How America Can Help Reunite the Korean Peninsula

True Parents Kim

By Mark P. Barry

Mark Barry Photo 2In May, Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon, speaking in New York, asked America to fulfill its role to help reunite the Korean Peninsula. She said:

…[T]he United States needs to fulfill its responsibility. In order to do so, Korea and the Korean Peninsula needs to become the top issue for the United States. …The homeland of God, Korea, needs to become one nation. And I hope the United States will stand on the forefront of this great task.

Now is the best opportunity yet for the U.S. to take forward-looking steps to make a breakthrough in Korea. August 15 is the 70th anniversary of Korean independence — and of the division of Korea, for which America bears a great share of responsibility. It is clear no other nation can make the difference in bringing about reunification.

Last month, the U.S. reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba which were frozen in the Cold War since 1961. It also reached a nuclear agreement with another long-standing enemy, Iran, with the hope it will lead to an evolution in Iranian behavior. Now is the time for America to encourage, with seriousness and focus, the two Koreas and the regional powers — Japan, China and Russia — to establish permanent peace in the Peninsula.

On July 27, the three Korean War veterans in Congress, Rep. Charles Rangel, Rep. John Conyers, and Rep. Sam Johnson, introduced legislation calling for a formal end to the Korean War. As I wrote two years ago on this blog, a peace treaty is necessary to end the 1950-53 Korean War, and is the requisite first step toward eventual reunification. Little has changed since I wrote those words. But the opportunity for the American President to take bold actions in his final year and a half in office should not be missed.

LA and Rep Rangel 6-8-2010

Rep. Charles Rangel, a Korean War veteran, welcomed the Little Angels of Korea in his office on June 8, 2010. The children’s folk ballet had just begun its world tour to thank veterans of the 22 nations that fought or provided assistance under the UN flag during the Korean War.

Reflections on Past American Policy towards Korea

Modern American policy toward Korea was formed, in “diplomacy that will live in infamy,” under President Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt believed a westernized Japan could be an extension of Anglo-American influence in Asia, and with a senior Japanese diplomat and fellow Harvard alumnus to encourage him, he became convinced the best thing for Asia would be a strong Japan allied with America. Roosevelt also believed Japan should have Korea so that it could be a check upon Russia.

After Japan won the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war, Teddy Roosevelt convened a peace conference in August 1905 in Portsmouth, NH (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize). One byproduct of U.S.-Japan diplomatic discussions at the conference was an understanding the U.S. would recognize Korea to be in Japan’s sphere of influence and Japan would recognize the Philippines to be in America’s. Months later, with the U.S. looking the other way, Korea became a Japanese protectorate, and in 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea.

Japan’s colonization of Korea was a non-issue for America until after Pearl Harbor. Even in the 1943 Cairo Declaration, the wartime Allies only contemplated that Korea would receive its independence “in due course,” after a lengthy period of tutelage. Koreans were considered politically unready for independence even after war’s end.

The Scramble for Asia at the End of World War II

I’ve written at length about the division of Korea elsewhere and will only highlight a few key points. America’s role in the division of Korea was not the result of greed or naiveté. Korea was considered Japan’s own backyard; but, unique among Japanese territory, it was also on the Asian mainland, bordering China and Russia.

Upon Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the focus was obtaining Japan’s defeat through unconditional surrender. Japan’s capitulation was presumed to take until sometime in 1946 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives. At the same time, after Germany’s defeat, the Soviet Union agreed to enter the war by August 1945, which would hasten Japan’s defeat and save American lives. But the cost of Soviet entry into the war, President Truman knew, would be very high, given Soviet behavior in occupied Eastern Europe. The atomic bomb was successfully tested in late July and Truman hoped its use against Japan would hasten its surrender and forestall Soviet entry into the Pacific war.

In summer 1945, Japan unsuccessfully sought to get the Soviet Union to mediate on its behalf with the Allied powers or at least remain neutral. Its efforts to influence the Soviets caused Japan to prolong consideration of surrender despite the American use of two atomic bombs on August 6 and August 9. Finally, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and began Operation August Storm, with battle-hardened troops entering China the next morning. At this point, Japan began to communicate its willingness to surrender.

