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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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Careful American diplomacy by career officials is often sabotaged by political leaders, who have little previous experience as diplomats. One result today is a nuclear power, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as will be explained in the pages to follow. Yet another oddity was the decision immediately after World War II to refuse to normalize relations with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which had been on the same side as Washington during the war. Even more extraordinary was the American acceptance of the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia during the 1980s.

During my scholarly career I was involved in interviewing, lecturing, and even lobbying regarding all three countries. The list of citations herein, which spans decades, reveals the depth of my interest in the subject. Those who wonder why I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize will learn some of the reasons herein.

In the case of Korea, I was first flown to Seoul in 1977 to express my view that social interaction between North and South might bring benefits to both countries, a policy that was initially regarded with skepticism and was incorporated as a chapter in my edited book Korean Reunification: Alternative Pathways (1989). Regarding Cambodia and Vietnam, my field research from 1988 to 1990, partly sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, revealed a situation ← xxi | xxii → so absurd that I confronted an official appointed by President George H.W. Bush in front of several journalists to...

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