[OUTLOOK]Pyongyang’s disguised offensive

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[OUTLOOK]Pyongyang’s disguised offensive

Now that North Korea has declared itself a nuclear power, Pyongyang insists that the six-nation talks on its nuclear programs should become multilateral disarmament talks, with all participants on equal footing.
Moreover, as a precondition for the talks, Pyongyang is still demanding an apology from Washington for Condoleezza Rice’s characterization of the regime as an “outpost of tyranny.” The prospects for resuming the deadlocked negotiations are looking even gloomier.
It is a well-known fact that Pyongyang has been developing its nuclear weapons in the name of “self-defense,” and that it has made unreasonable demands that Washington abandon its “hostile policy” before it will resume negotiations on ending its weapons programs, as Washington wants it to.
It is also common knowledge that North Korea has breached the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework and carried out nuclear development using enriched uranium, which led to the peninsula’s second nuclear crisis in 2002.
In February, Pyongyang surprised international observers who’d been watching the development of the nuclear standoff by officially acknowledging that it has nuclear weapons. What is behind Pyongyang’s sudden proposal now to turn the six-way talks into multilateral arms reduction talks?
First of all, Pyongyang is trying to to make its nuclear possession a fait accompli and to win international recognition as a nuclear power. So far, that strategy has been succeessful, at least in part. Though Seoul and Washington have agreed in principle that a nuclear-armed North Korea won’t be tolerated, they seem to have no good way to deter the Kim Jong-il regime in its strong desire to have nuclear weapons, as its tactics alternate between demonstrations of flexibility and on-the-precipice desperation.
Washington seems to be at a crossroads. It has nearly run out of peaceful and diplomatic approaches. While some hard-line measures have yet to be attempted, such as imposing sanction or taking the case to the United Nations, China’s ambiguous attitude makes one question how much impact either approach could have on the situation.
Exploiting the fluidity of this situation, Pyongyang wants to make its nuclear status an accepted fact, and to use it as a lever in its relations with South Korea and the United States.
So Pyongyang is trying to change the agenda for the six-nation talks based on the fact that it has nuclear weapons. Shunning the international community’s demand to give up its nuclear programs, Pyongyang wants both its nuclear arms and U.S. nuclear capacity in Northeast Asia to be discussed on a level playing field. Its ultimate goal is a mutual reduction of arms.
In the six-way talks, Pyongyang’s strategy is to exchange its nuclear program for a change in the U.S. nuclear presence in the region. Ultimately, North Korea probably has its eye on weakening the defense capability of both the South Korean forces and the U.S. forces in Korea, and on breaking up the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
Amid the turbulence in Northeast Asia, this bold proposal from Pyongyang could have a deleterious effect on South Korea’s national security. Such concerns become even more grave when one recalls the talk of mutual, inter-Korean arms reduction that took place in some corners of Korean society last year, during the discussions of curtailment of the U.S. military presence.
Moreover, the South Korea-U.S. alliance is already going through a difficult time. Despite the various controversies, it is clear that we can never give up this alliance, considering Korea’s unique geopolitical circumstances. Among the four “neighborhood giants,” the United States is the best ally for us, since it believes in liberty and human rights and has no territorial ambitions on the Korean Peninsula.
In the age of “collective security,” alliances are a widely accepted concept, and all nations have to make use of them to protect their own security. There is no reason to be ashamed of having an alliance. Ours with the United States is crucial to Korean security, and therefore we should never compromise it in order to pursue the role of mediator.
The six-nation framework is a multilateral, consultative body born of the need to peacefully resolve the nuclear crisis. North Korea must come back to the talks unconditionally, and must go through the procedure to give up the nuclear program.
Using every measure at its disposal, South Korea has to persuade the North to participate in the six-way talks, and must collaborate with Washington to resolve the crisis. At the same time, we have to consider the fatal threat that North Korea’s nuclear armaments pose, and remain composed in response to Pyongyang’s offensive, disguised as an appeal for arms reduction.

* The writer is a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Hong Kwan-hee

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