Events were happening at a breakneck pace in Asia, and American military planners faced the daunting task of managing fast-changing realities. Obtaining the surrender of Japanese troops throughout East Asia was the objective. Japan’s home islands were the central focus of surrender, with Korea probably next in importance. Unfortunately, the ability of Soviet troops to enter and occupy the Korean Peninsula was greatly overestimated, whereas the occupation of Korea by American troops was given lower priority due to the emphasis on the surrender in Japan itself.

So it was on the fateful night of August 10, 1945 (70 years ago today) that two weary Pentagon colonels were instructed to recommend a line on the Korean Peninsula above which the USSR would receive the surrender of Japanese troops and below which the U.S. would obtain the surrender. The line was intended to facilitate the surrender of Japan’s troops, not to denote long-term occupation zones (a four-power trusteeship for postwar Korea had been discussed earlier with Stalin). Using just a general map of Asia, they chose the 38th parallel, though other senior officers had suggested the 39th or 40th parallels.

Ironically, these two colonels were unaware that 40 years earlier, Russia and Japan had considered dividing the Korean Peninsula into spheres of influence. Years later, one of the colonels, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, said if they knew that fact on the night of August 10 they “almost surely” would have chosen a different line. It’s also worth noting that months earlier, former President Herbert Hoover met with President Truman and told him that at the war’s conclusion it was imperative the U.S. gain control of Korea so the Russians could not get a foothold there.

It turns out many American presumptions were wrong. The Soviets, busy invading Manchuria, had barely entered northern Korea by mid-August. When Truman presented the 38th parallel line to Stalin, he accepted it — but he asked that Soviet troops occupy Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, which Truman refused. In the end, it may have been possible for the U.S. to occupy most of the Korean Peninsula up to the 40th or perhaps even 41st parallel. But, these were confusing — and treacherous — times, and, as one senior American scholar said to me, “the decision on Korea was the best we could get.”

The Russians didn’t leave northern Korea until late 1948 after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, led by Kim Il Sung, was established. With Soviet military planning and support, the Korean War began when North Korea invaded the South in June 1950. That war ended in a stalemate with a truce signed in July 1953. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war; their allies, China and the U.S., are also technically still at war. Moreover, because it fought under the UN flag, U.S. forces were joined by 15 nations in combating North Korea’s aggression.



(Top left) Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, First Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission (North Korea’s number two leader), met President Bill Clinton in the White House on October 10, 2000. (Top right) Former President Clinton met Chairman Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on August 4, 2009. (Bottom) On August 18, 2009, President Obama met in the White House with former President Clinton to discuss the latter’s meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Il (White House photo). Unfortunately, since the 1990s, senior-level U.S.-DPRK engagement has been extremely brief and rare.

The Situation Today

The Korean conflict is the last vestige of the Cold War, and although South Korea has won the inter-Korean competition, understandably, North Korea will not simply capitulate. It seems clear the two Koreas are unable to accomplish peace and eventual reunification on their own. It requires the help of the international community and especially the leadership of the United States.

As I wrote on this Blog last May, it is much too easy to simply manage a conflict, especially one in which there are strong institutional interests for it to continue. For some, there indeed may be much to lose. But history moves on, and at some point in any given conflict, the costs of maintaining the status quo begin to heavily outweigh the costs of bringing constructive change. I believe that’s the spirit in which Congressman Rangel and his fellow congressmen introduced legislation calling for a peace treaty in Korea.

As Unificationists, we should contact our congressmen and senators and ask them not only to support this legislation (a resolution), but also urge the President to undertake bold steps to hasten an end to the conflict in Korea. With South Korean President Park’s upcoming state visit to Washington in October to meet with President Obama, the two leaders should work together in a creative and forward-looking manner to break the political stalemate on the Peninsula.

What we can also do is support diverse grassroots efforts to raise awareness of the plight of the divided nation of Korea (the Korean War was called the “Forgotten War”). The recent Women’s Federation for World Peace event in New Jersey is a good example of what can be done across the country. Moreover, our movement has successfully cosponsored events on both the East and West Coasts with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), which works to resettle North Korean refugees in free countries and believes in grassroots change in North Korea. Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based international NGO, teaches North Koreans to become entrepreneurs.


