[OUTLOOK]North demands quick attentionIt is frustrating. There are so many problems facing our country at the moment, and the government is still groping in the dark. An economic recession is accelerating and labor-management relations are showing signs of getting worse after the strike of the Korea Cargo Transportation Workers Union. The government’s mess-up of policies on the educational administration system has further disappointed and depressed people.
Yet what is most frustrating is the North Korean issue. Some might argue that the U.S.-South Korea summit meeting in mid-May has set the government on the right track toward a peaceful solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. If, however, South Koreans truly think that North Korea’s nuclear program can be eliminated easily, the situation is indeed serious.
On what principles and basis is the United States, which is at the center of the North’s nuclear problem, pursuing its alliances with South Korea and Japan, and seeking cooperation with China to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program?
In his speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, President Bush officially announced the end of the war in Iraq and made his answer to this question clear. President Bush emphasized that the war in Iraq was just one of the wars in the bigger war on terrorism that started on Sept. 11, 2001, and is still going on. The Sept. 11 attacks, therefore, have not been “the beginning of the end of the United States,” as Osama bin Laden claimed, but the beginning of the end of terrorist networks and their supporters around the world.
As the chief proponent in the war on terrorism, Mr. Bush has designated terrorist groups and their supporters as enemies of the United States, while calling rogue states possessing or vying to possess weapons of mass destruction and having connections with the terrorist groups as the greatest threat to the civilized world that needs to be contended with.
President Bush has also talked of the possibility of a new kind of war based on the new weapons and new strategies to overthrow dangerous and bellicose governments while minimizing civilian damage. These are the principles that lie below the new world order that the Bush administration has brought about after the Sept. 11 attacks. One must keep this in mind to understand properly the agreements reached at the recent summit between Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush that they would eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program peacefully and explore additional measures in case of an increased threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula. This should also be the basis for understanding what was discussed between the United States and Japan in their recent summit meeting: the necessity of stronger measures in case North Korea further aggravates the situation.
There is a considerable difference of opinion between Seoul and Washington on what the “peaceful elimination” of North Korea’s nuclear program and “additional measures” should be. If Seoul opts to go for the stable, Washington wants something more dynamic. Translating “peaceful elimination” and “additional measures” in the language of the Bush administration’s 21st century world order based on its war on terrorism, one finds a depressing picture.
The Bush administration will continue to categorize North Korea as a rogue state and an opponent in the war on terrorism as long as the North Korean government uses its nuclear capabilities as a negotiation and military means. What the United States means by the “peaceful elimination” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons is the stage of diplomatic war in the bigger war on terrorism. As additional measures in case Pyeongyang persists in its nuclear policy, Washington is considering economic sanctions to push for a regime change. It also has not ruled out military sanctions as a last resort.
Meanwhile, North Korea repeats, while warily eyeing the Bush adminstration’s policies toward the Korean Peninsula, the same three major responses it has used in the past. First, domestically, it is emphasizing the unity of the people with the leadership of the “revolution.” Second, it is offering one by one “new and bold proposals” (that the United States hardly finds new) to pave a way to negotiate a solution to what it sees as hostile policies of the United States towards North Korea. Last, it is continuing its efforts to acquire weapons of deterrence, such as nuclear options.
As long as North Korea is unwilling to seek ways to find its sovereignty and survival by joining the rest of the world, the Bush administration will continue including North Korea as a target in its war on terrorism. Once the United States succeeds in winning China’s cooperation and starts its diplomacy and economic sanctions in earnest, the North Korean nuclear program will take a new turn.
If our government is to overcome its troubles in and out of the country, including North Korea’s nuclear program, it should quit making populist remarks and start finding realistic alternatives. And it better do it quickly.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.
by Ha Young-sun