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  • Toward Normalizing U.S.-Korea Relations: In Due Course?
  • James I. Matray (bio)
Toward Normalizing U.S.-Korea Relations: In Due Course?, by Edward A. Olsen. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. xi, 148 pp., notes, bibliography, index. $42.50 cloth.

On December 1, 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Jiang Jieshi issued the Cairo Declaration, promising that after World War II ended, Japan would relinquish control over its imperial conquests. It further stated that the three Allies, "mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined [End Page 320] that in due course Korea shall become free and independent." Edward A. Olsen, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, uses this wartime pledge as his analytical focus in a study that "explores counterintuitive alternatives to and advocates fundamental changes in existing U.S. policy toward both North and South Korea" (p. ix). Reflecting his libertarian political beliefs, he also examines Korean-American relations to advocate for a U.S. policy of "selective non-interventionism and strategic disengagement" (p. 111). Olsen's account is highly interpretive and speculative, relying on recent journal articles and a decent selection of monographs. He acknowledges at the outset that "in due course" is "a manifestly vague paradigm" and Koreans "abhor" the phrase, but insists that this "endgame mandate" (p. 2) is the best way to normalize U.S. relations with both Koreas.

An expeditious summary of the "complex" (p. 7) history of Korean-American relations begins with a description of the 1882 Shufeldt Treaty as "relatively benign" and "comparatively enlightened," but not "a model worthy of emulation" (p. 8). Olsen judges President Theodore Roosevelt as being "prudently expedient," but not "ethically or morally principled" in exploiting Korea "as a means to an end" (p. 9) in sanctioning Japanese colonial domination with the 1908 Root-Takahira Agreement, strangely failing to mention the 1905 Taft-Katsura Agreement that has infuriated Koreans for nearly a century. After World War I, American missionaries and educators had constructive contacts with Koreans that gave hints of "what could have been" (p. 10), but the U.S. government had its priorities elsewhere. While Olsen is correct that if not for the Cold War, a united Korea might have emerged following World War II, more debatable is his provocative claim that the United States, in proposing its division, "was throwing a Korean bone in the geopolitical path of a Soviet dog to distract it from Japan" (p. 13). The Soviet-American confrontation then "impeded any meaningful progress" toward reunification of "a victimized innocent bystander" (p. 16), and the Korean War "served to solidify the rationale behind postponing" (p. 17) national self-determination for Korea.

Olsen asserts that "U.S. interventionist policy preferences" led to the mutual security pact with South Korea that perpetuated the status quo and provided "an open-ended entanglement on behalf of a new-found protégé" (p. 19). Thereafter, U.S. policy "induced Seoul and Pyongyang into psychological acceptance of their respective positions as normal" (p. 31) until the Cold War ended in 1991, when both Koreas began to seek cooperation, but progress toward realizing "in due course" was "sporadic" (p. 42). Ironically, U.S. protection made democratization in South Korea possible. By contrast, North Korea in the 1990s no longer could play off the Soviet Union against the People's Republic of China (PRC) and gained "a well-deserved reputation for being the proverbial tough nut to crack" (p. 47). President Bill Clinton's policy used economics and diplomacy to modify North Korea's behavior, rather than achieve [End Page 321] "in due course." But Olsen argues that the Republic of Korea (ROK) did not expect reunification in the near future and its insincerity appeared "to legitimize U.S. procrastination" (p. 51).

A separate chapter explains how Korea's neighbors helped sustain its division. Soviet policy paralleled that of the United States, as Moscow "embraced the indefinite postponement" (p. 83) of implementing "in due course" because it wanted to protect North Korea and avoid a new war. Visceral Korean animosity partially explained the "profound reservations" Japan had about reunification, making it "logical for the United States to drag...


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