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Professor sheds light on North Korea
Sanctions, six-party talks may not resolve standoff
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Forsyth County News


Many misconceptions about North Korea exist in the minds of Americans, a professor said Tuesday.

J.T. Kwon, a native of Korea, has taught various courses focusing on the politics of North Korea at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.

He is currently working on a paper focusing on how to resolve the North Korean nuclear weapons situation.

Kwon lead a lecture Tuesday as part of the college's ongoing Great Decisions series at the Sharon Forks library.

His presentation focused on economic sanctions and nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

Kwon first gave a brief overview of the Asian nation's history during the 20th century. He said from 1910 to 1945, Korea was annexed by Japan before becoming a separate unified nation.

In 1948, he said, opposing regimes created North and South Korea.

From 1950-53, the U.S. was engaged in the Korean War. Americans defended South Korea and stood in opposition to North Korea.

The war ended with armistice in 1953. However, Kwon said since then "animosity" has continued to build between North Korea and the U.S.

"Ever since [1953] North Korea has seen the U.S. as its main enemy," Kwon said.

He went on to say that the country has worked to develop its own nuclear weapons due to fear of being attacked by the U.S.

He said Kim il-Sung, North Korea's leader from 1948 until his death in 1994, was "obsessed with nuclear weapons."

"In 1945, he saw how Japan gave up with the dropping of two atomic bombs," Kwon said. "He was amazed at how much power the U.S. had in having atomic bombs."

Kwon said il-Sung saw having nuclear weapons as a way to prevent attack by other countries.

"North Korea is concerned about its survival," Kwon said. "I truly believe its motivation [in creating nuclear weapons] is fear. They're insecure about a possible U.S. attack."

For the past 60 years or so, the nation has faced economic sanctions from the U.S. and other Western nations.

"But they have not worked, and I don't think they'll be effective in the future," Kwon said.

He said the failure of economic sanctions can be traced to "myths" many in the West have about North Korea due to misunderstandings about its culture and people.

Among them are the beliefs that "if economic conditions get bad enough, North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons" and that the people may eventually overthrow Kim Jong-il, the nation's current leader and son of il-Sung.

Kwon said neither is likely to happen because North Korea's people will never blame their own government for their suffering.

"They think their problems are all the fault of foreign aggression," he said, noting that they also see Jong-il as a father figure and almost "god-like."

Another Western misconception Kwon said is the belief that "Kim Jong-il is a a madman."

"That's not true. I have talked with people who have meet him personally and they all say he is a smart, rational man who knows how to survive and is very respected by his people," Kwon said.

Kwon said he believes one basic action could lead to disarming of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

"I want to propose one policy change," he said. "So far, North Korea has been involved in 'six-party talks' and the six parties are the U.S., Japan, Russia, China and the two Koreas."

The problem with that, Kwon said, is the fact that North Korea sees the issue as solely between it and the U.S.

"To me, the solution would be for the U.S. to make direct contact with North Korea and give them a secret guarantee that we won't attack them," Kwon said.

He also said he doesn't believe the U.S. should "outsource its foreign policy to China."

In addition, the armistice could be "turned into a peace treaty."

"The Korean War was just suspended with armistice," he said. "Really, we're still in war with North Korea, so armistice should be turned into a peace treaty and economic sanctions should be eased over time."

Linda Bell, who has attended all the lectures in the series, said she found Kwon to be "really enlightening."

"I got an education," she said. "To watch him talk about North Korea was very interesting."

The lecture series continues at 6:30 p.m. March 29 at Sharon Forks library with "The Caucasus."