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Northeast Asia is unique. Only in this corner of the planet do the world’s four great powers meet. It is the Koreans’ curse that their peninsula is the focus of international competition. Europeans and Americans are relative newcomers to a struggle for control that has endured for hundreds of years. As Korea’s former Foreign Minister Ro Myung Gong notes in “U.S.-Korea-Japan Relations: Building Toward a ‘Virtual Alliance,’ ” 19th-century British policy planners regarded Korea as the Gibraltar of Northeast Asia. That mind-set drove governments throughout the 20th century and looks set to continue through the next.

The contest for power is most evident at the 38th parallel, the Cold War relic that divides the two Koreas. That border is considered by many to be the most dangerous spot on Earth.

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