[OUTLOOK]Libya’s lesson for North KoreaOn Dec. 19, the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Qadhafi, declared that his country would completely abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs.
This was hailed as an exemplary case showing how the issue of such weapons could be solved with international sanctions.
Until now, the prevailing theory was that sanctions alone could not stop a nation from building weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. It was hard to find any country that could be said to have abandoned its weapons of mass destruction program or nuclear development program because of international sanctions.
During the Cold War, the East-West confrontation made sanctions ineffective. At the time, countries that pursued the development of weapons of mass destruction could use the power relations in a divided world to overcome international pressure.
Libya and North Korea are two such countries.
The end of the Cold War brought an end to the dynamic. The countries pointed to by the United States, which now operates as the “world’s policeman” as deserving sanctions find themselves facing increasing difficulties.
The United States is now displaying willingness to use not only economic but also military sanctions, as was shown by its attack on Iraq. Colonel Qadhafi has smartly adapted to the geopolitical changes.
In a radio talk show interview last Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was time for North Korea to get smart as well. Will Kim Jong-il indeed pay heed like Col. Qadhafi?
Since last October when its nuclear program again became a heated issue, North Korea has fallen internationally into a situation of facing sanctions that are not sanctions.
Of course, the United Nations has not issued any resolutions against North Korea. It is unlikely that there will be any hard-line UN action for the time being. That is because Russia and China would oppose such moves.
However, now that China has started to oppose North Korea’s nuclear development more actively, Pyeongyang would risk provoking China into ending or halting the various forms of aid it gives to the North should it persist in its nuclear arms development.
The possibility of economic assistance from Japan has also faded.
Right now, the only source of economic aid that North Korea can rely on is South Korea. However, unless North Korea shows a change of direction or bold resolution in solving the nuclear stalemate, there would be a limit to the South’s willingness to provide economic help.
The countries of the European Union and international aid organizations that have continued giving humanitarian assistance to North Korea have also started to pull back because of the nuclear issue.
Internally, North Korea is in a desperate situation. Pyeongyang issued new economic measures in July, enacting minor reforms in its system. This, however, seems to have only worsened the economic confusion.
The disruption of the ration system has deepened the economic crisis and diminished whatever loyalty people feel for Kim Jong-il’s regime.
More and more soldiers are abandoning their posts as even the military, the best-fed sector in North Korea, is going hungry. The loyal atmosphere of people volunteering to join the military has disappeared and young people now avoid the army.
The efforts at artificially boosting public loyalty by “military-first” policies now depend on whether it can successfully overcome the economic crisis.
The regime will have to come up with a solution to its nuclear issue which would satisfy the United States and the world. North Korea does not have much time left. The more the regime drags on, the more precarious its position will become.
Pyeongyang has no choice but to follow Col. Qadhafi’s example and “get smart.” However, those of us dealing with the Kim Jong-il regime should also not forget that North Korea is also “smart” enough to engage in brinkmanship tactics to raise its bid before it abandons its nuclear program.
* The writer is a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.
by Jeung Young-tai