[INSIGHT]Two tracks on the North will failMost international observers agree that the North Korean nuclear problem must be resolved in a peaceful manner. Therefore, the operative question is not whether but how to avoid conflict. Absent a viable policy to achieve this end, a prescription may amount to little more than wishful thinking or empty talk.
The United States is failing to display any applicable policy or strategy on untying the issue. No policy vision on denuclearizing North Korea seems to be on the horizon.
Washington is quite clear on what it will not do. It will not negotiate directly with Pyeongyang unless North Korea drops its nuclear card, and it consistently refuses to reward the country for violating the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. But as to an active plan on how to prompt North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, the Bush administration simply has nothing in its cache.
By comparison, the position of the South Korean government can be described as both proactive and enthusiastic. It does not hide its desire to assume the lead role. But here as well, a clear, methodical and strategic approach is hard to find. Like Washington, Seoul abounds in describing the list of paths it will not follow. A military solution is unthinkable, as is applying economic and diplomatic pressure. To the contrary, our leaders seem to embrace the idea of continuing and even increasing economic assistance to the North, regardless of progress on the outstanding nuclear issue.
Resolution of the nuclear standoff hinges on persuading North Korea to voluntarily forgo its treasured nuclear programs. The U.S. position focuses on inducing North Korea to realize how costly a nuclear venture would potentially be by means of applying economic pressure and brandishing an impression of considering the military option if all others have been exhausted.
By contrast, South Korea refuses to employ a military solution, or even a hint of the use of force. Although such a position seems to be a logical contradiction to the South Korean government’s refusal to accept a nuclearized North, it maintains an adamant insistence on avoiding war.
The United States, for that matter, is not going to war at once. Yet in an anarchic world lacking central authority, the possibility of using force to resolve problems is necessary as a backdrop to any negotiations.
Herein lies the source of distrust between Korea and the United States. While Washington does not exclude recourse to military action, South Korea is both vehement and public in voicing its opposition.
Furthermore, Korea is critical of Washington’s refusal to talk to Pyeongyang, a criticism worth heeding. The problem in all of this is that the rift in the alliance undermines the effectiveness of persuasion.
Even if we were speaking with a single voice, changing North Korea’s path would be a task formidable enough. A two-tier approach only heightens the pessimism. For this reason, Korea and the United States must muster a unified and carefully coordinated strategy. Specifically, the two parties should adopt each other’s propositions. Seoul needs to embrace Washington’s containment policy, and Washington should start direct talks with North Korea.
The Korean government needs to understand the necessity and utility of applying pressure to resolve the issue. Sunshine alone will not convince North Korea to behave in accordance with internationally accepted norms. As with all international conflicts, influencing Pyeongyang means using both carrots and sticks.
A peaceful end to the crisis hinges on Korea and the United States finding a common footing on the issue, thus providing North Korea with clearly defined incentives according to their choices. Lacking such an approach, the only recourse may indeed be military.
* The writer is chairman of the Institute of Social Sciences and a former ambassador to the United States.
by Kim Kyung-won