[viewpoint]Sons Trying to Fill Their Fathers' Shoes
North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il and U.S. President George W. Bush are a study in contrasts. The system each represents, their childhood backgrounds, and the process that led them to the highest positions in their countries could not have been more different. Yet they have one thing in common: the burden of having a famous father. Being born as the son of the "Great Leader" and of a U.S. president is an intrinsic asset, but the sons remain bound to an obsessive determination not to be considered less of a man than their fathers were.
Karl Marx wrote in 1852 that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. He cited Emperor Napoleon I and his nephew Louis Bonaparte as a lesson in the repetition of history.
We all know about the last days of Napoleon I. Even if his life had been a tragedy, it was an epic tragedy of a hero. His nephew Louis Bonaparte, meanwhile, became the president of the Second Republic after the 1848 revolution, but staged a coup to emerge as Napoleon III and became a dictator. Marx perceived him as a farce of history who could not hold a candle to his heroic uncle.
If Marx were alive today, he would find Kim Il-sung, George Bush and their sons excellent subjects of observation. Former President Bush brought on the collapse of socialism in 1989 and 1990, eradicated the forces which supported the North Korean system and inflicted a lethal blow on President Kim Il-sung.
President Kim Il-sung failed to resolve the crisis in his regime before his death and left the great undertaking to his son.
As though in a twist of fate, the sons of the two fathers are now both the leaders of their countries. It is also an irony of history that the success of the sunshine policy and the Korean Peninsula peace process hangs on the fateful encounter between the two leaders and the outcome of their contest of brainpower.
If Mr. Bush's foreign policy and security team members' remarks on North Korea are any indication, the basic direction of U.S. policy on North Korea will be based on the premise of demanding greater reciprocity from North Korea and a strict verification of its implementation of bilateral agreements.
To verify North Korea's keeping its end of the bargain, the United States demands on-the-spot confirmation of North Korea's suspension of nuclear development, if it has indeed suspended the program, and also of its renunciation of missile development, deployment and export.
In a way, the demand for reciprocity and verification is legitimate, but a literal reciprocity of give-and-take is not practical. This is why the Clinton administration opted for a package solution. Applying strict reciprocity will mean a regression of North Korea-U.S. negotiations to improve bilateral relations, which will in turn give rise to a great risk of reining in South Korea's sunshine policy.
If it is the Bush administration's position that it is reluctant to offer support because North Korea has not changed in any way, then it is a contradiction.
Support for North Korea is not compensation for the changes it has adopted, but an encouragement to nudge it toward changes. It is to recognize the North Korean system so that it can gain self-confidence. North Korea will change if Chairman Kim changes. The Kim Jong-il the world witnessed in last June was a changed person. The easing of tension achieved on the Korean Peninsula after the North-South summit is no trifling change. Does the Bush administration intend to discount this major change?
There is also a problem with its call for verifying bilateral agreements. The U.S. Republicans believe North Korea has not completely frozen its nuclear development program despite the 1994 Geneva nuclear agreement, and hence the call for verification. But North Korea will take this demand as a call for turning the clock back to 1994.
It is not entirely unreasonable of North Korea to threaten to violate the Geneva agreement, provoked by the succession of tough statements by the members of the Bush administration. The South Korean press is also to blame for agitating North Korea. By sensationally reporting the remarks that U.S. officials made on a private basis, the press disappointed the people looking forward to progress in the peace process through Chairman Kim's reciprocal visit to Seoul and also raised North Korea's concerns. One example is the heavy coverage of Deputy Secretary of State-designate Richard Armitage's advice against the use of the term "sunshine policy," which was not a matter of any substance.
Clearly, U.S. policy on North Korea will undergo changes, but they are not likely to be a complete abandonment of engagement with the North and a return to the past. The results of the South Korea-U.S. summit talks and Chairman Kim's return visit to Seoul will be important indicators of how relations with the North will unfold.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie