[OUTLOOK]Carrots and sticks for NorthU.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Seoul last week. There was a lot of speculation around as to why the secretary of state visited Seoul with the U.S. presidential election around the corner. But the messages Colin Powell brought with him were just three points.
The first message was to propose a plan for another six-way meeting right after the U.S. presidential election. It seems that the United States wants to talk regardless of the outcome of the election.
The second message was to reconfirm that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea militarily. Many people do not believe that the U.S. government has no such intentions, despite what they say. However after going through the war in Iraq, it would probably be safe to say that they do not want to solve the problem of the Korean Peninsula using military power.
The third message was to stress that the relationship between the Korean and U.S. governments is in fact sincere. It is true that Korean-American relations have not been all that smooth since the Roh Moo-hyun administration was launched. Nevertheless, Colin Powell made an effort to show a positive attitude toward Korea-U.S. relations because he is aware of this situation.
So does this mean that there will be six-way talks as soon as the U.S. presidential election is over?
Whether or not they take place is up to North Korea. If North Korea refuses to take part in the talks, there will be none. Therefore there is a need to examine the situation from North Korea’s point of view. We need to imagine how North Korea might perceive the situation and what kind of calculations they may be making.
There are two possible reasons as to why North Korea developed nuclear weapons. One is that they are using nuclear weapons as a deterrent, and the other is that they could use it as a negotiating card if they just got the right price.
We cannot know for sure which of the two reasons is their reason for having weapons, but even if North Korea started developing nuclear weapons for military reasons they could end up giving them up now considering that it could give them economic rewards and guarantee the survival of their political power.
Then why is it that North Korea is not showing any signs of flexibility in the nuclear negotiations?
One of the reasons is because, through the six-party talks, North Korea learned that South Korea and the United States do not have the same position on its nuclear weapons development program, and because there is a difference in the way South Koreans and Americans view North Korea. They think they will be able to gain a lot by making minimum concessions. North Korea has a diplomatic history of using minor complications between China and Russia to gain big profits during Cold War era. Therefore, to persuade North Korea, South Korea and the United States need to have the same view on North Korea and make North Korea believe that they are all reading from the same page.
The United States has continuously dealt with the North’s nuclear threat as the most important issue, whereas South Korea has stressed making peace with North Korea. In order to persuade North Korea in the future, the two different views on North Korea, that of South Korea and the other of the United States, need to be combined. Yet the process of combining the two views needs to be carried out quietly through a concealed channel. The problem of how we should view North Korea is very sensitive politically. Therefore, it is not suitable for the government to have an open debate on the subject.
The foundation of North Korean negotiations is the logic that if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons there will be economic and diplomatic rewards and that if it does not give them up, only pressure and isolation will follow. It is a strategy that appeals to North Korea’s ability to calculate its own profits and losses. If North Korea announces that it will give up nuclear weapons and the United States promises gifts in return, the negotiations can be successful.
But North Korea is still not showing any clear signs regarding whether it wants to negotiate or not. If North Korea continues to reject negotiations even after the elections, the United States will have no choice but to turn to pressure. The important thing, if this happens, is that the pressure policy of the United States on North Korea will have to gain the support of international society. This is not something the United States can solve unilaterally. Also in order to be supported by international society, the United States will have to show maximum flexibility in positive proposals before it changes to negative incentives. It must prove that the failure in negotiations was all due to North Korea.
This is probably why the minister of foreign affairs, Ban Ki-moon, proposed a “more creative and flexible” approach when Mr. Powell visited.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University.
by Kim Kyung-won