With all eyes on North Korea since its third nuclear test, remarkably little has been said about how we arrived at this crisis point. Inadequately contextualized as North Korea’s response to fortified UN sanctions, the latest nuclear test bespeaks the failure of U.S. diplomacy toward its historic enemy. As he enters his second term, Barack Obama must confront the role of strategic patience as a central driver of the simmering crisis in Korea.
It’s time for the Obama administration to start withdrawing the American military from Korean soil. Not only would such a move save billions of dollars annually ($15 billion, according to a 2006 article by the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow) at a time when the cost of maintaining America’s global garrison is coming under increasing scrutiny, but it would shift the impetus for negotiating solutions to the long-running dispute squarely onto the shoulders of the key players in the region.
This year may signal the 59th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement, yet according to South Korean peace activists like Kang, it signals the last year of war on the Korean peninsula. I spoke recently with Kang Jeong-Koo, a longtime activist-scholar and a steadfast champion of peace, at the Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK) headquarters in Seoul.
Actress Sandra Oh has taken on a new starring role: North Korean adoption activist. In a new ad, Oh pulls heartstrings for the rescue of North Korean children who have escaped and who “are living alone and without family in foreign lands” like China. “They need us,” she says against a backdrop of fleeting images of emaciated children. But who are these children?
On September 2, Dr. Imok Cha, a 51-year old San Francisco-based pathologist boarded a plane headed to Jeju Island, South Korea, where she was to present new findings at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest environmental organization. But Dr. Cha’s journey to the IUCN was cut short at Incheon International Airport.
It’s election time in the United States, and once again Washington doesn’t care about Korea. I realize that this is a difficult pill for Koreans to swallow. Koreans naturally believe that, since Korea is at the heart of East Asia and East Asia is at the heart of the global economy, American politicians and voters care deeply about what happens on the peninsula.
On July 5, South Korea’s Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings against the Ministry of National Defense for proceeding with construction of a naval base on Jeju Island without an environmental impact assessment (EIA). It also ruled that the governor of Jeju had the authority to change the designation of absolute preservation areas. This ruling wasn’t just a major blow to residents of Gangjeong village where the navy base is being built but also to the many voiceless marine organisms. As you read this, massive caissons the size of four-story buildings are about to drop on soft coral reefs, forever destroying local marine ecosystems home to several endangered species.
South Korea is at the cutting edge of global technology. It is one of the most wired countries, and its biggest cities have the fastest Internet connections in the world. Whether it’s cell phones or genetic engineering, Korean scientists and companies set the pace. Korean culture, too, is thoroughly up to date, from K-pop sensations like Rain to blockbuster movies like “Old Boy.” In many ways, South Korea has replaced Japan as the face of the future: wired, fast-paced, dynamic. If Hollywood remakes “Blade Runner”, the characters will navigate an urban landscape that looks more like Seoul than Tokyo.
A classified Pentagon document leaked to me in 1984 may shed some light on a U.S. general’s outlandish claim last week that U.S. Special Forces, along with their South Korean counterparts, have parachuted into North Korea in search of human intelligence on the country’s nuclear weapons programs. The revelation was made by Brigadier General Neil Tolley, the commander of U.S. Special Forces in Korea, at a “Special Operations Force Industry Conference” in Florida organized by defense contractors. His remarks were relayed by David Axe, a prominent military writer who has reported on Africa and the Middle East but has little experience in Korea.
Scattered across the globe, far from the staid conference rooms and policy salons of Washington, are some of the world’s premier experts on U.S. militarism. But they are neither the warzone refugees who have most borne its brunt nor the polished think tank professionals who increasingly populate the developing world’s capitals.
Rather, they are the people who dwell in the shadows of the estimated 1,000 U.S. military bases speckling the planet.