Something is not right with this picture

LOS ANGELES - SOMETHING'S wrong with this picture. You ask the Japanese how to end Korean peninsula tension, and they tell you to do a deal soon with North Korea to freeze the nuclear buildup.

By Tom Plate

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 23 Jun 2004, 10:47 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:58 AM

Now, the Japanese, anything but pushovers in international negotiations, are not usually predisposed to be lovey-dovey with the nasty Stalinists in the north.

But even their prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, from the nationalist wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party - and recently back from his second summit trip to Pyongyang in as many years - says the strapped northerners are ready to do a freeze deal in exchange for aid and normalisation of relations with the United States.

So then you ask the Chinese how to speed up the negotiations, aimed at denuclearising the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while gradually helping to prevent it from economic collapse. And they tell you that the answer is mutual concessions, a dollop of confidence-building measures (more trips, some preliminary aid) and a focused pursuit of the six-party talks set to resume in Beijing soon.

Okay, but those Chinese are Communists (but are they really any more?). So, whom do you trust? Well, try the South Koreans. They have been our allies for a long time, they live right on the border with their crazy northern cousins, and they have no national interest in seeing the north implode (sending waves of refugees south to throw themselves on the mercies of the far-superior economy) or their military explode (sending, among other things, shells and missiles southward to incinerate Seoul and other cities).

The South Koreans - more quietly than the Chinese and even the Japanese but firmly and consistently - have been telling the Americans, Do a deal; it can work. But, says the United States, it didn't work the first time, for the 1994 Agreed Framework deal, right? Well, Seoul replies, but the Chinese weren't so involved in the diplomacy back then; they were hiding in Mao's study hoping the whole mess would go away. But this time the Chinese, who do not like to lose face, have put major diplomatic prestige on the line. So our Korean friends urge us to budge. The hard line, they say, is the wrong line. And now another voice - not Korean or Chinese or Japanese - has entered.

It's a Latino-American voice, from a likable and not petty partisan figure. The Bush administration, in fact, once debriefed him about an unofficial visit to North Korea, which had invited him to drop by. All kinds of people like talking to former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, now governor of New Mexico. At a recent conference in Seoul, he spoke of the need for the Bush administration to kick its North Korean diplomacy out of under-drive and into over-drive. If substantial progress is not made soon, the presidential campaign will be underway, US international focus (except for Iraq and Afghanistan) will be lost, and by the time America has its new president in place, North Korea may be too far down the nuclear road to come back to the disarmament table. And no one wants that.

But the Bush administration is solely convinced that the North has in place a weapons-of-mass-destruction programme called 'highly enriched uranium' (and in addition has committed weapons-selling and terrorist-aiding sins). In fact, Bush officials say, because they are convinced that `Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il has such a frightening WMD programme moving forward, they will not take the US military option off the table.

Have we ever heard of 'reliable intelligence' making claims about WMD that justify military action, only to find after the option has been exercised that the intelligence was wrong?

Right, with Iraq, But not only has little evidence of WMD been found in Iraq, but the 9/11 commission staff report, parts of which have begun dribbling out, says that the charge that Iraq aided Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attack is fantasy.

Now I see what's wrong with the North Korean picture, It's being painted in Washington much in the way of the Iraq picture prior to the US invasion. Which picture turned out to be scarily a delusion. And which similar scary picture is being used by the United States to justify a hard-line policy on North Korea that China, Japan, South Korea and even a growing number of Americans vehemently argue is taking us exactly in the unwanted direction of arms-building in North Korea.

What's wrong with this picture is that the United States keeps insisting that everyone in the world is wrong save the United States. And that's a picture of a unilateralist-minded, bull-headed, our-way-or-the-highway America that has the capacity for getting the world into another messy, unnecessary, costly war. And that's surely the scariest picture of all.

Prof. Tom Plate is founder of the Asia Pacific Media Network.

More news from