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[OUTLOOK] Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Feb 12,2001
A 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' Relationship With the U.S. Might Create Opportunities for Seoul

The new Bush administration has set sail and its influence on the Korean Peninsula will be as large as the world expects. With the fate of reunification in the balance, the Korea policies of the Bush administration will provide both a grand opportunity to improve North-South relations and enormous challenges.

The new administration may provide a great chance for the South Korean government since it will recognize Seoul's initiative in North-South relations and will also support the South's lead in solving the problem.

Several Republicans who criticized the Clinton administration's exclusive focus on the North's nuclear weapons assert that the military threats on the peninsula should be seen as a whole and should be solved comprehensively.

If South Korea makes the best use of the hopes of the United States, this might be a chance to reduce the military threat of conventional weapons, which has been relatively ignored.

But the challenges offered by the Bush administration will not be easy to deal with.

Its officials have an empirical perception that in order to change the communist system, what is needed is a balanced application of carrots and sticks from a position of absolute strength. Therefore, they believe that the North will not change much under unidirectional assistance, a position that is clearly counter to the reconciliation and cooperation policies of the South. Citing the example of the former Soviet Union, some Republicans pointed out that although its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared directly his support of reforms and opening, Chairman Kim Jong-il has not done the same, nor has he made changes in the North's military-first policies. United States support for a national missile defense system its failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are other expressions of the diplomacy of power. On the one hand, the Bush administration demands enlargement of the role of alliances, but on the other, the U.S. armed forces stationed in Northeast Asia, including South Korea, may be reorganized. Both points provide challenges to the South Korean government.

How will it overcome the challenges of the Bush administration, continue to improve North-South relations and eventually ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula?

In the current situation, the Korean government must make an overall evaluation of the problems and the fruits of its previous North Korea policies and the future direction of those policies. Most of the issues about which the new U.S. administration expressed critical viewpoints are actually those which conservative Koreans have already pointed out.

When the government reviews the logic it has developed to persuade domestic conservatives and examines them to identify the points that need additional explanations, it can develop a persuasive logic giving effective answers to the critical view held by the Bush administration.

In order to gain U.S. support of Seoul's policies toward North Korea, a full mobilization of the South Korea-U.S. cooperation network built during previous Republican administrations is needed.

In view of the fact that the new administration's security and foreign affairs advisory group is strengthened by security experts, it is necessary for the Korean government to reinforce its own security and foreign affairs advisers with more security experts.

The Korean government should be mindful that if the powerful United States undertakes the role of the bad cop and exercises its influence to press changes in North Korea and the South takes on the role of the good cop, instead of persuading Washington to give up its present viewpoint of North Korea unconditionally, the South's middle position between the North and the United States might become more important. It is important for Korea to develop strategies that utilize the gap between the United States and the North and reach an agreement on its long-term plan at the summit meeting scheduled in March between President Kim Dae-jung and President Bush.

If the Korean government takes appropriate action, it may be easier to improve North-South relations compared to the days of the Clinton administration, when there was competition between the United States and the South in approaching North Korea.

Moreover, it may be an opportunity to change the challenges into opportunitites by using the possibility of reorganization of the U.S. armed forces in Korea and grasping the opportunity of reducing the threat of conventional weapons.

What is important is to transcend the deterrence of war and restart from the point that in creating a peaceful Korean Peninsula, the government party and the opposition party, and Washington and Seoul cannot be pulling in opposite directions.

This is the time when Korea should gather all its wisdom in re-examining its North Korea policies, building a national consensus and establishing strong cooperation with the United States, which advocates a diplomacy of power.

The writer is a professor at National Defense University.

by Han Yong-sup




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