[OUTLOOK]Where’s nuclear crisis headed?

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[OUTLOOK]Where’s nuclear crisis headed?

Since the North Korean authorities officially declared that the country has nuclear weapons, the atmosphere at home and abroad has become unsettled, like disturbing a beehive. The situation is confused, with responses ranging from optimism that we need not worry too much because the declaration may be Pyeongyang’s brinkmanship negotiating strategy to pessimism that what has been expected has finally come about. Government officials and experts in the concerned countries seem to be perplexed too.
How should we properly view the situation? Where can we find a clue to a solution? As Washington and Pyeongyang officially turned away from the solution President Roh Moo-hyun suggested during his visit to Los Angeles in mid-November last year, his answer ended up seeming like an attempt to give a middle school-level answer on a college entrance exam. In order not to repeat the same mistakes, we should read the questions carefully first of all.
The questions given to us are comparatively simple because they are only about the statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry on Thursday. But how carefully one will read these questions and give the right answers from what perspective greatly depends on the reader’s ability to comprehend. A quick reading of the statement gives an impression that it is not much different from the remarks that were made in the past.
The previous remarks of North Korean authorities on the nuclear issue had a relatively simple logical structure. Above all, North Korea emphasized that the nuclear problem was caused by the United States’ hostile policy toward the country. Next, Pyeongyang said that in resolving the nuclear problem, there was a choice of methods between diplomatic negotiations and reliance on a nuclear deterrent, and depending on the attitude of the United States, it would choose a proper method.
Upon closer examination of the statement, we can find something different from the past remarks. After reviewing George W. Bush’s second inaugural address and State of the Union address, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s remarks at her confirmation hearing in Congress, North Korea said it would no longer attend the six-party talks because the United States ignored the country’s request to withdraw its hostile policy ― which Pyeongang thinks is a fundamental obstacle to the resolution of the nuclear problem ― and furthermore completely denied North Korea, naming it an “outpost of tyranny.”
Therefore, it says that until the condition and the atmosphere are satisfied, Pyeongyang will stop participating in the six-way talks indefinitely and seek measures to increase its nuclear arsenal for self-defense.
North Korea is more sensitive to political sanctions than economic or military sanctions. According to a Jan. 13 article in the Rodong Shinmun, the organ of the North Korean Workers’ Party, North Korea stressed that if the country did not wake up and cope with the United States’ “scheme to internally divide and break up the country,” North Korea would suffer the consequences no less seriously than from an open military invasion. Therefore, the statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry puts more emphasis on its nuclear capability and speaks in a stronger voice and tone toward the United States, which has said it would spread freedom over tyrannical regimes like North Korea.
But the problem is not so simple. If North Korea has to stake its fate on blocking the United States’ scheme of internal division and collapse of the country, the second-term Bush administration also set up a “diplomacy of dissemination of freedom” as its keynote of foreign policy. There is not much space for North Korea and the United States to retreat from each other.
As a consequence, there will be an acute conflict between North Korea’s threat to reinforce its nuclear capability and the United States’ policy to spread freedom over tyrannical regimes. If this is the case, what has changed and what has not? First of all, the logical structure of the problem is not new. But we should know that the cause of the problem and the solution about which North Korea is concerned have been aggravated.
To resume the six-way talks, North Korea will strongly urge the United States to give up the scheme of internal division and collapse. North Korea has already pointed out specific cases of maneuvering. It says the United States has attempted to divide the country internally by strengthening false propaganda and pressure on the North Korean regime and supporting dissident forces. But North Korea’s conditions for participation in the talks would hardly be accepted. An important reason is that the United States does not agree with the country. But a more important reason is that North Korea would hardly be able to escape from the criticism of being an “outpost of tyranny.”
How should we, then, settle the North Korean nuclear situation? The paradox of the crisis is that the more urgent the situation becomes, the greater the possibility of finding a way out. North Korea is rapidly approaching the crossroads between the scrapping of its nuclear weapons program and blocking the “scheme of internal division and collapse.” Its choice at the crossroads will provide a solution to the crisis or a clue to a catastrophe. It is time to think prudently about what our task is in this situation.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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