bilateral dialogue with the North, but that was and remains because the North Koreans manufactured a rationale to desert the Six-Party Talks, and talking to them would certainly represent rewarding that bad behavior. To then come out and say that a military vessel was torpedoed in peacetime (yes it is, let's not go down that road) because the U.S. refused to talk to the regime in Pyongyang (which is not true, anyway) so we should talk to them now (reinforcing the apparent belief that bad behavior is destined to be rewarded) is broadly insupportable.

I think the claim that North Korea developed its nuclear weapons out of fear of the U.S. carried weight in the beginning, but the fact is that the Obama administration went out of its way to present an open door to North Korea, which Pyongyang promptly slammed shut.

The reality is that North Korea now is so weak that it is fearful of everyone around it, and no amount of talking will change that. We have reached an impasse, and the only thing that will change it is for North Korea to enter civilized international society.

Which does not necessarily mean reunification. I do not actually believe that "reform and opening," as the Korean press is incapable of not calling it, will necessarily destroy the North Korean regime, although it will put its internal contradictions under improbable strain. All I know is that a measure of economic liberalization is the only path North Korea has left, and if the successor has half the statecraft of his father, he had better put it to good use and make that happen. Because the clock is ticking in a big way.

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