[VIEWPOINT]Same missile threat, different goalsThe governments of the United States and Japan have confirmed that North Korea might launch a Taepodong-2 missile imminently. The South Korean government takes a little more discreet attitude. Military experts say the Taepodong-2 missile is an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. It is highly likely that the North will claim the missile this time is needed to launch a satellite into space. At present, it is difficult to predict which is right. Under the assumption that the North may launch the Taepodong-2 missile, let us compare its impact with that of Taepodong-1, which was launched eight years ago.
The similarities of the launching of Taepodong-1 and Taepodong-2 lie in the North’s belief that the United States made use of the international agreement signed last year between Washington and Pyongyang as a tool to control the North and strengthen pressure on the North. In turn, North Korea responded with plans to fire the missile, like a whip.
In 1998, North Korea reacted to the U.S. pressure tactics manifested through the Rumsfeld Commission Report, which raised suspicions about the underground nuclear facilities in Kumchangri. This time, it seems that the North is reacting seriously to the United States calling the country a “criminal regime” and the pressure, through financial sanctions, for the collapse or change of the North Korean regime. What is important is that the North does not intend to sever ties with the United States completely, but rather wants to induce Washington to negotiate.
That is understandable, considering that North Korea’s goals regarding U.S. policy have been to end the Korean War, sign a peace treaty and normalize relations with the United States. Of course, there are differences, too. North Korea is now developing the highly advanced Taepodong-2 missile, as well as nuclear weapons, and is preparing to test-fire long-range missiles. Compared to the situation in 1998, relations between Washington and Pyongyang have become aggravated. And as the Bush administration is engaged in the politics of division due to excessive reliance on ideology, it lacks the ability to reasonably resolve problems. North Korea believes that its country was deceived by the United States due to the annulment of the Geneva Framework Agreement, in which the United States was to provide a light water reactor to North Korea in exchange for the end of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. So, the attitude of the North toward the United States is very defensive and obstinate.
Also, in 1998, the North launched Taepodong-1 to celebrate Kim Jong-il’s assumption of the post of secretary-general of the North Korean Workers’ Party, after North Korea managed to muddle through the so-called “March of Hardships” during the mid-1990s, when millions died of starvation. The North also then hoped to encourage public sentiment by demonstrating its strong national power, which has bigger implications in domestic politics, while the current launching of Taepodong-2 has more meaning in exercising pressure on Washington.
The similarities and differences mentioned above show us that the North’s test firing of Taepodong-2 has very important strategic implications for international relations, including those between the United States and North Korea. It means that if the United States employs means other than diplomatic negotiations to resolve the pending problems with North Korea, there is a high possibility that the North will be tempted to stick to its policy of arming itself with nuclear arms and developing long-range missile technology.
After all, it seems there is no alternative, except for the “give-and-take” deal in solving the North’s missile development in the case of its nuclear program. Of course, the Bush administration is not likely to start direct negotiations with North Korea in the short term. But the North’s ability to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles has already increased drastically, while President George W. Bush’s popularity has plummeted. That is due to the failure of the war in Iraq, the looming Iranian nuclear problem and the Democratic Party’s attack on the Bush administration’s failure in diplomatic and security policies. The mid-term and the presidential elections are ahead, but the Bush administration’s only alternative is to negotiate with North Korea carrying a mid- to long-term perspective.
President Bush must accept the policy proposed by senators Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton in their letter to the president on June 15: A streamlined and coordinated presidential strategy for the settlement of the issue through negotiations must be developed and a high-level special envoy to North Korea should be appointed. The government of South Korea, on its part, must exert all of its effort to help its U.S. counterpart pursue the policy goal.
* The writer is the director of the Inter-Korean Relations Studies Program at the Sejong Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Paik Hak-soon