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Reviewed by:
  • Korea's Future and the Great Powers
  • Timothy C. Lim (bio)
Korea's Future and the Great Powers, edited by Nicholas Eberstadt and Richard Ellings. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research in association with the University of Washington Press, 2001. 361 pp., $22.95 paper.

Korea's Future and the Great Powers is, according to the book's editors, Nicholas Eberstadt and Richard Ellings, "intended as a small step toward redressing [a] . . . large lacuna in policy planning about Korea" (p. 3). In this respect, the book is written less for the general reader or even specialist in Korean studies than for concerned scholars and policymakers who are obliged "to assess the strategic challenges that face the Pacific powers, individually or collectively, in making the choices that lie ahead for their respective Korea policies" (p. 4). To do this, the editors have assembled, in their words, "an American study group with the sweeping expertise . . . including: specialists in Korean affairs; eminent students of Chinese, Japanese, and Russian history and government; authorities on the Korean economies, international trade, and global finance; seasoned analysts of Asian defense and security questions; and a number of distinguished practitioners of U.S. diplomacy, national security policy, and intelligence assessment" (p. 4). Certainly, the list of contributors is impressive. From Robert Scalapino to Michael Armacost, Robert Gallucci, Marcus Noland, Herbert Ellison, Kenneth Pyle, and Chae-Jin Lee (among others), there is nary an unrecognizable—or less than eminent—name in the bunch. As was no doubt intended, moreover, this impressive collection of authors almost automatically gives Korea's Future and the Great Powers credibility as a serious volume. At the same time, it could be said that bringing together a collection of analysts composed primarily, if not entirely, of "old hands" is not always a good thing. Sometimes, it is necessary to bring in a few newer hands, if only to expand slightly, but meaningfully, the parameters of analysis, debate, and discussion.

I say this, in large part, because major sections of Korea's Future and the Great Powers are quite predictable, even stale. This is most apparent in the five chapters (chapters 2–6) that cover the historical and political context "that informs, and also confines, the approaches of the state actors that must now contend with the possibility of a very new situation on the Korean Peninsula" (pp. 17–18). For example, in chapter 2, by Chae-Jin Lee, the author tells us that the "tortuous development of inter-Korean relations has been intimately linked with the complex interests and policies of four major Pacific powers— the United States, the Soviet Union (Russia), China, and Japan—which have exhibited a mixture of conflictual and cooperative relations in the region" (p. 51). Lee goes on to provide a brief and conventional overview of Great Power [End Page 279] relations vis-à-vis the two Koreas, followed by a discussion of four "contrasting scenarios" for future relations between Seoul and Pyongyang: status quo, constructive engagement, war, or absorption. He concludes his chapter with an analysis of policy options after Korean unification. While Lee's analysis in this chapter is generally solid, it is really nothing more than a repetition of what even the most casual followers—and I count myself among these—of the international relations of the two Koreas already know. One might argue, however, that such repetition is necessary for those scholars and policymakers completely unfamiliar with the two Koreas. Fair enough. Still, one could glean the same information from a plethora of other sources.

Chapter 3 by, Chuck Downs, does not suffer from a problem of repetition; in fact, of the five chapters in the section on historical and political context, his is the most interesting and original, at least to my mind. In this chapter, the author's goal is to discern North Korea's "true strategic intentions." Downs does this by drawing upon the evidentiary record of North-South negotiations, beginning with the North-South Communiqué of 1972 and ending with the inter-Korean summit of 2000. His conclusion is simple: "Dialogue in the past has advanced few, if any concrete steps toward unification, but it has served the North's...


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