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AMBASSADOR LEE HONG-KOO: Everywhere else the Cold War is over. Not in Korea. We still have a very severe confrontation between North and South Korea. So in a way we have to write the last chapter in the history of Cold War.
KRISTIN MC HUGH: This week on Common Ground, hope for South Korea. And later, the strained relationship between the US and the United Nations.
E. MICHAEL SOUTHWICK: The United States was a founding member of the United Nations. The United Nations itself is one of the major legacies of World War II. It’s part of what the greatest generation of Americans did.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MC HUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. North and South Korea are still technically at war, since the conflict between the two countries ended in an armed truce 46 years ago. But the prospects for a lasting peace are promising. Lee Hong-koo is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the United States. He says South Korea is a country in transition, a transition that will hopefully lead to peace and prosperity.
AMBASSADOR LEE: We are in transition. That is, not only Korea, but everywhere else you will find the transition as we go into the next century. But in our case it is a really, purely a transition because for one, everywhere else the Cold War is over. Not in Korea. We still have a very severe confrontation between North and South Korea. So in a way we have to write the last chapter in the history of Cold War. So that’s a big transition. Secondly, we have experienced a very serious financial crisis last year-and-a-half. And we are in the process of really trying to restructure our financial, our corporate, even our governmental structures, to meet the requirements of the global market. Market suddenly has become global and the capitals are moving around going over the national boundaries. So this again constitutes a very severe crisis. Finally, Korea used to be a somewhat isolated nation. Historically Korea is known as a, as the “Hermit Kingdom.” But now we decided that the only way we will be secure and prosperous in the next century is by becoming a truly active member of global community. So this is a big cultural change. So again, I call it a very difficult transition. So all in all, we consider this a period of transition.
MC HUGH: Are there specific steps the government is taking to increase the knowledge of globalization within South Korea?
AMBASSADOR LEE: Oh, very much so. The, of course in the last year-and-a-half, because of the current economic crisis, the measures we have taken are more directly related to the economic field. For example, entire banking structure has been changed to meet the international standard. The laws and regulations have changed to welcome, not to shut out, the foreign participation. For example, one of the largest banks in Korea, the Korea First Bank, has been sold to the American fund, the New Bridge Capital. So by bringing in the international standard and international expertise we think we could more quickly become a part of global market. And this is not just limited to the banking field, but to the corporate structure: more transparency, more accountability. Also to the government. And also to education. Again, Korea is basically a resource-poor country. We don’t produce a single drop of oil for example. The only thing we have in abundance is human resources. And we feel that by educating them to meet the requirements of this new era of communication and technology, that we could stay in the game. And that’s why we are also revamping our educational system.
MC HUGH: Only ten percent of the South Korean population has access to the Internet. But there is a drive in your country to….
AMBASSADOR LEE: We are making a major drive, because this is an era of communication. And the only, when you really make every citizen, but particularly younger generation, well versed in the Internet culture and technology, you could really stay in the global game. So, when I said we are really revamping curriculum and the educational structure, that’s what I meant. We’d like to really make this younger generation a very competitive and well trained to meet the requirement of the next century, the next decade.
MC HUGH: How would you describe US-Korean relations?
AMBASSADOR LEE: It is exceptionally good. Well, just to put the matter simply, the, I think it’s fair to say that Korea is the closes ally of the United States in the Asia/Pacific. Just like maybe, the United Kingdom seems to be the strongest ally of the United States. Next year, both in the United States and in Korea, we begin the commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Korean War. Without US intervention in 1950 certainly Korea could not have been saved. And in that war, 54,000 American lives were lost. That’s unimaginable, unthinkable nowadays, for Americans to lose 54,000 lives to defend a far-away country. So it was a very strong alliance born out of that sort of sacrifices. And since Korea has adopted many of American systems in education, in governmental structures, and so on. And after four decades, Korea has become a kind of model for both democracy and open market. So we intend to stay in that way. And therefore I would say that at the moment the relationship between our two countries is a very strong one.
MC HUGH: Just recently the United States began investigating a reported massacre at Nogun-ri.
AMBASSADOR LEE: Yes.
MC HUGH: What was the Korean reaction when that news broke?
AMBASSADOR LEE: Well, it was very regretful and therefore the Korean public demands a full investigation. And fortunately the, President Clinton came out immediately that the US government will engage in a fullest possible investigation and bring out the truth. So everybody is waiting and both governments, the Korean and the United States, have agreed to set up a joint liaison group to coordinate the investigation. So we are hoping that the full investigation will not take many months and the full truth will be brought out. And as a result I think if compensation is needed that should be done now, as quickly as possible.
MC HUGH: Despite this ongoing investigation, that, South Korea and the US military started their largest joint annual exercise here very, very recently. Do you think that the outcome of the Nogun-ri investigation will have an impact?
