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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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Foreword (Bill Richardson)


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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...

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