The Means Report

Potential gains as communications open with North and South Korea

Augusta, GA (WJBF) - North Korea and South Korea have made national headlines recently as they take steps to mend fences. We take an in depth look at the relationship between the two countries, as well as their relationship with the United States. Dr. Andrew Goss, the History, Anthropology, and Philosophy Department Chair at Augusta University, shares his expertise on the subject.


Brad Means: Let's talk about North and South Korea. What's going on there, what could happen in the weeks and months to come, and to do that, we're happy to welcome back to The Means Report, Dr. Andrew Goss. Dr. Goss chairs the history, anthropology and philosophy department at Augusta University. He's an expert on many things of a historical nature, and I thank you so much for returning, we appreciate you.


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well you're very welcome. Thank you for having me back, Brad.


Brad Means: Well and as I told you, you're welcome. Before we start it I need you to kind of hold my hand and walk me through this North and South Korea thing and to do that I guess we'll go back to how we are not friends with North Korea to begin with. And does it go back to the end of World War Two when Russia got that part of the country, we got the southern part and we just haven't been able to make things right since. Is that right?


Dr. Andrew Goss: That is. A deal that the Soviet Union, as Russia was then called, and the United States made during World War Two split the country in two for purposes of military occupation. Korea was a Japanese colony going back actually to the early 20th century and in the late 40s North and South drifted apart. They got different governments, different kinds of ambitions in terms of creating a new Korea and they ended up not being able to unify, but instead split into what we call South Korea and North Korea. And that split actually led to a war in 1950. It was an ugly, brutal war that the United States joined on South Korea's side and North Korea had assistance from the Soviet Union and China. It ended basically in a draw and at the end of that conflict there was a cease fire that was signed, which actually a lot of it was about prisoner exchange and things of that matter and there was sort of a territorial division as well. And that's still where we stand today.


Brad Means: Another super broad question for you. What do we hope to gain out of talking to North Korea? You know, this has caught a lot of people by surprise. Some thought it would never happen, yet here we are. A talk between President Trump and the North Korean President Kim Jong-un is imminent. What's to gain here for both sides?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well, I think that from the North Korean side Kim Jong-un is very interested in being seen as a real political force in Northeast Asia and he has already in many ways accomplished that by creating a nuclear weapon or nuclear bomb and really advancing finally in terms of missile design and construction and he would like to have a better deal in some fashion, probably a better economic deal where he has better access to the global markets and can trade in a way that he is not able to now, or that North Korea is not able to now. Of course the United States also has ambitions. They would prefer to see stability on the Korean Peninsula. They would like to see denuclearization of North Korea. And I think that in the end, also, there is a desire amongst many in the United States including in the Trump administration to have some kind of more regularized relationship with North Korea and that this is then an opportunity to accomplish just that.


Brad Means: And so going back to denuclearization, is that mandatory, does that have to happen for these talks to go forward?


Dr. Andrew Goss: It's a good question. It's a complicated one. Kim Jong-un has said that he would denuclearize North Korea and that he's actually already begun. And so I think that a lot of the negotiations will be about ironing out the details in terms of verification and ability for inspectors to actually look into this. From the United States' point of view, this has always been sort of the first order or the first order of importance is to get rid of the nuclear weapons. I think it'll be difficult. It's not very hard to build a nuclear bomb, and once you know how, you can actually put it on ice and bring it back very quickly. And so that's where the challenge will be.


Brad Means: You know, we record this broadcast on Thursday. Just a few hours really before we started recording, maybe 12 hours ago you had three U.S. hostages being held in North Korea released. Is that just another goodwill, good faith gesture on the part of the North Korean government ahead of these talks, and maybe a sign that they'll go well?


Dr. Andrew Goss: I hope so. They are, of course, just hostages and releasing hostages is not very difficult.


Brad Means: Right, and maybe they shouldn't have even been held hostage in the first place, so is it that big of a deal?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well yes, I mean, they were being held on trumped up charges, and I mean, it's outrageous that they were being used as a bargaining chip. However, North Korea's had hostages before, I mean, going back decades and traditionally the hostages have not been released until the negotiations really got started. And so I think that this took many North Korea watchers by surprise in that North Korea has not typically released them sort of before any of the details were being addressed. And there have been other things that North Korea has done in the last few weeks and months that are atypical based on the playbook going back to the 50s and 60s and continuing into the 90s.