North Korean women participate in Choson Exchange’s recent “Women in Business” program in Pyongyang. CE’s founder, Geoffrey See, noted: “It was inspiring to see a kinship and affinity between the Koreans and non-Koreans that I don’t think I’d observed before.”

Also, the Korean-American community in the United States has begun to organize politically as never before, given the elections that will be held in November 2016. There has never been a better time for the Korean-American community to make the American people and our elected representatives aware of the need to end the Korean conflict and establish permanent peace on the peninsula.

Of course, our movement can also do much more on higher levels, which would be indispensable. Our advocacy for an Asian UN Headquarters Office in South Korea is a good idea. And we certainly hope Mrs. Moon can make a return visit to North Korea in the not-too-distant future.

It is much better to solve the problem of the division of Korea through joint diplomacy rather than wait, as some suggest, for North Korea to collapse (if it ever would), because we don’t know who may pick up the pieces — and China could be the big beneficiary. South Korea’s present relationship with China is uncomfortably close. There is no guarantee a collapsed North Korea will lead to a united Korea; Korea’s agony could be prolonged for decades more, only in a different manner.

Upon the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation, the United States and international community should use the next three years to end Korea’s division, terminate the Korean War, and restore that nation to wholeness. This was one of Reverend Moon’s chief unfinished tasks. Returning from Pyongyang in December 1991, he said:

I ask the United States to be extremely careful about making threats against the right of a given people to maintain their existence. The nuclear issues involving North Korea can be resolved peacefully. This can be done if the issues are addressed in the context of a genuine dialogue conducted in the spirit of mutual respect. I traveled to Pyongyang to open the path for such dialogue, and I have returned from North Korea after opening wide that path.

It is my hope that North and South Korea will put aside their confrontational relationship. The time has come for us to come together in a spirit of reconciliation and love so that we may begin to resurrect the common heritage of our people. The time has come, as the Bible says, to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We must work quickly to prepare for the future of our unified country in the coming 21st century.♦

Dr. Mark P. Barry is Managing Editor of the Applied Unificationism blog and Lecturer in Management at UTS. He met the late President Kim Il Sung with a delegation from the Summit Council for World Peace in 1994. He earned his Ph.D. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and M.A. in national security studies from Georgetown University. Follow his Korean affairs Twitter feed @DrMarkPBarry.

Photo at top: Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon met North Korean President Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang on December 6, 1991.

4 thoughts on “How America Can Help Reunite the Korean Peninsula

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  1. Two South Korean soldiers just lost limbs from an exploded landmine illegally planted in the DMZ, apparently by North Korea. During the Clinton Administration, North Korea developed the technology to make nuclear weapons, which they now have, along with missiles capable of reaching, at least, Hawaii. Whenever North Korea gets a chance, they cause trouble, like sinking a South Korean navy ship, with great loss of life, in 2010. It has 110,000 artillery pieces and missiles capable of devastating Seoul. North Korea has hundreds of thousands of its own citizens in concentration camps, where people are starved and sometimes resort to cannibalism just to stay alive.

    So far, whenever a “Great Leader” of North Korea has died, the UC has sent a delegation to the North to “pay its respects” to the latest deceased butcher of the North, who treated the nation’s people like slaves and worse. Are things getting better in and with North Korea? Obviously not. Has America played an effective role at all in uniting the two Koreas? No. Have the Little Angels, or riding bikes at the DMZ, or tearfully fawning before its fallen leaders changed North Korea’s militaristic attitude towards the South and America? No, again.

    Can President Obama, who wants to give Iran a path to nuclear weapons and has a failed international-policy record so far, bring about a peaceful, healthy relationship with North Korea? Do you really believe this? Why would the fanatical North Korean leader want to give up his absolute control of the people, wealth, and power of his nation, where he is worshiped like a god, in order to unite with the South? If Chairman Kim gave up his total power for even a moment, his people or other national leaders would probably try and kill him. It could very well be that a military solution for someday removing the North Korean leader from power and reuniting the two Koreas may be the only possible solution, just as America did in Iraq with Saddam Hussein, who unlike North Korea, did not have weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, there is no credible evidence that reunification on the Korean peninsula is even possible.

