[FORUM]Riddle of U.S.-North Korea talksBruce Cumings, a professor at the University of Chicago and author of “The Origins of the Korean War,” recently visited Korea. Responding to a question from a journalist, Mr. Cumings said that the United States could opt for military action against North Korea should President George W. Bush be re-elected next year.
This view means that military action against the North is ruled out at least until the presidential election next year. Domestic issues, such as the economy, come first before an election and realistically it would be difficult for Mr. Bush to commence any military action again so soon while the after-effects of the war with Iraq have turned out to be more serious than expected. Should North Korea, however, attempt any nuclear testing or declare possession of nuclear weapons before November 2004, when the presidential election is held in the United States, the story could be different. Mr. Bush would likely not wait until the election is over.
Keeping this worst-case possibility in mind, the United States will try to explore peaceful means to settle North Korea’s nuclear problem through multilateral talks. The U.S. government called the plan to include South Korea, Japan and Russia in the discussions, making a party of six, through the mediation of China, a positive sign that this problem could be solved through multilateral talks.
But no amount of talk will help to bring about a solution if the United States and North Korea don’t change their basic positions. North Korea wants a comprehensive agreement linking the nuclear issue with all other issues between the two countries, including a promise to guarantee the safety of its regime. The United States is of the position that the North must give up its nuclear program first. The multilateral talks will not produce significant results if the two sides run parallel in opposite directions.
Until now, the Bush administration had been tenaciously insisting on multilateral talks. In the meantime, the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program has gotten more and more serious. There is criticism that the United States is intentionally indifferent because it seeks justification for its plan to build a missile defense system. Others charge that the U.S. government is doing nothing because it has no plan. William Perry, who was defense secretary in the Clinton administration, pointed to Mr. Bush’s personal view that Kim Jong-il is evil and that it is immoral to compromise with him and warned that things could lead to war if they were left this way.
It is groundless optimism to hope that North Korea would not dare provoke conflict after witnessing the war in Iraq. John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus, a U.S. civilian think tank, states that North Korea has come to three conclusions after the war in Iraq: that a promise of nonaggression by the United States is useless, that the United States will not be satisfied no matter how many weapons inspections are accepted by Pyeongyang and that only nuclear weapons can deter an attack from the United States.
A book of prophecies called “The Secrets of Songha” has become popular these days in Korea. Songha was a man who lived in the Pyeongan province in the northern part of the peninsula during the late Joseon Dynasty. In this book, there is a riddle-like prophecy for the year 2003 that says the prospects for dialogue will get brighter when the rainy spell is over, but as two wheels of a cart derail, the talk will end up disrupted.
Hwang Byeong-deok, who published the Korean version of this book and is a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, interpreted this prophecy as saying that while talks over North Korea’s nuclear situation will start after the rainy spell, they will be ruptured like two wheels that have been derailed while running busily.
The prophecy says that the tension in the Korean Peninsula will reach a climax that will force Mr. Bush to attack North Korea’s nuclear facilities in the second half of next year before the presidential election in the United States. This pessimistic book of prophecy that came out in May has already been reprinted five times thanks to its popularity.
The fate of our nation wavers between the extremes of war and peace. Domestically, there have been a tragic string of suicides by destitute families under economic duress. And still the politicians of our country haven’t come to their senses yet, blinded by their fight over power day and night. It is said that Songha must have been lamenting because he foresaw today’s situation. Alas, alas, alas.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok