[OUTLOOK]All should share cost burden

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[OUTLOOK]All should share cost burden

Even before the excitement of reaching an agreement on the nuclear disarmament of North Korea cooled down, the rather uncomfortable issue of “money” for the dismantling of the nuclear program has been taken up for discussion. As soon as we returned to reality, people were paying attention to the source of funds to finance what was agreed on at the talks. Unlike the role Seoul played in the 1994 Geneva Agreement, the Korean government could use a more aggressive voice here because it virtually volunteered to take the role of “financier.” The government’s assumption of a chivalrous role is emerging as a national task that places a big burden on the national economy.
The government estimated that the cost of providing energy assistance would be some 11 trillion won ($10.6 billion) over ten years. The estimated expense for providing heavy oil, electricity and light water reactors is still uncertain because there have not been accurate surveys on local conditions yet. If the implementation process of the agreement on nuclear disarmament is delayed and unexpected variables arise, it is most likely that the expense will increase, with no chance for a decrease. The government is talking about a “comprehensive plan” to establish a social infrastructure for logistics, transport and communications to help reconstruct the North Korean economy and, if we take that into account, the cost will grow in geometric progression. Finally, the economic reconstruction of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula has fallen under the responsibility of the Korean economy. The burdens the South will have to take eventually are materializing early as Pyongyang has agreed to peacefully resolve the nuclear tension.
Considering the precedent of the unification of East Germany and West Germany, the expenses for integration of the economies and societies of the two Koreas can be divided into the price of creating the conditions necessary for unification and the cost of creating an integrated system. The former needs to be paid during the steps leading up to unification, so as to prepare the needed conditions, while the latter is required to harmonize the two systems in the process of integrating their economies. If the cost of creating conditions for unification and the cost of creating an integrated system are trade-offs, then it can be deduced that paying the former expense means lessening the latter. The energy assistance proposed by the government comes under the former ― the “cost of creating conditions for unification.”
There are three major points in dispute regarding this energy assistance for North Korea. Firstly, the pivotal points are proper implementation of the agreements on nuclear disarmament and normalization of the inter-Korean relationship. In order to make sure that Pyongyang honors the ambiguous agreements, some energy assistance is inevitable. However, the precedent of the Sinpo light-water reactors reminds us we should still consider the possibility of Pyongyang refusing to give up its nuclear project, even after receiving energy assistance. If the government’s assistance can really become the cost of true peace by persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program, the government proposal can be accepted.
The timing of the energy assistance is also a sensitive issue. We have to compromise between a future-oriented scheme, which aims at the point when nuclear disarmament materializes, and a present-oriented scheme, which provides the energy early on and then pressures Pyongyang. While it is not advisable to offer energy assistance too late, premature execution of the assistance plan is also not desirable.
Secondly, the government needs the consensus and support of Korea’s citizens. There has to be a principle that assistance is pursued based on the concurrence of the ruling and opposition parties and a national consensus. Ironically, the short cut to the support of the citizens is to strictly involve them in a transparent manner. Importantly, the provision of infrastructures such as energy is not the exclusive possession of a particular administration. Since it is a long-term national project that should be pursued regardless of politics, the issue has to be decided by public opinion. The Korean government has taken on the role of “sponsor” as Pyongyang has agreed to give up its nuclear program, but the Korean economy is struggling to break the barrier of a $15,000 per capita income. While the benefits of disarmament will be realized in the long run, the direct expense is a short-term issue that will place the burden on the taxpayers. In the past, there was a proposal to assist the North within 1 percent of our national budget, so it is important to come up with a reasonable plan while we create a proper set of conditions for assistance.
Thirdly, it is necessary to win the support and understanding of the international community. While the government took the initiative in the course of the nuclear discussion by offering a power transmission plan to the North, it is inappropriate in many ways for Seoul to bear the burden alone. The agreement over nuclear disarmament is a multilateral security document, and when the responsibilities regarding Pyongyang’s abandonment of the nuclear program are shared and divided among the participating nations, other agreements, such as normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations, can be guaranteed effectively. Instead of monopolizing the aid plan, the government should provide inducements to encourage other countries’ participation.

* The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Nam Sung-wook
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