AMBASSADOR LEE: The people do realize that, that while the incident was certainly regrettable it should not be mixed into, for example, commemorative activities next year. And this, or the exercises, we have exercises every year and, and to keep the readiness of the joint US-Korea defense forces. As I said at the outset, Korean Peninsula is the last chapter in the Cold War. Because the North Korean regime has not changed. And this is perhaps the last Stalinist regime left. So, how are you going to cope with this? We certainly are trying to do everything possible to avoid another war. No Korean likes to have another war in the Peninsula. So you have to do it through a peaceful dialogue. But to make it possible you have to maintain a very strong deterrence. That’s what we are trying to achieve. Nevertheless, the next few years, again, it’s in the Korean Peninsula; the last chapter of the Cold War history has to be written. So I think we have to just exercise both strength and tremendous amount of patience.
MC HUGH: President Kim Dae-Jung just recently vowed to end the Cold War in Korea, by 2003, or the end of his term. Is that realistic?
AMBASSADOR LEE: I guess as the President, and that’s when his term will expire, so I guess that’s his personal sort of, objective. But so often no one could tell exactly how this thing would unfold. After all, when Germany was reunited ten years ago, in 1989, six months before the unification even Chancellor Kohl didn’t know it was coming. So, sometimes these things happen earlier or later. So, the President’s remark is that his hope that within the next four, five years, there will be a very significant march forward to the unification. After all, Korea has been divided for last 54 years—since 1945. So certainly we’d like to see the unification would be achieved in the early part of the next century.
MC HUGH: Is there an atmosphere that that transition is already starting to take place? Are relations or tensions a little bit better than they were, say ten, twenty years ago?
AMBASSADOR LEE: There has been ups and downs. There are periods in which North and South Korea have reached some agreement, so-called Basic Agreements. And also there is a joint declaration to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear free. Then there are other periods in which lots of troubles: North Korean attempt to develop nuclear weapons; their attempt to develop long-range missiles; and so on. But our hope is that in the last few weeks, through our joint effort, particularly the, with the mission taken by the former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, that it looks like we are beginning to have a breakthrough. That is, North Koreans are willing to talk or negotiate instead of threatening. So next six months or so will be a very important period, and we just have to watch and see how things go.
MC HUGH: South Korea lifted its ban on satellite TV programming from North Korea. Is that a first step?
AMBASSADOR LEE: Well, we are moving in various fronts. Not only lifting the ban there; South Korea is trying to have a major revision of some of the laws which were really written in view of the North Korean threat and considering North Korea as an immediate enemy. So, so-called national security law had severely punished those who seemed to cooperate or help North Korea. But we are trying to change all this. Because by taking the initiative to change the atmosphere, and by telling North Koreans that we are trying to establish an atmosphere conducive for their opening up, we think we make progress forward. So that’s what we are trying to do.
MC HUGH: My final question concerns tension not only going on in Korea, but also the tension going on between Taiwan and China. Is this a concern for Korea?
AMBASSADOR LEE: We are all concerned because anytime you see a possibility of military conflict, it threatens everybody’s stability. Now, particularly in the period of economic crisis—as you know the almost entire Asian region has suffered economic letdown the last couple of years, and now we are in the midst of a recovery—the worst possible thing is to have a tension rising again and talk about the possible military action. So we would very much like to see that the, the tension in Taiwan Strait will not really rise but instead will be put down and under control. And I think Chinese people, both in the mainland and Taiwan, are extremely pragmatic and wise people. So I have a hope that they will settle down, yes.
MC HUGH: That is Lee Hong-koo, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the United States.
PORTER: Coming up, the strained relationship between the US and the UN.
SOUTHWICK: Most of the thoughtful people in this country understand that we have to be involved. The question is, “Do we try to go it alone in our involvement, or do we try to work with others?” And the whole international system that was set up after World War II was to try to do things as a collectivity, through the United Nations, through the Security Council process.
PORTER: Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
MC HUGH: After years of debate, Congressional and White House leaders recently struck a deal that will allow the US to pay nearly $1 billion in back dues to the United Nations. The budget deal is especially important, since the US stood to lose its General Assembly vote if the arrears issue wasn’t resolved by the first of the year. The deal is also good news to the federal officials who work directly with the United Nations on a daily basis. E. Michael SOUTHWICK is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Issues in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the State Department. I recently spoke with him about his work, the UN dues controversy, and the American attitude toward foreign policy.
SOUTHWICK: My job is to deal with the UN system, basically. Not the Security Council part of it, not issues of peace and war that affect what is done in that body. But in the UN specialized agencies and voluntary agencies. There are over 40 of these agencies. The one that most people know about in the United States is UNICEF, the children’s fund, but there’s also the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization; there’s something in New York called the Economic and Social Council which deals with a variety of issues, including human rights. And then there’s something called the Human Rights Commission, which convenes every year in March and April in Geneva to deal with human rights questions all throughout the world. It’s a coordinating role and it’s sometimes a policy-making role. But what we do mostly is make sure that what the United States does in these international organizations is well-prepared, that it is consistent, that what we learn about what organizations, about what one organization is doing is somehow, helps us in our dealings with others. So it’s done in a coordinated fashion. And we have to do this because the contribution to the UN system comes through the State Department comes through our part of the State Department, for review.
MC HUGH: French President Jacques Chirac recently said that the US needs to stand up, take responsibility for what’s going on in foreign policy and in international affairs. Who sets what that foreign policy is? I mean, who determines where we should be involved?
SOUTHWICK: Well, in an overall sense it’s a very complicated process. It’s the media, it’s Congress, it’s people in think tanks, and it’s policy makers within the government. It’s sometimes somebody sitting writing a paper, as you know, 50 years ago we had George Kennan writing a paper about the containment policy in Europe. Policy is made in all kinds of ways. But there’s a climate of policy. And the climate of policy, foreign policy, in the United States right now, is a very confused climate. Because we are hearing now more about isolationism, neo-isolationism. There’s a kind of a schizophrenia in the United States, I would say, about, are, the nature of our involvement overseas. Some of us are, some parts of the population are probably just sick of it. Of, you know, of getting involved in foreign affairs is a drag. It’s a problem. People get killed. We’ve been doing this for 50 years. We’ve been bearing a lot of burdens. And where has it gotten us? It’s better for us to just sort of take care of our own knitting.
MC HUGH: Well, now other countries are certainly being hard on the US, especially with this UN battle going on. Has the US lost respect, do you think?
SOUTHWICK: There’s no doubt that we’ve lost respect. A few weeks ago Mary Robinson, is a former President of Ireland, she is now the High Commissioner for Human Rights, very articulate person, very thoughtful person, a friend of the United States, somebody who is doing things in the Human Rights Commission which we applaud; but she said she, as a friend of the United States, cannot understand why we would lose our authority in that organization by squandering this legacy. The United States was a founding member of the United Nations. The United Nations itself is one of the major legacies of World War II. It’s part of what the greatest generation of Americans did, if you want to read this, some of the books that are being written now. We were part of the formation of a lot of the agencies that were spawned with the United Nations, like the Food and Agricultural Organization, UNICEF, and so forth. We have been a big part in making these organizations do their job.
The other thing is, this is another kind of a schizophrenic issue, the United States is the sole remaining superpower, and sometimes that is resented. But at the same time, as in this quote that you gave me by Jacques Chirac, from the French, who are often are critics, they want the United States to be involved because they know that the organization cannot solve its problems, cannot move ahead unless the major power in the world is part of the solution.
MC HUGH: But the US sometimes doesn’t want to be part of that solution.
SOUTHWICK: That’s right. And in some ways that’s, that’s where the United Nations comes in. For example in the East Timor deployment we haven’t decided to put our troops in there in the front lines, landing on the beaches, doing the major work there. We’re playing a small but very important behind-the-scenes role in making that work. Well, I think most people, Americans, if they look at the situation in East Timor, would probably say, “It’s good that something is done about that.” Well, if the international community can do this and the United States pays 25% of it, that’s probably a good deal for the United States.
MC HUGH: Well, with the recent failure of some foreign policy issues on the Hill—for example the Test Ban Treaty—obviously the President and Congress are thinking differently on foreign policy. Does this make your job more difficult?
SOUTHWICK: It does because there is a kind of an overall sense of confusion and unease about the United States’ foreign policy role. It’s not clear. Ten years ago, 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, as many people have noted, it was crystal clear why we were involved in foreign affairs. Now it’s somewhat harder. And various formulas have come up. You know, being, doing things multilaterally. This has been, this view has been put forward by Secretary of State Albright. People have also said, “Well, we’re going to get engaged when our values and our interests are engaged.” And then more recently we’ve had this debate, in this session of the General Assembly, about, “Well, what if it’s just values, not interests? What if there’s a humanitarian crisis somewhere? Should the world get involved in that and intervene within the borders of a sovereign country?” And both the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and President Clinton, in their speeches to the General Assembly this time, said “Yes. Under those conditions there should be interference.”
MC HUGH: How would you characterize the American public attitude toward foreign policy today? Say, versus ten or twenty years ago?
