Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Paralysis of American Policy

The question is not will this country disintegrate, but rather how it will disintegrate, by implosion or explosion, and when.

—Gen. Gary Luck, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 16, 1996

When you hear about starvation in North Korea, a lot of very level-headed people think, “There is no way a country like that can survive.” Well, I can guarantee you this: I'm here to tell you with absolute certainty those guys will tough it out for centuries just the way they are. Neither the United States nor any other country is going to be able to force a collapse of that government in North Korea.

—Eason Jordan, president, CNN International Networks, in a lecture at Harvard University, March 10, 1999, reporting on nine visits to North Korea

THE DEBATE over whether North Korea will collapse—and whether the United States should promote its collapse—has paralyzed American policymaking relating to Korea. Unable to resolve this debate, the United States has been marking time, watching to see what develops in Pyongyang and keeping its options open with a policy of “limited engagement.” In the absence of coherent, long-term goals, successive administrations have improvised ad hoc responses to a series of crises precipitated by Pyongyang in pursuit of its own objectives.

The debate has been framed simplistically in terms of a stark choice: on the one hand, implosion or explosion, leading to the collapse of the North Korean state; on the other, the survival of the Kim Jong Il regime unaltered. Yet a realistic assessment conducted without ideological blinders suggests that the most likely outcome is an intermediate one in which the North Korean state survives, but only after major changes in the character of the Workers Party regime and its leadership. In the chapters that follow I explain the four key factors underlying this assessment.

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