[VIEWPOINT]‘Sudden death’ in 6-party talksThe six-party talks on the North Korea nuclear problem have finally reached an agreement. The adoption of a joint statement in the six-party talks was enough of an achievement to make us expect that the nuclear problem would be resolved through rational dialogue and negotiation.
In sports, there is “sudden death,” in which the team that scores first during this period wins the game. Teams face sudden death if neither team has a lead when the regular period of play ends. Even if one team has played a closely matched game, it could become a loser suddenly if it allows the other team to score. Literally, the team dies a “sudden death.”
The second phase of the fourth round of the six-party talks was a kind of “sudden death.” Until the first phase of the talks, the six nations had had a close race in which no party could claim victory. In the second phase of the talks, however, China offered a revised proposal that included both “the possibility of discussion of light-water nuclear reactors” and “the principle of North Korea’s first abandoning nuclear weapons.”
If North Korea said “yes” to the proposal the moment the United States, discontented with the inclusion of the light-water reactors in the proposal, said “no,” the United States would be responsible for the failed negotiations and then suffer a sudden death. On the other hand, if the United States said “yes” to the proposal the moment North Korea, opposing the clause that the country should first give up nuclear weapons, said “no,” North Korea would end up confirming the perception that it was an obstacle to the resolution of the nuclear issues and then die a sudden death.
China produced a sudden death scenario to induce a game in which both sides could win in the talks this time, unlike in a general sports match. The United States and North Korea eventually had to choose the strategy of pursuing a tied game to avoid sudden death. They agreed to accept China’s revised proposal and made a joint statement.
The United States was concerned that North Korea’s demand for light-water reactors could be a source of controversy afterwards. But the United States accepted the proposal in that it would be possible to approach the nuclear problem step by step, from North Korea’s abandonment of nuclear weapons, to verification of the fact and normalization of diplomatic ties with the United States. The South Korean government played a substantial role in the United States showing such flexibility by emphasizing the need for a realistic approach. In fact, South Korea provided hints, in many aspects, on the contents of the revised proposal by China.
On the part of North Korea, the country seems to have judged that once it secures the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes ― which is symbolized by the light-water nuclear reactors ― the country could put the establishment of a peace system on the Korean Peninsula based on the topic of “peace” before the nuclear weapons issue.
In other words, North Korea seems to have predicted that the talks would progress in the direction of reaching a lump sum agreement in which the abandonment of nuclear weapons and the normalization of ties between North Korea and the United States would be exchanged directly.
Because the agreement reached in the six-party talks this time has an aspect of relying on “creative ambiguity,” not a little pain will ensue in the process of clarifying the ambiguity through working-level talks in the future.
Therefore, although China’s mediation role has been important to date, South Korea’s position will become very important from now on because specific discussions to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or the establishment of a peace system on the peninsula will emerge.
To this end, the South Korean government should be mindful of the following points. First, North Korea should build sufficient trust by returning to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as soon as possible and then discuss the issue of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including the construction of light-water nuclear reactors. Unless trust is built up, North Korea will not be able to exercise its right to use nuclear energy peacefully.
Second, the situation should be prevented in which the issue of a peace system and the nuclear issues are all mixed up. Separately from the six-party talks, discussion of the peace system should be made but specific measures need to be linked to the progress of the abandonment of nuclear arms.
Finally, the government should design a vision for the South Korea-United States alliance on the premise that the North Korean nuclear problem is resolved.
Only when South Korea has a blueprint for the bilateral alliance will the United States show an attitude of positive cooperation toward building a peace system on the Korean Peninsula. From now on, our country should seek the ultimate resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue with a bigger strategic picture.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han