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Reviewed by:
  • Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement
  • Young Whan Kihl (bio)
Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement, by Selig S. Harrison. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, 352 pp. $29.95.

Selig Harrison is a veteran journalist who has covered United States and Korea relations for almost four decades. He is a well-known expert on Asian affairs with numerous books, ranging from India (1960), China's Oil (1977), and Asian nationalism (1978) to Afghanistan (1981, 1995) and Korea. He is on record visiting North Korea seven times and meeting the late President Kim Il Sung twice, as well as close aides to the current leader, Kim Jong Il. For this particular book on Korea, Harrison was a recipient of the 2003 Association of American Publishers Award. Korean Endgame is a well-researched, timely book that takes a provocative but reasoned stance on future United States policy options toward Korea.

The book focuses primarily on the security issues confronting the United States vis-à-vis divided Korea, such as the current nuclear standoff that North Korea's Kim Jong Il regime has posed. He argues that the United States should withdraw its military forces from South Korea over a ten-year period by seeking the role of an honest broker between North and South Korea. The key assumption behind this policy stance is that the North Korea of the Kim Jong Il regime will not collapse. The author argues that Pyongyang has a serious security concern, so long as the United States maintains its ground-troop presence in the South, and that, once the security threat is lifted, the North will abandon its isolation by opening to the outside and will undertake economic reform.

Since Harrison is not a specialist on the security and defense issues, this forward-looking and progressive policy stance advanced by the author is without controversy or hyperbole. In advancing these assertions, the author is clearly taking a liberal rather than a conservative stance on United States and Korea relations and America's strategy for Korea's future and reunification. Whether the future policy direction of disengagement is in America's best "national interest," [End Page 142] as argued by the author throughout the book, is uncertain and disputable at best. The author gives numerous accounts on Korea's sensitive and geo-strategic role in Northeast Asia, surrounded as it is by the major powers pursuing their respective interests, tempered by historical episodes in the past.

Whether history repeats itself, however, is a matter of perspective that must be tempered by the game-theoretic decision-making rules that the policy makers will come to adopt on important foreign-policy choices and grand strategy on the issues of war and peace. Clearly, Harrison is in favor of accommodation with communist North Korea and is not in support of the current U.S. administration policy of containment or "hawk" engagement of the reclusive Kim Jong Il regime. The post-9/11 security environment of threat posed by transnational terrorism in global and regional politics requires new thinking and reflection on time-honored and tested subjects such as the security dynamics and security dilemma on the Korean peninsula.

Why U.S. disengagement from South Korea will necessarily enhance its leverage in exercising the "balance of power" policy in Northeast Asia is neither obvious nor explained clearly to the intellectual satisfaction of some critics in security studies. U.S. power and capability, one can argue, will determine the shape of the U.S. policy options toward the Korean peninsula for the foreseeable future. What counts more in the years ahead will be the balance-of-power policy of realism in foreign policy and international politics that the major powers will pursue, not the local distribution of power and power transition of North and South Korea in the region, as the author seems to adhere to.

Korean Endgame is a massive work of twenty-six chapters, which are grouped into five perceptive yet somewhat uneven parts, preceded by a helpful "overview" and "foreword" by the president of the (Twentieth) Century Foundation, under whose auspices the book was written. Cleary, the author takes a sympathetic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 142-144
Launched on MUSE
2005-01-20
Open Access
No
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