[OUTLOOK]The start of a new crisis?The fourth round of the six-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem ended after many twists and turns with the adoption of a joint statement. The main points of the joint statement were: i) for North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, ii) for the United States to affirm that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea and has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and iii) for North Korea to have the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to be provided with light-water reactors.
The joint statement can find its significance in that it reconfirmed the principle and goal of “the abandonment of all North Korean nuclear weapons and programs” that the international community has pursued to date. But as the statement failed to suggest specific measures and procedures, including the clear statement on the time limit for North Korea’s removal of its nuclear weapons, nothing has actually been resolved yet. Although North Korea promised to give up nuclear weapons in the joint statement, it is also agreed at the same time that North Korea will have the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and be provided with light-water reactors. As such, if conflict recurs over their priorities, the problem will go back to square one. Therefore, despite the adoption of the joint statement, the agreement at the six-party talks should be seen as the start of a new crisis.
North Korea has strongly demanded the provision of light-water reactors under the name of “the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy” before the country scraps all nuclear weapons and programs. Light-water reactors are usually constructed for peaceful purposes, but as the construction of the reactors includes essential technology for nuclear weapons, including the capability to reprocess the spent fuel, nuclear armament is possible anytime according to the intention of their users.
The United States had maintained the position that it could not allow North Korea to have any nuclear programs, saying that it could not trust North Korea, considering its past behavior. But then, the United States had hinted at its intention to accept China’s proposal that North Korea dismantle all its nuclear weapons and programs before it is allowed to have a civilian nuclear program, and this has paved the way for reaching the agreement. Therefore, North Korea’s prior abandonment of nuclear weapons and programs has been the precondition for the United States’ signing up to the agreement.
Thanks to the tactful compromise of the host country China, the demands of both countries could be met by promising in the joint statement to abandon nuclear programs “at an early date” and to discuss the subject of provision of light-water reactors “at an appropriate time.” But for the specific resolution of the abandonment of North Korean nuclear programs, the concerned parties came to face the dilemma of repeating the same discussion in a fifth round of the six-nation talks.
North Korea relies on a strategy of intentionally delaying the process while avoiding strong pressure from the United States to give up its nuclear programs. But the United States has now almost reached its limit of patience. The United States’ stance is that as far as the North Korea nuclear issue is concerned, “the country can stand no longer as it does.” Based on North Korea’s pledge to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in the joint statement, the United States is highly likely to begin to put pressure on North Korea. The United States seems to have already started to seek alternatives in preparation for North Korea’s violation of the agreement. Possibilities cannot be ruled out that the alternatives may include the extermination of the “outpost of tyranny” in North Korea and change of the Kim Jong-il regime.
In the meantime, in response to the United States’ pressure on the abandonment of nuclear programs, North Korea will advocate its right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and demand the provision of light-water reactors at the same time. North Korea has already directly refused to carry out the demand from the United States for the prior abandonment of nuclear programs, and its Foreign Ministry announced a statement on Sept. 20. The statement said, the North will return to the NPT and respect the IAEA safeguards immediately after it receives light-water reactors. Despite the adoption of the joint statement at the six-party talks, North Korea’s determination to develop nuclear arms seems to remain unchanged. Making all kinds of excuses, the Kim Jong-il regime has continued to develop nuclear weapons. Even during the six-party talks, North Korea continued its construction work to build a graphite moderated reactor.
In this situation, inter-Korean relations are developing separately from the North Korean nuclear problem. As it is considered on the surface that the talks smoothly reached an agreement on the North Korean nuclear problem, inter-Korean relations are highly likely to be in an upbeat mood regardless of the North Korean nuclear issue. Almost all the domestic media have already presented a rosy forecast on the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.
We should read the essence of the North Korean nuclear problem. The adoption of the joint statement is nothing but a stopgap measure, like dreaming different dreams in the same bed. Rather, a true nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula has just started.
* The writer is the director of the Security Strategy Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hong Kwan-hee