SOUTHWICK: Probably less engaged. And you see this a little bit with students. But I think you see it with the population as a whole. It is kind of a strange thing considering that more of our foreign trade is, and more of our economy is involved in foreign trade than it ever has been historically. There’s a little bit of triumphalism in the United States. We’re the sole remaining superpower. We are number one in some ways—depending on how you define this—culturally, scientifically, economically—in all kinds of indices. So you sort of feel that there’s no threat out there so why do you have to worry about other people and their problems, because it’s not going to impinge on you so directly. So it’s just a little bit more confusing.
However, there’s lots of poll data to confirm this—Americans are generous people. If you talk to them about disasters that are occurring in various parts of the world, we’re the first to sort of step up and do something about it. With refugees, with some of these humanitarian disasters. Less so when it comes to sort of the long-term effort that is required. But if you ask most Americans whether we should be involved in foreign aid they will say yes.
MC HUGH: New isolationism. It’s the latest buzzword that the American media is using in covering the presidential election season. And Pat Buchanan is certainly calling for an era of new isolationism. Why do you think that we’re starting to see that develop in the political arena?
SOUTHWICK: I’m not quite sure why we’re seeing it, except it probably flows from this confused state that I mentioned. But I’m rather glad that this debate is occurring. Because I think it might help clarify some issues. And people who had a kind of a knee-jerk attitude about our role in the world and “we don’t need anybody,” and “the United Nations is a bunch of you know, is a talk shop, it doesn’t do anything, it’s terribly inefficient, and it’s trying to horn in on our sovereignty,” those kinds. There’s, these people are going to have to start giving a much more thoughtful response to those kinds of issues. There’s one article I read about trying to define this business of isolationism, not in terms of whether we’re in or out, but the nature of our involvement. I think most of the thoughtful people in this country understand that we have to be involved. The question is, “Do we try to go it alone in our involvement, or do we try to work with others?” And the whole international system that was set up after World War II was to try to do things as a collectivity, through the United Nations, through the Security Council process.
MC HUGH: Do you think it’s healthy that Americans are starting to talk a little bit more about foreign policy, when it comes to presidential politics? Of course, the faux pas of George W. Bush in not being able to name world leaders. And Pat Buchanan with his stance. Obviously foreign policy is starting to kind of creep back into the American thought process.
SOUTHWICK: I think it is because people have to understand that what the United States does counts in the world. We have tremendous capacity to help solve problems. In all kinds of ways. By lowering tariffs. We take over $300 billion worth of goods from developing countries, poor countries, every year. This is the biggest market for poor countries in the world. We can do things scientifically, with pharmaceuticals and disease control, and so forth, which no other country can do. There are lots of things that the United States can do. If you have that power it seems to me that you also have a responsibility, and I think Americans are trying to think of that.
MC HUGH: I’m curious as to where you think UN-US relations will be, say in the next five-to-ten years.
SOUTHWICK: I’m quite hopeful now that these dues will be paid. Because I don’t think either the Republicans on the Hill or the White House wants to be responsible for our losing our vote in the United Nations. I think the American public would look upon that as, as a very bad development and they would assign blame for it. So I’m hopeful that we will get beyond this question of money, money, money, and we’ll talk more about substance and what these organizations can do in a positive way to address some of these problems. There are mounting problems. If you look at the AIDS crisis in Africa, particularly southern Africa, it is of absolutely staggering proportions. A lot needs to be done. But we have been distracted by this debate about money and then to a certain extent about whether we’re in or out, whether we’re isolationist or against foreigners, for foreigners. We need to be a little bit more intelligent about it.
MC HUGH: SOUTHWICK adds the issue of UN Security Council reform will likely be a hot button topic in the next several years.
SOUTHWICK: There are a lot of discussions that have been taking place over several years now about Security Council expansion. There are 15 members now, five permanent members with veto rights and 10 who rotate. Most scenarios come up with a number between 21 and 24. The United States is probably willing to go up to 21 but no further. We think that if it gets beyond 21 that it will become unwieldy. Then there’s the question about the veto. The veto is widely resented by a lot of countries because they think it’s abused and the would like to take it away. It’s one thing to do things in an international system with treaties, which are very idealistic and moral and fair and every country is the same. But, you also have to be realistic. And some countries have more of a burden in the world than others and there has to be this balance between realism and idealism on this Security Council expansion issue. We have said, “Yes, we would like Japan to be in. We would like to see Germany in.” When you get beyond that, it becomes very difficult. I mean, under most of these scenarios you get into little squabbles. Not little squabbles, they’re titanic squabbles. If Brazil is in, well, can Brazil be in without Mexico being in? Well, if Germany is in, why not Italy? So it gets very, very complicated. I’m not sure how this is going to be resolved. Right now it doesn’t seem to be going very far.
MC HUGH: That is E. Michael SOUTHWICK, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Issues in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the State Department. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
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