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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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Chapter 4. North Korea


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Similar to Vietnam, the Korean peninsula began World War II as a colony of a major power. Japan had ruled Korea since 1910, so the United States was a de facto ally of Kim Il Sung, who later was the leader of North Korea. At the very end of the war, American and Soviet troops entered the country. At the Moscow Conference in December 27, 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to divide the peninsula into north and south zones, with a temporary division at the 38th parallel. Delegates of the two countries met at Seoul in early 1946 to set up the USA–USSR Joint Commission. But the two countries disagreed on how to proceed.

In 1947, the UN General Assembly called for elections throughout the country to establish a provisional government that would draw up a constitution. The following year, the United Nations established the UN Commission for Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea, whereupon Soviet troops withdrew from the North, though American forces remained in the South, where a Republic of Korea (ROK) was formed. Kim Il Sung formed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North, applied for admission to the UN, and organized the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, consisting of political parties and social organizations on both sides of the 38th parallel to call for unification of the peninsula. ← 59 | 60 →

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