Monday, September 10, 2007

The long(er) war

In the last year or so the Pentagon's taken to calling Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States' post-September 11 campaign against terrorism "the long war" -- a conflict for which its strategists have mapped out 20 more years of activities. An event last week served as a reminder that the United States is engaged in another, longer war, halted by 1953 ceasefire pact but never ended via peace treaty.
It is, of course, the Korean War. As detailed on a Defense Department website devoted to the war's 50th anniversary (itself half a decade old), the conflict began when troops from North Korea crossed a partition line, drawn in the wake of World War II, on June 25, 1950. The conflict halted 3 years and 1 month later, when "[t]he United States, North Korea and China sign an armistice, which ends the war but fails to bring about a permanent peace." (The U.S. site is disturbingly silent on the fact that troops aided South Korea under the flag of the United Nations pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 84 (July 7, 1950)).
South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun now wishes to bring this chapter of history to an end, in the hope that a peace accord would smooth the way for better relations with North Korea. In what was called a "very warm" closed session during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney, Australia, U.S. President George W. Bush refused to support that goal absent concessions from North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il. In a public retort that drew Bush's evident dismay (see video), Roh went off-script at a press conference:

PRESIDENT ROH: I think I might be wrong -- I think I did not hear President Bush mention the -- a declaration to end the Korean War just now. Did you say so, President Bush?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I said it's up to Kim Jong Il as to whether or not we're able to sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War. He's got to get rid of his weapons in a verifiable fashion. And we're making progress toward that goal. It's up to him.
PRESIDENT ROH: I believe that they are the same thing, Mr. President. If you could be a little bit clearer in your message, I think --
PRESIDENT BUSH: I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end -- will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons. Thank you, sir.

And so, for a brief but widely televised moment, does a small power level the field on which it plays with the large.

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