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United States Diplomacy with North Korea and Vietnam

Explaining Failure and Success

Michael Haas

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.

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North Korea and World War III

History often repeats itself. Based on the experience of World Wars I and II, the world was once close to World War III.

The person most responsible for World War I was Kaiser Wilhelm. He not only gave a “blank check” to Austria for reprisals against Serbia but also was the first to send troops into a major battle.

Communiqués sent between leaders in mid-1914 reveal that the Kaiser’s motivation was revenge against disrespect. Messages became increasingly hostile to the point that the Kaiser felt compelled to protect his honor by attacking and defeating France before Russian troops were on his doorstep, even though he knew that the prospect for German aggression was bleak (Zinnes, North, Koch 1961).

At one point, Kaiser said, “If we are to be bled to death, at least England shall lose India” (quoted in Fischer 1967:121). In other words, he did not care whether Germany would suffer a catastrophic loss. What mattered was that his enemy would suffer, too.

Similarly, Kim Jong Un’s father was once asked how North Korea would respond if the United States launched an attack. He answered, “If we lose, I will be sure to destroy the Earth. What good is the Earth without North ← 133 | 134 → Korea?” (quoted in Ignatius 2017). Today, Pyongyang has an underground city just in case (Robinson 2017), while most of the rest of the world...

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