[OUTLOOK]Strategy required for 6-way talksThe wheels of history turn ceaselessly even in the middle of great disappointment, shock and tragedy. Lately, our society has been experiencing a series of chaotic developments, but the march to the future has never stopped.
It is surely a constructive step forward that Pyeongyang, which had been fervently opposing multilateral discussions over its nuclear weapons development program, announced that, “Through the initiative and peace-loving efforts of North Korea, six-nation talks to resolve the nuclear issues between the North and the United States will open soon in Beijing.”
There is no guarantee that the talks will successfully end the crisis. Rather, the multilateral effort is more likely to fail than succeed. But the prospects are not necessarily bleak. The fact that the leader of the “hermit kingdom” agreed to the six-way talks is meaningful in itself, and the decision suggests that the secluded country’s system might change one day.
Pyeongyang did not agree to the multilateral talks because of the goodwill of Washington or “sunshine” from Seoul, not to mention internal reform. As communist theorists frequently have said, Pyeongyang must have considered the “correlation of forces” and calculated that accepting the multilateral meeting is to its advantage. Also, Pyeongyang is likely to try to sit down with the United States alone within the framework of the six-nation meeting. Washington, however, appears determined to keep all issues on the mutual agenda of the six parties to the talks.
Under these circumstances, then, how will the discussions unfold? We need to pay attention to the negotiating structure of the meeting. While the talks take the form of multilateral negotiations, five nations oppose North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the six-nation talks have a bipolar structure in terms of agenda. Such a division on basic negotiating goals could hardly be found even during the confrontational Cold War era. It is understandable why Pyeongyang has objected to the idea of multilateral talks so far. It could not welcome a situation where it is cornered by all the other participants.
But even if the five nations share an intolerance for Pyeongyang’s nuclear program, each country will not necessarily achieve its goals from the meeting. In fact, each nation will naturally pursue its own interests in addition to the mutual opposition to the North’s nuclear development, and Pyeongyang is likely to use a “divide and conquer” strategy by deftly manipulating the relationships among the five and having them hold one another in check.
Negotiations will not necessarily be conducted only among the countries attending the meeting. Reaching a consensus within a nation is as important as the negotiations with other countries. In some cases, persuading internal opposition and reaching a national consensus could be more difficult than coming to an agreement with a delegation from a partner country. The so-called “sunshine policy” is a typical policy failure that the government pursued without obtaining a national consensus or going through an internal negotiating process.
The government needs to devise a multidimensional, dynamic strategy to deal with the North, with the other five countries and with domestic opinion. Each result and procedure will influence other negotiations that are pursued simultaneously. The representatives to the talks also need to win the trust of the other partners while putting an emphasis on the discussions with Pyeongyang.
Ultimately, what counts most is Pyeongyang’s decision. Will it give up its nuclear program for peace and prosperity or cling to its program to maintain its system? North Korea needs to understand that choosing the second option will only accelerate its collapse. At this point, Seoul needs, more than anything, a national consensus based on healthy common sense. Without an internal consensus, the six-way talks are destined to fail.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is president of the Institute of Social Science. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won