Is North Korea the last outpost of the “Axis of Evil”? Donald Phinney Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to Korea and Chair of the Korea Society, said “No on all counts,” in a lecture given under the Henry E. and Nancy Horten Bartels World Fellowship, a program designed to bring prominent international leaders to Cornell.
Gregg centered his talk on the history of the U.S. relationship with the Korean peninsula, and presented his own ideas for peaceful diplomacy with North Korea, while explaining why he thinks the country is not, in fact, the last member of the “Axis of Evil.”
President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 introduced Gregg as a distinguished member of the international community, serving the United States for 43 years over which he acted as the National Security Advisor for then-Vice President George Bush and was awarded multiple honorary degrees from universities in the United States and Korea.
The “evil” rhetoric has been an issue with policy analysts since current President George W. Bush labeled North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as part of an “axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world,” in his January 2002 State of the Union Address.
Presented in the midst of unprecedented peace negotiations between North and South Korea, Gregg saw the speech as enflaming North Korean leaders and a massive setback to what seemed to be progress in creating a stable relationship between the United States and North Korea.
Since then, North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and claimed to have produced enough nuclear material to produce up to six nuclear bombs. Talks between the U.S. and North Korea to freeze the nuclear program have not made significant progress and tensions between the two countries have remained high.
Gregg described the regime change the Bush administration seems to support as the wrong solution to the North Korean aggression, and that any policy changes should be enacted by the people themselves upon their own volition, not imposed from the outside.
“Sometimes one has to deal with people you have a difficult time placing in any positive moral category if you are going to bring them into a new phase of international relations,” Gregg said. “The policy of the Bush administration supports unilateralism and regime change.”
Gregg went on to detail the cases of U.S. attempts at regime change with unfavorable results, seen in Iran, Guatemala and Cuba.
“Regime change is a very dangerous recipe for changing behavior of a country you don’t like,” Gregg said. “The Bush administration has what you would call the ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ approach to regime change; if you remove the one evil person, all will be well … but it is not the way the world works,” he added.
In response to the question of whether or not North Korea is actually the last bastion of the “Axis of Evil,” Gregg responded saying, “I would say no on at least two counts. One, it should never have been lumped with Iran and Iraq,” he said. “North Korea is certainly evil in some ways; it has gulags and it has been unable to feed its people, it has been very repressive in certain ways, but I think there is evidence that they want to change,” Gregg added.
“It is wrong on the second part because it is not the last force of evil that we will face,” he concluded.
Contrary to popular American belief, Gregg also explained that the South Korean opinion of the United States is overwhelmingly negative.
“It is probably in the worst shape it has been in the last 50 years, as memories of the Korean war have faded,” he said about the U.S. relationship with South Korea.
“The young generation sees North Korea as something like a long-lost brother, who has acquired some bad habits, but is in need of help and rehabilitation,” the former Ambassador said.
Gregg also said that Koreans saw one of the main reasons for American hostility toward North Korea as the Bush administration’s desire to find a rationale to build a national missile defense program.
Gregg’s final prescription for dealing with North Korea seemed to be one relying most on diplomacy and cooperation, “the best way to go with North Korea is to stop calling them names and encourage them to change from within.”
Archived article by Neil Mukhopadhyay