  2. Mark, thanks for the overview. This situation will never be solved so long as the negotiators in the Koreas, or among the great powers, pursue their own interests. No system can be made functional unless a disinterested approach that views the long-term interests and well-being of all parties is taken. In the India-Pakistan skirmishes, no negotiations between India and Pakistan alone were able to solve problems because of bitter memories and egos and interests of the political leaders. Yet, when the World Bank and a Swedish court created outside solutions based on problem-solving, not political interest, the treaties were agreed to and have been honored, even as other areas of contention remain unsolved.

    It seems to me that America should lead a politically neutral problem-solving approach rather than the pursuit of its own strategic interests if it is to serve the cause of Korean unification.

    1. For “America [to] lead a politically neutral problem-solving approach,” in regards to the “Korea problem,” America itself would (likely or still) need to undergo something akin to [new and truly] revolutionary change (current political realities/change notwithstanding). Temper that with the global electronic, technological (information) upheaval (and its benefits) of the last few decades and the task begins to come into focus on some psycho-spiritual level, only.

      The task (or challenge) seems ever to be to “guide, inspire or even push” such change(s) in way(s) that benefit us all (vis-a-vis, via “God’s Providence”).

      Hence, the ultimate “what is needed” remains, towering and magnificent: A God[-ly]-based United Nations inter-religious forum (or wing; aka an “Abel UN”). Unfortunately, that reality seems unlikely, ironically, given UC history of “pushing” strenuously for that to (quickly) happen.

      For now, an Asian U.N. headquarters (noted by Dr. Barry) may be as good as it gets.

      As BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley writes: “Whatever the final bill, it is likely to be much lower than the cost of unifying the two Koreas, or of a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime. It would, of course, be a miniscule sum compared with the cost of another war on the peninsula.”

  3. The United States has been asked to fulfill its Elder Son responsibility, to take on the challenges of cultural reconciliation, the critical urgency of nuclear security and the promotion of global prosperity. This can only be accomplished with a clear understanding of the recent past and present in a unique way. Thus, in a brief perspective, the road to world peace — the reunification of the Korean peninsula — is the shortest and the longest road. The short road to world peace was taken by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in 1943-45. It was a grand scheme that took place over several conferences in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. Privately, they had agreed to partition the world according to their national interests. After the Axis powers were defeated, a council of United Nations was established. History was moving according to plan. In 1948, the State of Israel was born.

    Without a lengthy recount of missed opportunities to recognize and unite with the Lord of the Second Advent, the events of history continued forward enduring the repeated tragedy of decades of wars. The Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, the Six-Day War, and the Afghan wars. Consequently, the short path of the Big Three would be retraced by our movement some forty years later by CARP (Collegiate Association for the Research of Principle) and MEPI (Middle East Peace Initiative) plotting a path through the Crimea, parts of Eastern Europe and Israel. It was a course of restoration of a parallel history. But, the facts speak for themselves: world peace was not realized as the external world community and its leaders missed their time of visitation.

    Furthermore, internally, the ideology of interdependence, universal values and mutual prosperity had not been fully manifested. A rediscovery of the founding vision — Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and the principles of the separations of powers should be the guide. As Americans, we ought to discover our Providential roots through the lens of the four position foundation thesis and affirmation of civic virtues. Unity, Justice, Tranquility… to secure the Blessing for ourselves and Posterity. The world needs a political philosophy, an American manifesto, that does not focus exclusively on self-interest. As the global humanitarian crisis of waves of refugees fleeing wars and poverty unfolds, we have to blame the crisis on the shortsightedness of self-interest. We have been our own worst enemy.

    The short peace road has become the longest road. Now, 70 years after the end of World War II, we are still on this plotted course towards the goal of world peace — cultural reconciliation, nuclear security and the defeat of hunger. You’ve reiterated that the reunification of the Korean peninsula must be undertaken by all branches of our movement. Measured practically, the journey is estimated in the thousands of miles crossing vast continental obstacles and political divides. Or perhaps, the imagined distance could be as short as one small step — the distance between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. The Church of the Latter Days Saints (Mormons) should be a target audience for the Peace Road activity and the International Peace Education Center (IPEC) message. UPF, WFWP and ACLC might consider this objective along with outreach agenda to veteran groups and Congressional representatives, as you’ve suggested.

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