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  • Divided Korea: Toward a Culture of Reconciliation
  • Kevin D. Kim
Divided Korea: Toward a Culture of Reconciliation, by Roland Bleiker. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 240 pp., notes, index. $27.95 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Foreign policy studies, typically aligned along the axis of “realism” (balance-of-power realpolitik) versus cooperative “liberal institutionalism” (“Wilsonian internationalism”), normally focus on geopolitics and ideology, but Roland Bleiker puts identity at the center of intra-Korean con- flict. (The sole precedent for this is an essay by Chun Chae-sung focusing on state-level actions “rather than the more deeply rooted individual and collective identities” that interest Bleiker [p. 5].) From the liberal arts he imports the latest models of “oppositional identity” that reflect a shift toward understanding power not just as a tool instrumentally used by agents but as constitutively defining agents. His approach is theoretical: “I offer neither a comprehensive take on the Korean security situation nor a detailed update on the latest events. . . . I seek not new facts and data but new perspectives” (p. x) because “a rethinking process has primarily conceptual, rather than empirical, objectives” (p. xlviii). This affords him the breadth to be (1) interdisciplinary, drawing from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and literature and (2) comparative, contrasting Korean and German division and unification.

Bleiker argues that there is a contradiction between a traditional xenophobic “strong myth” of Korean cultural homogeneity and a reality of regionalism intensified by partition and civil war. The North Korean doctrine of chuch’e (self-reliance) appeals to this isolationist myth of a pure, independent Korean self; the reality of a pathetically dependent state belies it as “riddled with falsehoods and lies” (p. 14). Each side demonizes its counterpart as a puppet state and “antithesis and antagonist of the other” (p. 10), a view assiduously promulgated by their educational systems, reinforced by outside players like the United States, and subtly legitimized by academics and a media who uphold a bankrupt ideal of “objectivity” when they should be constantly shifting perspectives. One such critical reinterpretation is Leon Sigal’s conclusion that North Korea has been “tit-for-tat in nuclear diplomacy” (p. 43), despite President Bush’s stance that North Korea is a “rogue state.” But for Bleiker, neither [End Page 193] Pyongyang nor Washington is especially rational. “It is striking how much [Bush’s] policy position resembles North Korea’s vilified nuclear brinkmanship tactic. Just as Pyongyang does, Washington explicitly threatens the opponent that it allegedly wants to engage in dialogue” (p. 55). Bush’s view is novel. During the Cold War “American perceptions of Korea were perhaps more influenced by the television comedy M*A*S*H than by Pyongyang’s political escapades” (p. 53). Communism dead, the Cold War lives on. “The rhetoric of rogue states is indicative of how U.S. foreign policy is dominated by dualistic and militaristic Cold War thinking patterns [and the] need to define safety and security with reference to an external threat . . . that serve[s] to demarcate the line between good and evil, identity and difference” (p. 37). (As Colin Powell said in 1991, “I am running out of demons. I am running out of villains. I am down to Castro and Kim Il Sung” [p. 53].) This distorts threat assessment. Official statistics juxtapose “North Korea’s 1.17 million standing forces against the 690,000 of the South,” 23,001 armored vehicles against 2,400, fifty submarines against six, the North’s military spending at 27.5 percent of GDP and the South’s at 3.5 percent. Yet half the North’s “troops” are not fighters, and the South spends twice as much per annum as the North (p. 58).

These antagonistic identity constructs are crystallized in inherently oppositional states that monopolize the role of security provider even while propagating a sense of insecurity. Bleiker distinguishes between (1) national security as state-centric “security of territory from external aggression” (the rationale of corrupt dictators in both Koreas) and (2) human security as “legitimate concerns of ordinary people who sought security in their daily lives” (p. 66), manifest in forms of non-state engagement such as economic interaction, humanitarian engagements, tourist visits, and...


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