[OUTLOOK]Change up north to impact regionThe North Korean nuclear issue is highly likely to be resolved this year. We need to predict possible challenges and opportunities that will ensue after resolving the nuclear crisis and prepare ourselves for the challenges.
The nuclear issue had been settled 10 years ago. Though the Geneva Agreement has been suspended since North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment program was revealed by the United States, we don’t have to see the nuclear issue as an insolvable problem if we recall the experience of a decade ago. It’s important to give North Korea a strong incentive to renounce its ambition for nuclear weapons.
The United States has already demonstrated its own way of solving problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. Libya’s leader Moammar Qaddafi sent a signal to the United States that he understood how he had to act to avoid a U.S.-style solution in his country.
North Korea hasn’t sent such a signal to the United States yet, but the country is not in a position or a mindset to do so just yet.
It is obvious that North Korea will face many more difficulties if President George W. Bush wins re-election in November. Even if the Democratic Party seizes power, it will not show any more tolerance for North Korea’s nuclear weapons than the Republican Party.
The only difference between the two parties is in negotiation style: Democrats will work to resolve the issue, while the Republicans will force North Korea to make a choice. Under these circumstances, North Korea will be in deep fix after the U.S. presidential election if it cannot settle the nuclear issue before the election.
North Korea should ponder over the mode of its existence. It is still talking about the Juche, or self-reliance, ideology. But North Korean rulers cannot be ignorant of the fact that their country is actually most dependent on outside help.
As long as North Korea promotes the Juche ideology, it cannot escape the contradiction between what it is and what it wants to be. In other words, North Korea cannot extricate itself from its identity crisis.
For example, North Korea announced economic reform measures that commenced in July 1 of last year, but the measures created many problems rather than solving economic difficulties. North Korea has kept silent about its fundamental structure of economy, though it announced some measures to give business firms more autonomy in management and to reduce the influence of distribution system for food and necessities.
The country’s attempts proved that trying to improve the management of the economy without revamping economic structure only makes things worse.
North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, should not stick to the Juche slogan any more and should make a decision to be integrated into the world economy. This is, of course, up to North Korea, to decide on its own policies.
Once it gives up Juche for economic reasons, the North Korean regime will be taking its first big step to big changes.
Kim Jong-il will understand that he can no longer postpone his decision to implement the structural reform of economy. North Korea is in an urgent and critical situation where it can no longer postpone its decision beyond this year.
With this perspective, we can predict that the North Korean system will change within this year if the country’s nuclear crisis is resolved within this year.
The moment that the North Korean economy integrates with the world economy, North Korea will begin its journey toward change.
This also would mean that the two Koreas will begin a historical march toward the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. If reunification is realized, it would jolt the balance of power in East Asia.
As the superpowers surrounding the Korean Peninsula have maintained a balance of power on the premise of a divided Korea, the reunification will surely trigger a new geopolitical competition in the region. In the end, South Korea would have to review relations with the United States, China and Japan in the new environment.
The unified Korea should demonstrate its vision and will to build up a new power structure in Northeast Asia. In the middle of anxiety and excitement, the new Korea should shake off its attitude of the past, which leaned on external powers, and instead learn to stand alone.
Reunification may come earlier than we expect. We have to prepare for the new age from now on.
* 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