[OUTLOOK]A focus on containment?U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration has only three choices in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem. The first choice is to resolve the problem through dialogue within the framework of the six-nation talks. The second is to make North Korea give up its nuclear program through intensive pressure. The third is to acknowledge North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and focus on non-proliferation ― making sure those weapons do not spread.
The United States has lost interest in the resolution of the nuclear problem through dialogue that requires intolerably excessive benefits and patience. Lee Jong-seok, the unification minister, expressed this in a roundabout way as a “decrease in the U.S. concentration on the nuclear issue.”
The “stick” policy of pressing North Korea can hardly be accomplished due to dogged resistance from the Roh Moo-hyun administration. So the only choice left to the United States is the third policy, that the country acknowledges North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms as being unavoidable and deters the spread of nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction. This means that advocates of negotiating with North Korea gave way to non-proliferationists.
The policy of the non-proliferationists presupposes that the argument for the threat from North Korean nuclear weapons to the United States is exaggerated. As long as North Korea does not have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can send nuclear weapons to the U.S. mainland, the possession of a few nuclear weapons cannot be a direct threat to the security of the United States, and considering North Korea’s economic situation and technological level, they judge, there is a long way to go for North Korea to have such missiles. North Korea’s nuclear armaments strengthen the justification for missile defense in Northeast Asia. The only threat that North Korean nuclear weapons can pose to the United States comes from the export and proliferation of those weapons. Therefore, their logic is that non-proliferation is the best policy.
The Bush administration’s official policy is to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem through dialogue. In the summit talks between Presidents Roh and Bush last November in Gyeongju, the two men reconfirmed their desire for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue. But the United States clings only to North Korea’s counterfeit notes and human rights conditions without offering any implementation plan for the Sept. 19 joint statement on which the participating countries in the six-party talks agreed with difficulty. The United States forced Banco Delta Asia, a Macao bank accused of laundering money for North Korea, to stop its transactions with North Korea. Then, except in Russia, European and Asian banks turned their backs on North Korea one after another. As it became unable to send money overseas or bring money in from abroad, North Korea sent the director of American affairs at the foreign ministry to the United States to try negotiations, but the offer was turned down by the United States.
The hardliners in the Bush administration think the Sept. 19 joint statement in Beijing was a disgrace and came only as a result of being involved with the other five countries in the talks. The hardliners would be happy that, thanks to the counterfeit problem, they could take revenge not only on North Korea but also on the other five countries. If the United States takes the counterfeit notes and human rights problems as major points of its North Korean policy, then an unhappy situation will follow in which the U. S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice ― which do not need to care about elaborate diplomatic considerations ― will have more influence on the U.S. North Korean policy, and South Korea will be in trouble. The advocates of negotiation with North Korea, who were fighting over the policy line with the hardliners in the U.S. Department of State, could not help but be intimidated as the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice joined the hardliners.
The passionate activity of Jay Lefkowitz, a lawyer and special envoy for North Korean human rights, also added force to the hardliners’ positions.
In sum, as it distances itself from North Korea gradually, the United States is taking the line of putting pressure on North Korea with problems like the counterfeit notes and human rights infringements. North Korea has certainly committed sins in those areas, and so the international community understands them and the South Korean government cannot complain about them. North Korea stands firm, saying that it will not return to the six-nation talks unless the United States ends its financial sanctions. But this is a bad tactical move. North Korea should come to the six-party talks and show a faithful and flexible attitude; then the United States would even consider South Korea’s recommendation that the United States stop the ban on the “clean” accounts among North Korea’s overseas bank accounts. If the United States acknowledges North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, North Korea will lose the only leverage that it has used toward the United States.
The United States should not be satisfied with the near-sighted, small achievement it has made with North Korea’s counterfeit notes. Look at China. China’s economic inroads into North Korea have gained strength, as if it would make North Korea China’s fourth province in its northeast.
If China’s economic influence reaches the Demilitarized Zone, the United States will see a strategic loss on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, unrecoverable for decades. The U.S. dream, waiting for an unusual disaster that may happen in North Korea some day so that it could expand its influence as far as the Yalu River, will come to nothing. North Korea should hold out its hand to the United States and the United States should take that hand.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie