[OUTLOOK]Reality blocks U.S. nuclear aimsIs the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement on Sept. 20 ― that it won’t dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States gives it nuclear power reactors ― just a negotiating tactic aimed at the next round of talks or a statement that it will not give up its nuclear development program?
A high-ranking South Korean government official said, “The North Korean demand is only the goal it aims to achieve.” That is, the North is trying to interpret the clause on light-water reactors in the joint statement of the fourth round of six-party talks in the most favorable way to it, in order to be in a favorable position at the next round of talks. But the other participating countries worry the statement cast doubt on the breakthrough agreement signed only a day earlier.
It took a long time to get the North to attend the fourth round of talks. It also took two separate sessions, a 13-day first stage and a 7-day second session, with an intermission of four weeks in between. Finally, the joint statement was signed, although the reactor was a sticking point until the end. it is difficult to say that its demand for a reactor was only a negotiating tactic. Although Pyongyang signed the agreement at the urging of China and after friendly persuasion from South Korea, it seems the North has not yet decided to give up its nuclear programs.
The North Korean leadership is clinging to a nuclear development program as an insurance policy for the regime’s safety. But the six-party statement assures the safety of the North Korean regime: “The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK (North Korea) with nuclear or conventional weapons.” It also states, “The DPRK and the United States undertook to respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies.” The statement gives a more concrete commitment to the regime’s security than a dangerous nuclear weapons program. We have to ask, therefore, why the North insists on keeping its nuclear program.
The North seems to believe an international environment in which it can pursue the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy has been created.
First of all, North Korea seems to believe the United States has no effective means of punishing it even if it refuses to dismantle the nuclear program.
Secondly, the North believes that China, Russia and South Korea are sympathetic to its claim to the right for peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Thirdly, Pyongyang thinks it can form a united front with Iran and other third-world countries against U.S. pressure not to allow nuclear reactors.
The North thinks there are limits to the punitive actions Washington can take. The adoption of a UN Security Council resolution is likely to be vetoed by China or Russia, which are sympathetic to the right to have the peaceful use of nuclear energy; economic or maritime blockades won’t be effective because Pyong-yang’s economy is self-reliant.
Finally, pre-emptive strikes at its nuclear facilities, including the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, would have the danger of spreading nuclear fallout to areas not only in North Korea but also China, Japan and South Korea. Moreover, China, Russia and South Korea support the idea of allowing the North to use reactors for power generation and will not agree to a U.S. proposal to break off negotiations and take punitive action because of the demand for reactors. Pyongyang must have taken this into account.
“Iran has an inalienable right to produce nuclear fuel,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said at the United Nations on Sept. 18. He strongly criticized U.S. arms policies and claimed that Iran is entitled to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Iranian position on the peaceful use of nuclear energy is in line with that of Pyongyang. In addition, the situation in which China, Russia and India objected to a European move to take the Iranian case to the Security Council is similar to that created by North Korea’s demand for light-water reactors.
Both countries demand precisely the same thing: “The right to peaceful nuclear activity is not something we need somebody’s permission to have.” There is legal support for their contention. Ironically enough, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees a signatory country the right to peaceful nuclear activity as long as it abides by nuclear safeguard rules. This provides grounds for non-aligned movement member countries, including four temporary members of the UN Security Council, to side with China and Russia if the Iranian and North Korean cases are referred to the council for the adoption of punitive resolutions.
President George W. Bush said recently, “It is a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program, but there ought to be guidelines in which they be allowed to have that civilian nuclear program.” Now, the question is whether the United States, or the guidelines provided by the United States, have authority to decide which countries can have nuclear reactors and which cannot.
If Washington fails to persuade China and Russia to say no to the North Korean demand for light-water reactors, Washington will have to reconsider its nuclear policy.
* The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo