&#91OUTLOOK&#93Looking at options on the North

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&#91OUTLOOK&#93Looking at options on the North

Much recent commentary in America on the North Korean nuclear crisis has focused on concerns that appear "overtaken by events," which I will refer to as OBE. Among these are South Korea's apprehensions that senior U.S. officials were actively considering military attacks on North Korea during the South Korean elections and admonitions from Pyeongyang's neighbors that Washington should pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Pentagon officials doubtless dusted off military contingency plans for review last fall. Since North Korea had acknowledged clandestine violations of its non-nuclear commitments, a failure to evaluate all possible policy responses would have constituted gross negligence. But I cannot believe that any politically responsible U.S. leader seriously considered implementing such plans. Our troops, which are in South Korea to help defend that nation, would not initiate military steps whose costs and risks would be principally shouldered by an ally without the active support of its government.

Requests that the United States pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis are likewise OBE. President George W. Bush has repeatedly affirmed his belief that the matter should be resolved peacefully. He and his senior officials have not only declared a readiness to talk with their North Korean counterparts, they also have been publicly rehearsing the possible content of security assurances to offer North Korea and the form such assurances might take. They have also hinted broadly at a variety of tangible benefits a non-nuclear North Korea might expect from Washington: energy cooperation and agricultural assistance.

The hard bargaining has not, of course, commenced, but pre-negotiation positioning is well underway. Attention should consequently be focused on the kinds of threshold questions negotiators will confront. Here are just a few:

-- Should the objective be "fixing" the Agreed Framework or fashioning a more comprehensive set of understandings with North Korea?

From an American standpoint, one major problem with attempting just to fix the 1994 Agreement is that it allows the illusory inference that North Korea's bid for nuclear weapons is mainly a bilateral issue between Pyeongyang and Washington. It is not. It is a threat, above all, to Northeast Asia. Should a new understanding reflect that basic reality? If so, how?

-- If the focus is principally on addressing evident deficiencies in the Agreed Framework, what should be done to provide for adequate verification?

Kim Jong-il, like Vladimir Lenin before him, evidently believes that agreements, like piecrusts, are made to be broken. Since his word does not inspire trust, the credibility of inspection measures will be critical. Yet Pyeongyang's initiation of uranium enrichment efforts makes the design of an enhanced verification regime even more daunting. We do not know the location of this effort, and possibilities for concealment are immense. Meeting this challenge will require technical sophistication and political ingenuity.

-- Can the United States and North Korea's neighbors develop a balanced and coordinated array of incentives and pressures that will maximize prospects for a successful negotiation?

A core aim is the achievement of a nuclear-free peninsula. The United States and all of Pyeongyang's neighbors share that objective. Tactical differences among us, however, diminish potential negotiating leverage. To date, North Korea's neighbors appear exclusively interested in offering positive inducements. The Bush Administration has publicly emphasized threats of isolation and possible sanctions.

North Korea's leader may be proud and stubborn, but the conditions of his country leave him playing a relatively weak hand. Its neighbors should not be expected indirectly to subsidize the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction nor to transfer substantial economic resources without reasonable expectations that they will contribute to the welfare of the North Korean people rather than just the survival of its regime.

Thus, we need a strategy that promises Pyeongyang significant benefits if it is cooperative, and seriously adverse consequences if it is not.

* The writer, a former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassdor to Japan, is a professor at Stanford University.

by Michael H. Armacost
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