United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam

Explaining Failure and Success

by Michael Haas (Author) Bill Richardson (Foreword) Johan Galtung (Afterword)
©2018 Monographs XXVIII, 162 Pages


Dr. Michael Haas’ book, United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam: Explaining Failure and Success, aims to explain a significant, beguiling discrepancy in U.S. foreign relations: How has American diplomacy with Vietnam proved so successful when compared with its efforts to negotiate with North Korea? Haas undertakes a comparative analysis of foreign policy decisions to determine how relationships between the U.S. and each country have diverged drastically, in spite of a legacy of U.S. occupation in both regions. By tracing diplomatic interactions historically, comparatively quantifying diplomatic missteps on the part of the U.S., and cross-testing four paradigms of international relations, Haas presents a case for why the U.S. has succeeded in developing good relations with Vietnam while failing to achieve them with North Korea.
Nuclear war haunts the world today because the U.S. has refused to negotiate a peace agreement with North Korea for more than six decades, yet the U.S. is on friendly terms today with Vietnam, a former enemy. This book answers why, finding that Washington’s diplomacy with both countries explains the dramatic difference. Among four theories posed, power politics and presidential politics are refuted as explanations. Mass society theory, which focuses on civil society, finds that negotiations regarding American soldiers missing in action paved the way for success with Vietnam but not with North Korea. But diplomacy theory—tracing moves and countermoves during diplomatic interactions—reveals the real source of the problem: The United States provided reciprocated unilateral positive gestures to Vietnam while repeatedly double crossing North Korea. Although Pyongyang repeatedly offered to give up nuclear developments, Washington offered no alternative to Pyongyang but to develop a nuclear deterrent to safeguard the country against a devious and hostile U.S.
The book, in short, serves as a serious corrective to false narratives and options being disseminated about the situation that fail to appreciate North Korea perspectives. Now that North Korea has a nuclear deterrent, diplomacy is the only route toward a de-escalation of tensions so that the United States can live peacefully with North Korea in a manner similar to its relations with nuclear China and nuclear Russia. More broadly, United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam demonstrates what happens when Washington plays the role of global bully, whereas more resources are needed for developing diplomatic talent in a world that will otherwise become more dangerous.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Foreword (Bill Richardson)
  • Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • Part 1. The Need to Normalize Relations Between Countries
  • References
  • Chapter 1. Abnormal Relations Between Countries
  • Diplomatic Recognition and Nonrecognition
  • Cases of Nonrecognition
  • Consequences of Nonrecognition
  • Implications
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Theories of Normalization
  • Deterrence Paradigm
  • Selectorate Paradigm
  • Mass Society Paradigm
  • Community Building Paradigm
  • Other Factors in Diplomatic Negotiations
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Part 2. Intensive Case Studies
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Vietnam
  • Agreement Violations
  • “Healing the Wounds of War”
  • The Cambodian Tangle
  • Humanitarian Issues
  • Refugees
  • Economic Migrants
  • Amerasians
  • Political Prisoners
  • Economic Issues
  • Travel
  • Humanitarian Aid
  • Trade and Investment
  • The “Road Map”
  • Phase I
  • Phase II
  • Phase III
  • Phase IV
  • Beyond the “Road Map”
  • End of the Road
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Chapter 4. North Korea
  • “Healing the Wounds of War”
  • Signs of the Continuation of the War
  • The South Korea Tango
  • Route to a “Road Map”
  • Agreed Framework
  • Section 1
  • Section 2
  • Section 3
  • Section 4
  • Talks on Missile Proliferation and Sales
  • Round 1 (April 21–22, 1996)
  • Round 2 (June 11–12, 1997)
  • Round 3 (October 1–2, 1998)
  • Round 4 (March 29–31, 1999)
  • Round 5 (September 7–12, 1999)
  • Round 6 (July 12, 2000)
  • Round 7 (September 27, 2000)
  • Round 8 (November 1–3, 2000)
  • Bush Reverses Progress and North Korea Responds
  • Six-Party Talks
  • First Round (August 27–29, 2003)
  • Second Round (February 25–28, 2004)
  • Third Round (June 23–26, 2004)
  • Fourth Round, Phase 1 (July 26–August 7, 2005)
  • Fourth Round, Phase 2 (September 13–19, 2005)
  • Fifth Round, Phase 1 (November 9–11, 2005)
  • Fifth Round, Phase 2 (December 18–22, 2006)
  • Fifth Round, Phase 3 (February 8–13, 2007)
  • Sixth Round, Phase 1 (May 19–22 and July 18–20, 2007)
  • Sixth Round, Phase 2 (September 27–30, 2007)
  • Seventh Round (December 8–11, 2008)
  • Obama Years: Cooperation Fizzles
  • Escalation and De-Escalation under Trump
  • Singapore Declaration
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Part 3. Implications
  • Chapter 5. Conclusions Based on Alternative Paradigms
  • Deterrence Paradigm
  • Selectorate Paradigm
  • Leadership Changes
  • Economic Change
  • Democratization
  • Implications
  • Mass Society Paradigm
  • Community Building Paradigm
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Epilogue
  • North Korea and World War III
  • References
  • Afterword (Johan Galtung)
  • Index

| ix →


Figure 2.1. Deterrence Paradigm of Normalization

Figure 2.2. Selectorate Paradigm of Normalization

Figure 2.3. Mass Society Paradigm of Normalization

Figure 2.4. Community Building Paradigm of Normalization

Figure 3.1. Map of Vietnam within Southeast Asia

Figure 3.2. Skyline of Hanoi, Vietnam

Figure 3.3. Map of Korea within Northeast Asia

Figure 3.4. Skyline of Seoul, South Korea

Figure 3.5. Skyline of Pyongyang, North Korea

| xi →


Table 3.1. American Negotiations with Vietnam

Table 3.2. Vietnamese Negotiations with the United States

Table 4.1. American Negotiations with North Korea

Table 4.2. North Korean Negotiations with the United States

Table 5.1. Positive and Negative Moves During Negotiations

Table 5.2. Fulfillment of Basic Values Before and During Negotiations

| xiii →


Bill Richardson

The present book is a careful historical account of diplomatic interactions between the United States and two countries—North Korea and Vietnam. In the case of Vietnam, diplomacy eventually brought about a complete normalization of relations. North Korea has posed a more significant challenge, however, and has never reached a point where talks have served to normalize relations and bring about a lasting peace between the two countries.

Ordinarily decision-makers and the media focus on responses to immediate “breaking events” with a selective memory of past events. What the present analysis provides is a detailed chronology of the back-and-forth over decades. As a result, patterns are identified that are crucial to understanding why diplomacy sometimes fails and often succeeds.

Observers often visualize different patterns based on their policy orientations. The author, Michael Haas, identifies four theories that are most commonly applied. He finds herein that success in diplomacy is most likely when negotiators engage in unilateral reciprocated confidence-building measures. Diplomatic failure, he reports, occurs when a situation is conceived entirely in terms of power politics.

As a UN ambassador toward the end of the administration of President Bill Clinton, I experienced a variety of situations where diplomacy has been ← xiii | xiv → needed to mitigate conflict between adversaries. Sometimes opposing parties can conclude agreements, but the process of negotiations can be very delicate, something recounted in How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator (2013). Over the years I negotiated with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein, and two generations of North Korean Kims, gaining experience in securing the release of persons held in detention abroad.

Although negotiations with Vietnam provided a model for diplomatic normalization by the United States with a former enemy, as explained in the present book, the history of American diplomacy with North Korea after the armistice of 1953 follows a different path.

From the early 1990s, I have had a special interest in North Korea, which I have visited eight times. In 1994, the situation was very bad. Although earlier in the year, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearize under the Agreed Framework, in December North Korea shot down an American helicopter, jeopardizing the deal and placing the United States on the path toward possible war. The administration of President Bill Clinton then sent me to Pyongyang to negotiate. After I learned that the aircraft had strayed far inside North Korean territory on a training mission, I was able to ease the situation. I even returned with the surviving pilot and the dead pilot on the outbound plane. The Agreed Framework then continued, and for nine years North Korea stopped developing its nuclear capability.

In 1996, I accompanied officials from the U.S. State Department on a mission to secure the release of Evan Hunziker, the first American citizen ever arrested by North Korea on espionage charges. During negotiations for his successful release, which took three days, I discovered that North Korea hoped to reduce tensions thereby.

During summer 2003, a North Korean delegation asked me to meet with them to discuss concerns over hostile moves by the administration of President George W. Bush. In 2005, at the request of the Bush administration, I flew to Pyongyang to assist in the ongoing Six-Party Talks. I met another North Korean delegation in 2006, when the Six-Party Talks seemed in jeopardy. North Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, invited me to Pyongyang in an official capacity to provide assistance regarding negotiations with the United States.

In January 2013, shortly after the administration of President Barack Obama expressed concern over North Korea’s launch of an orbital rocket, I led a delegation of business leaders to Pyongyang with two aims. One was to encourage North Korea to pay more attention to commercial possibilities than to increasing military capabilities. The other was to visit Kenneth Bae, ← xiv | xv → an American citizen who was imprisoned for “hostile” actions (leaving a bible in a public place), and to urge the government to release him, which occurred the following year.

At the request of Ohio Governor John Kasich, I tried to negotiate the release of Otto Warmbier, a Cincinnati valedictorian college graduate who arrived as a tourist but was detained in January 2016 for bringing a propaganda poster from a forbidden part of the hotel back to his room. He was arrested four days before a nuclear test, so the possibility was that he was a hostage in case new sanctions were imposed. I first went to the UN to talk to the North Korean delegates, and in September a delegation from the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, including Michael Bergman, the Center vice president, went to Pyongyang. In exchange for Otto, we offered humanitarian aid and to pay for the remains for the release of American soldiers missing in action since the Korean War, but they were silent and did not disclose his condition. Not willing to negotiate with the Obama administration, they evidently were waiting for the outcome of the 2016 election. Due to the lack of American diplomatic representation in Pyongyang, the United States could not attend to his situation on a timely basis, such as by visiting him in prison. Three Americans and one Canadian were held as “prisoners of war.” We visited them when we were in North Korea, but they were held as bargaining chips.

Upon receiving intelligence about Otto Warmbier, who had been in a coma for at least a year with an unexplained brain injury, the Trump administration took advantage of the opportunity to coerce his release from North Korea. Wambier and his belongings were finally freed in June 2017, but he died nine days after reaching home in Ohio after seventeen months of imprisonment. According to the Geneva Conventions, North Korea is responsible for his mistreatment as a prisoner of war. Pyongyang allowed him to remain without medical attention in an unresponsive state—a violation of international law as well as common decency.

For fifteen months, we sought the release of Otto Warmbier, employing three simultaneous pathways, as in the past: (1) We tried to find ways to apply pressure on Pyongyang. (2) While we discussed the case with the captors, we looked for what they might be willing to exchange for the release of the hostage. (3) We also counseled families of the hostages. The threefold strategy was usually successful before, but not for Otto, so we must craft a new strategy.

In the past, you could get prisoners out in exchange for high-level visits, offering humanitarian assistance. With Kim Jong Un’s father, we could make ← xv | xvi → a deal on prisoners, but I was then unable to deal with this man. The United States should impose some kind of punishment on North Korea specifically for Wambier’s crime of humanity.

President Barack Obama tried to reformulate a new hostage policy for the age of terrorism. The formation of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell (HRFC) in 2015 was a step forward because agencies and departments now share relevant information to gain the release of prisoners held by terrorists, while also notifying families informed on ongoing steps to free their relatives. However, thus far families have been frustrated in gaining information from the HRFC. Some families have hired private external negotiators, but HRFC strict rules regarding the information have not helped outside parties to make a deal for their release.

Private and public diplomacy should be employed in tandem; they will be more successful together than when they operate separately. The advantage of private diplomacy is that negotiators can be chosen who have previously cultivated personal cordiality and mutual trust with their opposite numbers. For example, representatives from my Richardson Center met with North Korean officials on more than twenty occasions to obtain Otto Wambier’s release, securing vital information. I believe that a private note, asking Pyongyang to allow him to depart on humanitarian grounds, would have worked before his condition deteriorated.

Since Otto was detained, Kim Jong Un violated many humanitarian principles regarding treatment of hostages. Even today, the government has not satisfactorily explained why Otto fell into a coma. They failed to inform not only his family but also the Swedish embassy, which is a conduit for American diplomacy in Pyongyang. North Korea should reveal what happened.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXVIII, 162 pp. 9 b/w ills. 6 tables

Biographical notes

Michael Haas (Author) Bill Richardson (Foreword) Johan Galtung (Afterword)

Michael Haas was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for advancing diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam. After earning his doctorate in political science from Stanford University, he taught at Northwestern, Purdue, the University of California (Riverside), the University of London, the University of Hawai’i, and five campuses of California State University. This is his 56th book.


Title: United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam
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192 pages