[OUTLOOK]No time for gifts to the NorthWhat is the implication of singling out North Korea as one of five places where “the demands of justice and peace of this world require their freedom” in the State of the Union address by the U.S. president? Although George W. Bush avoided using such spicy words as “axis of evil,” “unlawful regime” or “rogue state” in this year’s address, he did not fail to include North Korea, for five years in a row, as one of a few countries that are tyrannies and dictatorships that shelter terrorists, feed radicalism and seek weapons of mass destruction.
Washington made public its new defense strategy on Monday with the announcement of its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. The review also singled out North Korea, together with Iran, as a potentially hostile state that possessed or sought weapons of mass destruction. The report points out that “North Korea has pursued nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and had developed and sold weapons, including long-range missiles, to other states of concern.”
Under the new plan, the U.S. military will divide its activities into three areas: homeland defense, the war on terror/irregular warfare and conventional campaigns. A greater emphasis will be given to the war on terror and irregular warfare activities. For this, the U.S. Defense Department will develop a wider range of conventional deterrent options, convert a small number of Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile for use in conventional prompt global strikes, increase the procurement of unmanned aerial vehicles and develop next-generation, long-range strike systems.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said early last month that North Korea should clearly understand the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and that the United States had the practical means to deter North Korean military action. She might have had the military transformation plan in her mind when she warned the North of U.S. practical means of restraint against any military action by the North.
The United States has already enhanced the flexibility and mobility of its forces in Korea. The troops here will be realigned as a part of mobile forces based in Northeast Asia. The traditional tripwire role of the U.S. forces here, which neither Seoul nor Washington still consider necessary, has virtually ceased to exist. The agreement to consolidate the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division away from the border with North Korea this year will leave few U.S. troops between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone, keeping U.S. troops outside the range of North Korea’s artillery. North Korea’s threat of retaliation with artillery against possible U.S. precision strikes at its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon has lost its effect. To the contrary, North Korea will be put in the position of having to deter U.S. mobile forces armed with modern weaponry and which aim to strike its key military facilities from all-sides ― submarine-launched missiles from the sea, unmanned aerial vehicles from nowhere and special operational forces arriving from their U.S. bases in 11 hours.
Last September, Washington sent out a signal that the weight of its North Korea policy was being shifted from negotiation to pressure tactics when it imposed sanctions on eight North Korean companies based in Macao and Banco Delta Asia, a Macao bank, for helping Pyongyang launder money from illicit activities such as drug trafficking and counterfeiting U.S. currency.
It was not an expression of a personal view that Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. envoy to South Korea, used with a group of Korean journalists in December when he called North Korea a “criminal regime” engaged in such criminal activities as counterfeiting, on a government level, for the first time since the Nazis did so in the 1940s.
On Jan. 23, a delegation from the U.S. Treasury Department led by Daniel Glaser, a deputy assistant treasury secretary, arrived in Seoul to ask for Seoul’s cooperation in the U.S. effort to stop North Korea from counterfeiting. The American Embassy issued a statement the following day saying that the Treasury official had urged South Korea to take unspecified steps against North Korea’s counterfeiting. President Bush also vowed to press North Korea to stop counterfeiting at a press conference in Washington two days later.
The effect of the financial sanctions is already being felt in Seoul. Last Wednesday, the Korea Exchange Bank halted all financial transactions with Banco Delta Asia.
It is reported that Washington is considering imposing even stronger financial sanctions against North Korea. That would be a presidential decree banning all financial institutions that have financial transactions with North Korean entities from doing business with U.S. financial or business concerns. If that order goes into effect, it will virtually freeze North Korea’s meager external trade and paralyze its overseas financial transactions.
North Korea seems to have realized the seriousness of the situation belatedly. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il hurriedly visited China in January to ask for Beijing’s help in lifting the U.S. financial sanctions and finding a political solution to the counterfeiting issue. The reaction so far from Washington is not very accommodating. Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice have repeatedly said they will not compromise on counterfeiting.
It seems that Washington will wait till Pyongyang gives a proper explanation about its counterfeiting activities and punishes those involved if there are any. It will be after the resolution of the counterfeiting issue that Washington will consider the resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. It is time to wait and see what Kim Jong-il will do for his own future. It is not time to talk about a South Korean dignitary’s visit to Pyongyang with a bundle of gifts to please Kim Jong-il.
* The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo