[OUTLOOK]Renouncing force is not practicalThe new government’s first task is resolving the question of North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. Without succeeding in that first task, the government will inevitably fall short in the rest of its missions, such as the domestic reforms and the reinforcement of Korea’s status in the international community, two other goals emphasized by President Roh Moo-hyun in his inaugural speech. North Korea’s nuclear ambition is not only a matter involving the two Koreas; it is also the Achilles heel that can determine whether the new government is a success or a failure during its five years in office.
The North Korean nuclear issue was given to us as a task more than a decade ago, but we have not found a clue to the answer. Could this be a problem with no solution? The answer is certainly “no.” The problem is a cubic equation, but we have been trying to deal with it as a quadratic equation.
Instead of calling the issue a North Korean nuclear issue, Pyeongyang calls it a nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula as a whole. In a statement by a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, Pyeongyang said “The nuclear issue emerged on the Korean Peninsula and the situation grew as tense as it is today mainly because of the U.S. military threat, a product of its deep-rooted hostile policy toward the DPRK.”
Pyeongyang argues that its demand for a nonaggression treaty with Washington is not based on the simple reason of guaranteeing its regime or for economic rewards; the North instead stressed that the treaty is for the purpose of removing the U.S. military threat.
That logic, then, is directly connected to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the peninsula and the U.S.-South Korea military alliance.
The United States in the 1990s dealt with the North Korean nuclear issue as a facet of nuclear proliferation, which disturbed the U.S.-led military order of the world.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Washington changed its stance and approached the North Korea issue as a matter of weapons of mass destruction, linking it to its war against terror. U.S. President George W. Bush recently made public a national strategy for combating terrorism and the underlying U.S. stance was clearly stated in the report.
The report noted that terror organizations have become a global network in the 21st century. It also noted the spread of advanced weapons technology and the accessability of weapons of mass destruction. The report laid out the basic principle of anti-terrorism as destroying terrorist organizations, weakening terror-sponsoring activities and defending the U.S. homeland.
To deter terror-sponsoring activities, Washington classified some nations as state sponsors of terror. A new anti-terrorism alliance was built and North Korea was labeled as one of seven countries on the sponsors of terror list.
The Bush administration thus deals with the North Korean nuclear issue within the framework of its war against terror, but will continue using diplomacy to solve the problem ― for the time being.
When North Korea begins reprocessing its spent fuel rods, Washington will work on economic sanctions against the North through the UN Security Council. If that plan does not work, the United States will consider changing the North Korean regime, and that last resort would certainly involve the use of military force against the North.
For South Korea, the North Korean nuclear issue is double jeopardy. If the North decides to become nuclear-armed, political and military relations between the two Koreas will be disturbed greatly. East Asia will face the possibility of nuclear dominos. Washington-Pyeongyang relations will face a crisis, and a fatal blow will hit the Korean economy. It is self-evident that North Korea must be stopped from arming itself with nuclear weapons; if it does, the peninsula will become a tinderbox.
If North Korea will not give up its nuclear program to the end and if Washington considers force as its last resort to stop the program, South Korea will have to accept the fact that its desire to disarm the North cannot be reconciled with its intent to settle the problem peacefully.
For Seoul to take a leading role in the North Korea nuclear issue, it should take action rather than just repeating its contradictory principles. Seoul must form an emergency team to weigh the interests of the two Koreas, East Asia and the United States, instead of wasting time playing politics. Seoul must find the key to solving the North Korean nuclear equation.
In the course of finding the key, Seoul must keep in mind that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a short cut to total destruction, but Pyeongyang may not know or not care about the consequences.
In that case, just international sanctions and compensation for its denuclearization must be drawn up.
Seoul must persuade Pyeongyang to give up its nuclear aspirations in verifiable manner. If that persuasion fails, Seoul must cooperate with the international community to stop the North from developing nuclear weapons in a fair and righteous manner.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.
by Ha Young-sun