In 1894, Korea was the subject of a war between Japan and
China, an event of tectonic consequences in international affairs
for the next 100 years.
Korea, called "land of the morning calm" by the Chinese, was
squeezed among three empires - China, in decline; Japan, ascending,
and Russia, seeking to consolidate and extend its reach in Asia.
Korea fell violent victim to imperial competition and passed from
nominal Chinese control to Japan's sphere of influence in 1895.
Korea is also the land bridge between Japan and resource-rich
Manchuria and northeast China. In 1904-05, Japan and Russia waged a
bitter struggle over whose interests would prevail. Though
temporarily exhausted from the costly effort, Japan emerged the
victor. As a result the Japanese tightened their hold over Korea,
formally annexing it in 1910.
One hundred years after the 1894-95 war - there was a second
conflict (1950-53) in between - Korea remains a focus of world
attention. It is no longer under Japanese dominance; that ended in
1945 with Japan's military defeat in World War II. Korea is the
only country to remain geographically divided as the result of the
recently expired Cold War.
Korea's strategic importance has not diminished; nor has its
potential for provoking the concerns of world powers. This is, in
no small part, because of the legacies of the last Korean War, but
it is also because of the enhanced currency of arms, including
nuclear-capable weapons in the markets of the world, especially the
Middle East and Asia.
Its economy severely constrained and its political future in
doubt as the 82-year-old Kim Il Sung approaches the close of his
one-man rule, North Korea has, for some time, been seeking to break
out of its isolation from the world.
What does North Korea, signatory of the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty, intend by its refusal to permit wider
inspection of its nuclear facilities? For nearly a year, North
Korea has sought to negotiate longstanding issues of diplomatic and
economic relations, particularly with the United States, Japan and
South Korea. The absence of such engagement serves to promote North
Korean arms exports, including missiles to the Middle East, in
search of foreign exchange.
The North Koreans have few cards to play. Their nuclear program
and threats to withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty are
their bargaining chips. That the Yongbyon nuclear complex
possesses the potential for manufacturing nuclear bombs is
indisputable. That the North Koreans may already have a bomb is
possible, though not yet demonstrated. …