Sunday, June 12, 2005

Congressional Resolution on North Korean Abductees

There's a post on North Korea Zone about this. As usual, their stance seems very gung-ho to me. The North Korean regime is an abomination, but so is US foreign policy, and a new Korean war would be still worse. So I posted a comment. The original post, by OneFreeKorea:

The full text is here. Several observations:

1. It's hard to argue that abducting citizens of a nation with which you're at peace for political reasons isn't terrorism. Congress is clearly sending a signal that North Korea doesn't come off the terrorism list until it releases these abductees.

2. The United States is talking about South Korean abductees and Japanese abductees. Japan is talking about Japanese abductees. South Korea is not talking about South Korean abductees.

3. It is not a coincidence that this is introduced the same week that Roh Moo-Hyun is in town. Although it isn't binding, it's still an extraordinary statement of congressional displeasure with South Korea's policies toward the North.

Thanks to the North Korea Freedom Coalition for Forwarding.

I replied:

On the points made in the original post:

1) Terrorism is "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear" (from a US army manual), so while it is evil and illegal, North Korea's kidnapping is probably not terrorism, since it was not done to achieve goals through fear or intimidation of the rest of the populace. North Korea employs massive state terror against its own citizens, but doesn't usually terrorize inhabitants of other countries. (At least, no worse than most other nations, and considerably less than the really heavily armed ones.)

The list of terrorist states maintained by the US Congress is notoriously politically biased: most of those on it deserve to be, but lots of US clients and allies are left off, unjustifiably.

2) The South Korean administration is -- rightly -- afraid of US violence or diplomatic heavy-handedness on the Korean peninsula causing massive destruction with casualties in the hundreds of thousands or millions. It also fears a sudden collapse of the Northern regime, again, with good reason. This explains, although it may not justify, the Southern government's reluctance to upset the Northern government.

It's a bit like being a bystander to a drunken argument: if you care about the parties involved and the neighbourhood, you don't do anything to make either side mad enough to start throwing punches. I'm sure the South Korean government is as appalled by the horrors of the North as anyone else, but they are in the unenviable position of having to calm the Northern regime down every time the US threatens something stupid. If the US administration would back off a bit, the Southern government would have some space to criticise the North. As things are, they must perceive doing that as too big a risk.

3. Here I agree. Congress has certain elements who want to be gung-ho about North Korea, don't care about Koreans and see the South Koreans as disobedient pip-squeaks who must be put in their place. It shows the usual contempt for democracy from US elite figures. (Compare it with Donald Rumsfeld's remarks on Turkey's parliament's decision to respect 90% of Turkish people's views and not to join in the assault on Iraq, for example.)

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