[OUTLOOK]If 6-party talks fail, then what?Recently both South Korea and the United States have been busy making efforts to resume the six-way talks, so much so that it gives us the illusion that holding the six-way talks is actually our ultimate goal.
However, pursuing the six-way talks is not our ultimate goal. The talks are just a way to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Therefore, the crucial question is whether North Korea will actually give up its nuclear weapons.
It appears that when North Korea started to develop nuclear weapons, its intention was to secure a superior position in the military equilibrium on the Korean Peninsula. In other words, they did not start making nuclear weapons for the purpose of gaining a better bargaining chip with the United States.
But after the international authorities found out about North Korea’s nuclear development program and after communist regimes, including the Soviet Union, collapsed, North Korea found itself in an extremely precarious position.
North Korea started to think that its regime could, like other communist states, collapse from within under the pressure of the United States, and the Kim Jong-il regime focused on uniting all North Korean people through a military-first policy and political slogans that emphasized persevering through hardships.
The regime’s survival strategy was to arm its people thoroughly with an anti-U.S. ideology. North Korea says that America is responsible for its economic difficulties, its isolation in the international community and everything else.
The anti-U.S. ideology is how the North Korean regime rules the country. North Koreans have now been trained to blame all hardships on the United States.
However, if the North Korean nuclear problem is solved through the six-way talks, North Korea would no longer be able to use its anti-American ideology to control its people. As a result, the North Korean regime could falter and weaken from within.
This is why I think that Kim Jong-il cannot actually give up his nuclear program completely. If North Korea does not ultimately give up its nuclear weapons program, the six-way talks will fail. I think that the problem raised at this point is at the heart of the issue.
If the failure of the six-way talks is inevitable, we will have three choices.
The first reaction is to have no reaction. Of course, it means tacitly accepting North Korea as a nuclear power. But that would be a choice with disastrous consequences.
Once North Korea is acknowledged as a nuclear power, it will pose a serious problem to the nuclear non-proliferation system, either greatly weakening it or forcing it to collapse completely. It could lead to destruction of the international order that is based on the premise of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The second possibility is enticing North Korea with bigger incentives. However, this method will end up encouraging the North to demand more concessions from us, and then our side would have to continue giving more and more. If the North Koreans continue to demand that some of its conditions be fulfilled and our side has to constantly give in to satisfy them, this would only allow the North Korean leadership to employ more hard-line negotiation tactics.
The third and last response is to show North Korea that we will inevitably have to resort to suppressive and destructive means because the North refuses to give up its nuclear weapons.
There can be several concrete methods. It will be of great help, especially, if the UN Security Council provides legitimate reasons for taking up sanctions against North Korea.
Of course, North Korea is saying that it will regard sanctions of any kind as a declaration of war and will respond with military action. However, there is still a long distance between the stage of putting pressure on a country and the outbreak of war. And North Korea does not seem to be so ignorant or so rash as to start a destructive war that it knows it is sure to lose.
Fundamentally, the negotiations end up revealing the actual balance of power between the parties involved. In any case, if the possibility of using sanctions against the other side is eliminated from the starting point of negotiations, it is not realistic to expect that we will be able to persuade our counterpart through these talks.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won