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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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Part 2. Intensive Case Studies


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Much has been written about normalization of diplomatic relations by the United States toward China (Kirby, Ross, Li 2006; cf. Fehrs 2016) and the Soviet Union (Richman 1980). The recent recognition of Cuba is a story of back-channel efforts that remains to be told (Zawatsky and Gemma 2015). The actual negotiation process in all three cases was much shorter than for North Korea and Vietnam, which spanned several presidential administrations and will be recounted in detail in the following two chapters.

Evidence herein is based in part on extensive interviews, as previously reported (Haas 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 2014). In addition, the diplomatic process can be pieced together from multiple sources, which are cited in the text.

Several themes will emerge in the narrative to follow. One is the puzzle of how negotiations began. In the case of China, the decision to allow “ping-pong diplomacy” opened the door. For North Korea and Vietnam, where American troops fought and died, the residue of the war had to be cleared up—for example, by locating and expatriating the dead bodies of soldiers left on battlefields.

The second puzzle is why negotiations break down from time to time. The fact is that the United States hindered progress because new presidents came to power, attached new conditions, and therefore were viewed as having ← 19 | 20 → double-crossed previous assurances. In the case of Vietnam, such setbacks were overcome....

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