[OUTLOOK]Chance to formulate a new policyThe North Korean missile launch has generated noise both within and outside of the Korean Peninsula. A solution to the North Korean nuclear problem appears to be eluding us even more. That, however, would be a misunderstanding of the situation. In spite of the general consensus of technical failure, the Taepodong-2 missile, the crowning glory of the launch attempt, succeeded in neatly wiping clean the slate of North Korea-related politics.
A new political framework has begun, and the only reasons one would not realize this would be mere blindness toward international politics or submission to mob psychology.
If the so-called “participatory government” fails to create a new paradigm and continues to cling to now-obsolete notions, it will inevitably be disregarded in the international political arena, and will also fail to regain power.
The Taepodong missile launch was a decisive expression of North Korea’s strategic determination.
On June 1st, a spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement inviting Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to Pyongyang, that the North Korean government had already made a strategic decision regarding the disarmament of nuclear weapons. This, however, was the problematic phrase.
The “strategic decision” was not a unilateral surrender of all nuclear weapons―the solution that the United States has been pushing for.
The decision was that they would defend their right to nuclear arms at all costs. The North was advising the United States to get rid of the foolish fantasy of what is akin to attempting to fish out the reflection of the moon from water.
They only expressed a willingness to discuss nuclear disarmament in the context of the following: the normalization of U.S.-North Korea relations and the establishment of peace treaties and economic support, which would include a supply of light water reactors.
When the United States flatly rejected North Korea’s “strategic decision,” the North opted to prove its determination through its actions. The North Korean political missile is now soaring exactly as they anticipated, and it is right on target.
The White House statement regarding the North Korean missile launch was short but resolute. It stated that the launch had only succeeded in further isolating North Korea and its people from the international community and that, in regards to the North Korean nuclear issue as a whole, the American government would continue to support a peaceful resolution based on the joint statement of the six-party talks.
Furthermore, because the missile launch effectively expressed North Korea’s refusal to unilaterally abandon its nuclear program, the White House also stated that it would cooperate closely with relevant agencies to deal with the situation.
The United States is thus meticulously pursuing a strategy of multi-lateral diplomacy. The Taepodong missile was another clear reminder of the never-yielding nature of the North Korean and American political stances.
What is truly important, however, is the shift in international and domestic opinion. The only thing the Taepodong missile, touted as the symbol of anti-foreign influence autonomy, has managed to give the North Korean people is isolation in the international political arena.
Now we need to turn our attention to the subtle movements of China, a long-time supporter to the North. China has steadfastly held to its view that the North Korean nuclear issue must be dealt with delicately, for the sake of peace and stability in northeast Asia.
After witnessing the political shift, however, it has abandoned its original support for a UN Security Council chairman’s statement in favor of a more structured and formalized resolution.
This is evidence of change in the political landscape.
Domestic opinion in South Korea is also undergoing change. The nameless heroes toiling under the strains of everyday life, oblivious to extreme right- or left-wing politics that are captive to mob psychology, are starting to ask questions.
Another round of Inter-Korean Ministerial Talks was held in the midst of this chaos, and the North Korean delegation left early, issuing an abrupt statement that they only had “a limited amount of patience to tolerate [South Korea’s] inability to accept our sincerity and good will,” in effect scolding the South Korean delegation as they walked out.
This was in stark contrast to the warm welcome a Chinese delegation received, reminiscent of the days of tributary diplomacy when representatives from the Middle Kingdom were treated as gods.
Most of the Korean public is completely baffled, wondering why we deserve this demeaning treatment when we are continuing to pour aid into the North, in spite of our own difficulties.
President Roh Moo-hyun has been oddly pursuing a diplomatic policy of silence, a dramatic change from his usual brand of diplomacy based on big talk and bravado.
He recently broke that silence in the form of an esoteric Chinese proverb, which can be loosely translated as “executing first and verifying later.”
The international community, however, is more focused on the verifying than the executing, which makes it all the more difficult to discern his intent.
Ultimately, the participatory government’s current policy toward North Korea has been more instrumental in helping the opposition regain a foothold of power, rather than generating support for a successive government.
If one disregards long-term national interests and only considers the short-term political party benefits, the opposition would actually have to be thankful to the current government’s abysmal North Korean policies.
The most important consequence of the missile launch, however, is not a shift in party politics or any other such short-term political effects ― it is the very real possibility of falling behind in the new political landscape of the 21st century.
If we do not forcibly put this sick soldier on an ambulance but continue with this unnecessary three-legged march of distress, it will only result in an inter-Korean march of isolation.
We must produce a new North Korean policy before it is too late.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Seoul National University.
by Ha Young-sun