WASHINGTON — The division of Korea, like the division of so much else, came from a big-power wartime arrangement. At the 1945 Yalta Conference in the Crimea, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to give Stalin a piece of the peninsula as an inducement to join the war against Japan. Five years later, Stalin gave Kim Il Sung leave to invade South Korea. The consequences of which we have lived with for half a century.
North Korea is that "rogue state" that American officials have in mind when they say we need a national missile defense system. Or when the administration says it cannot afford to join a ban on landmines. Or when a South Korean airliner is blown up.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the two Germanys reunited without the need for any summit. Even without a Soviet patron, North Korea's Kim Il Sung continued his repressive rule, and even tried to develop a nuclear missile system. The human cost of all this was tremendous - perhaps a million lives and millions of famished people.
This could not be sustained. At various times in recent years, the North Korean regime has made gestures of conciliation. In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter brokered an agreement for a breakthrough North-South summit.
But President Kim Il Sung died before it could be realized. His son, Kim Jong Il, clearly needed time to establish himself in power before he could venture outward.
More recently, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung has been sending aid to North Korea under a "sunshine" policy, as he calls it. And former Defense Secretary William Perry, with President Clinton's blessing, has drawn up a strategic plan for approaching the regime in Pyongyang.
In recent months, North Korea has been quietly reaching out to West European countries, talking to Japan, raising questions about entry into international trade organizations. And in unified Berlin last month, South Korea's Mr. Kim said the leaders of the two Koreas should meet. He mentioned the possibility of opening the border for family visits ... a first step.
The three-day summit in Pyongyang in June would clearly be only the beginning of something, far from the end. But, 50 years after North Korea's attempt at forceful unification under the hammer and sickle, we may be witnessing the liquidation of the last East-West armed conflict.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society