Moral musings on North Korea
Walter Clemens was a Cold Warrior for peace. One of the first American grad students to do research in the USSR (back in 1958), he spent decades studying the Soviets and Chinese, looking for ways to reduce tensions and secure peace. After the Soviet Union’s fall, he turned increasingly to the last archetypal
Cold War state, North Korea. His latest book focuses here, but it is better thought of as a meditation by a wise elder who has spent his life grappling with the problems of peace and justice.
He starts by delving into the history of the Korean Peninsula all the way back to its mythical founding. If you are serious about denuclearization and human rights, Clemens is saying, you had better start a couple of millennia back to understand the country and people with whom you are dealing. From history, he moves on to policy. Before plunging into the diplomatic ins and outs, however, he grapples with the underlying moral dilemma of whether it is right to “negotiate with evil” in trying to improve human rights and reduce the risk of nuclear war. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney famously rejected that possibility, but Clemens takes theologian Reinhold Niebuhr for his moral compass, arguing that it is possible to confront the evil of human rights abuse while also engaging the North Korean regime in peace talks.
North Korea and the World concludes with “strategies for negotiation,” and could not be more timely.
North Korea and the World: Human Rights, Arms Control, and Strategies for NegotiationBy Walter C.Clemens Jr.University Press of Kentucky, 2016, 464 pages, $39.95 (Hardcover)