Go to contents

[Column] Cause of North¡¯s canceled trip unclear

Posted September. 07, 2000 13:25,   


A case of an airplane aggravating a relationship between two states can be represented by the case of the U2 Incident.

On May 1, 1960, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft crashed in Soviet territory. The U.S. government at first denied that the crashed U2 aircraft was engaged in reconnaissance but that it was on a meteorological data gathering flight. However, through the interrogation of the captured pilot, the Soviet government drove the United States into a corner with an accusation that the U.S. had lied. The incident let to the abortion of the U.S.-Soviet-British-French four-way summit that had been planned for May 16.

The incident also led to quick deterioration in the U.S.-Soviet relationship, which had shown a glimmer of improvement in the wake of the first U.S.-Soviet summit held the previous year. Then, two years later, the incident contributed to the development of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

How should we rationalize and understand the cancellation of the visit by Kim Yong-Nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People¡¯s Assembly, to the United States due to an unpleasant exchange at the security inspection process of American Airlines in Frankfurt Airport in Germany, and the resulting cancellation of a summit meeting with President Kim Dae-Jung?

As the statements made by both sides have been inadequate in shedding full light on the situation, there is a great obstacle in handling this situation. However, as the expected diplomatic repercussion is so detrimental that it cannot but be viewed as a highly regrettable incident in the progress of the North Korean-U.S. relationship, as well as the inter-Korean relationship.

Why did such a mishap occur at this point in time? In such a touchy area of international diplomacy, perhaps, certain reasons might be found by examining a number of conjectures proposed by various individuals and organizations both domestic and international.

First, American Airlines had not received any prior notification from the U.S. government or any other authorities. In addition, without any notice of the North`s delegation as "extraordinary" passengers, the airline employees conducted the security inspection in a purely routine procedure.

American Airlines claimed that it was not at all aware that government officials from North Korea were trying to board the plane. If such were true, the fault lies with North Korea for not having given prior notice of their status.

However, there is a possibility that the airline security personnel were thorough in their duty toward the security inspection of North`s delegation in the light of the fact that North Korea was a nation on the list of terrorist states. Even so, the cancellation of the visit by North Korea`s official could be considered an overreaction.

Second, it might have been that the American Airlines or the U.S. government had indeed received prior notice of "extraordinary" personage. If the notice had been credible, proper steps would have been taken. In actuality, the North`s diplomats do have a history of engaging in smuggling operations by using their diplomatic immunity status.

However, it indeed would be a breach of protocol to suspect automatically that a diplomatic entourage would be transporting contraband. It actually goes against all common sense. Despite the North`s previous record, at this juncture in time as North Korea tries to remove itself from the list of terrorist nations, it is hard to imagine that the delegation would try to abuse its flight to the United States.

Third, then, could this be a U.S. conspiracy, a suggestion that few have been voicing? According to the conspiracy theory, the United States superficially welcomes the progress of an amicable relationship with the North, but from deep within, the United States is of another opinion. To Washington, the easing of tension and progress toward peace on the peninsula only weakens the rationale for the presence of the U.S. armed forces and could even lead to the dismantling of the Korean-U.S. military alliance. Such would be a devastating blow to the U.S. pacific policy and strategy.

South and North Korea had planned to adopt a joint declaration pledging inter-Korean cooperation and call for international support of the inter-Korean Summit. If such a scenario were allowed to take firm root, the United States would no longer be the major player in the reconciliation of the inter-Korean relationship and lose its comparative influence.

As such, the conspiracy theorists claim that the United States somehow intervened in the security inspection procedure to cause the cancellation of the North delegation visit on its own initiative playing on the North`s grudge toward the United States. However, this theory is too contrived. In addition, there really isn`t any evidence to back up the theory.

The truth in this matter might not come to light any time soon. However, we must put our efforts toward finding the truth, as it would determine our understanding and conception of North Korea and the United States. All in all, the current crisis reveals clearly the rough road ahead toward peaceful reunification.

It is the hope of the international community that if the incident resulted from a mere misunderstanding, the two nations get together for a heart to heart talks.

KIM, Hak-Joon/editorial advisor for Donga-Ilbo and professor of Myongji university