[VIEWPOINT]North Korean Foot-Dragging Must Cease

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[VIEWPOINT]North Korean Foot-Dragging Must Cease

Someone once said that politics is the art of time. Considering the recent changes in international politics and in North Korea, the phrase makes great sense. At this point, the eyes of the world are centered on America's war against terrorism. In the course of such changes, the foreign policy of the United States has also been altered. America no longer can choose to intervene or to stay away from regional disputes, because terrorism has destroyed the concept of national borders. Until recently, Americans believed that their borders were strongly guarded and that they were protected and safe inside an invisible shield.

The United States has to resolve the international disputes at the root of the trouble by playing a leadership role more actively than in the past. In order to justify its leadership, the United States likely will depend on multilateralism.

The ongoing war is not only a military issue, but also a socioeconomic issue. Even if the United States succeeds in forming an anti-terrorism coalition and wins the war militarily, a failure to rebuild a nation in Afghanistan and that country's economic crisis after the war would surely produce another Osama bin Laden. Unless the socioeconomic chaos is resolved, the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be in a desperate situation and it is likely that they will never escape the influence of radical Muslims. Without proper education facilities, residents of those countries will have to study in the schools established by extreme Muslim fundamentalists, where students will be educated and trained under an anti-America and anti-Western bias. Although the socioeconomic support in those countries is not an attractive policy for the U.S. administration led by the Republican Party, there is no better alternative.

The problem now is how to supply the resources. How can an enormous amount of money be raised in this global economic slump? Whether the war ends soon or not, America will begin its operation of rebuilding Afghanistan, led by the United Nations.

The allies of the anti-terrorism coalition and international financial organizations will cooperate, and private capital will be used to build social infrastructures, education, medical and health systems there.

The situation has a significant meaning to the North. The structure of the game in which the North and the United States have been playing is changing greatly, and Pyeongyang should reshape its policy toward the United States. Most of all, the U.S. politicians no longer pay full attention to the North, for they have turned their eyes on the war against terror.

Economic support for North Korea is another issue. Japan already has begun diplomatic moves to lead the economic rehabilitation projects in Afghanistan when the post-Taliban regime is established. The resources that Japan and international organizations will pour into Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries should have been given to North Korea. Can Pyeongyang afford to spend more than four months since the United States suggested the resumption of talks?

In the past, North Korea has missed good opportunities due to its slow reaction to changes in international societies. Many North Korea experts still wonder why the North wasted one year and five months, from the visit of William Perry, the United States' North Korea policy coordinator, to the North in May 1999, to the return visit of Jo Myong Rok, first vice marshal of North Korea's National Defense Commission, to Washington in October 2000.

Although the inter-Korean summit was held during that period, the North should have taken advantage of the momentum for approaching the United States during that time. If the North had hurried to approach the United States by just a few months, and had not waited until the last days of the Clinton administration, history might be different.

North Korea should hurry to join the anti-terrorism coalition to support the United States. Pyeongyang should accept the U.S. proposal to resume talks and schedule the North Korean leader's return visit to Seoul as soon as possible. Politics is indeed the art of time; and the clock is ticking.


The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

by Yoon Young-kwan

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