Brad Means: Does a better relationship with America, do successful talks after they're finished here in a few weeks bode well for relations between North and South Korea? Might there be some healing in that country because of this?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well, I think so. I think there's sorta two possible outcomes to the talks that will be coming up either in May or June. One of them is that North Korea has made some kind of strategic decision to realign itself with South Korea and the United States and perhaps Japan, and this is very surprising, but not impossible to contemplate. North Korea is now allied with China, but actually in the 70s and 80s was allied with the Soviet Union and most countries that border on China would prefer to keep a distance.


Brad Means: Yeah.


Dr. Andrew Goss: So there is actually, and if you think about sort of the way that Vietnam operates Vietnam actually tries to keep its distance from China and actually has access to the global markets because it has regularized relationships with the United States. And so North Korea may be drawing on that model. That's one possible outcome. The other outcome is that this is all a huge ruse. North Korea has done this before. They've made promises that are a little bit like this really as an effort to try to remove the very serious sanctions that China has actually enforced for the most part in the last year.


Brad Means: Where does China stand on all this? Are they just sort of watching and waiting to see how it plays out and then we'll find out?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Of course we don't know, but we can, I think that what's happened is, is that China has mostly been ignoring North Korea for the last few years and actually really has erected almost a full blockade along the North Korean-Chinese border in which only very limited economic activity is allowed to go on. And I think that that would suggest that China has been trying to punish North Korea. In a way, North Korea has now seized the initiative, has managed to get two meetings with Xi Jinping in the last few weeks and months, and it may be that this is also forcing China, sort of this new strategic overture to the United States is forcing China to finally pay attention and perhaps do some concessions as well.


Brad Means: Probably two more quick questions for you, Dr. Goss. The first one is, if things go well, if Kim Jong-un doesn't have anything up his sleeve and he really does want things to take a positive step after these talks, would life improve for citizens of North Korea on a day to day basis?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well, that's obviously, that for me is the tragedy is that it's very hard to imagine that the citizens of North Korea who suffer greatly under this totalitarian regime, that their human rights would be protected or would be improved. And part of what North Korea is doing now is it's basically not allowing human rights to be part of the discussion. And it's hard to imagine that Kim Jong-un is doing this because he wants his people to be better off, more prosperous, more democratic. And so I think that that will be unlikely. Kim Jong-un's own position and the regime's position may be improved, but not that of the North Korean people.


Brad Means: And my last question just has to do with the fear that U.S. citizens might have that if things don't go well, North Korea could attack us, North Korea could hit us with its nuclear weapon or weapons. Is that possible, is that even remotely feasible? Wouldn't we stop that the minute something was launched?


Dr. Andrew Goss: Probably. It's hard to believe that the North Koreans have a ICBM that is accurate enough and that has a reentry module that could actually successfully target a location in the continental U.S. And there's very little to fear in my opinion. Kim Jong-un has nothing to win from launching a nuclear attack on the United States. He would lose that war. I mean, it would be very costly in terms of lost lives. What is clear is, is that North Korea in the last few years has made enormous strides in terms of their missile technology. You know, they reverse engineered all of these submarine missiles they got from the Soviets in the 80s and they've finally gotten good enough that they can actually build some good missiles, but it's very, very unlikely that they actually have a really workable ICBM.


Brad Means: Well, I've learned a lot in our 12 minutes together. I'm sure our viewers have, too, and there's a lot more to talk about. I wish we had more time, but I appreciate you shedding some light on the situation not only from a denuclearization standpoint, which I thought the whole interview was gonna be about, but certainly from a human rights standpoint something to really watch going forward.


Dr. Andrew Goss: Well thank you very much. It's been my pleasure, and I look forward to coming back.


Brad Means: Absolutely, you will definitely be back. We need your expertise. Dr. Andrew Goss, history professor at Augusta University.

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