[OUTLOOK]Keep a door open for dialogueSince North Korea conducted a nuclear test, the situation in Northeast Asia has become like walking on thin ice. This is an insecure situation: Security and order in Northeast Asia can be drastically changed according to how other countries, including the United States, China and Japan, respond.
The core issue is that a regime which should never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons now has them in its hands. It would be absurd for North Korea to claim a right to possess nuclear weapons on grounds that nonproliferation is unfair and unequal.
The United States’ stance is clear: North Korea’s government cannot have both nuclear weapons and power. The North’s nuclear test gave extremists in the United States a rationale to pursue regime change in the North. They can now seek to topple Kim Jong-il’s regime. As military measures have been ruled out, there is only one thing to do: isolate it and enforce sanctions through a United Nations resolution until North Korea collapses.
The question is the effectiveness of sanctions. North Korea has gotten used to sanctions. Unless China and South Korea, two major countries that prop up the communist country, join in pressing Pyongyang to the fullest, sanctions are unlikely to be effective. The two countries will place sanctions against North Korea because of a United Nations resolution and public pressure, but it will be unlikely they will push hard enough to the extent that the regime’s existence is threatened. This is because the two neighboring countries understand that an abrupt collapse of the North will lead to unbearable chaos and disaster. Kim Jong-il, who pushed the button for a nuclear test, knows this clearly.
The most worrisome will be a prolonged insecurity in which a nuclear-armed North Korea manages to survive despite being isolated and pressed by international society. If this happens, public opinion in Japan might turn toward nuclear arms. With neighboring countries on the continent ― China, Russia and North Korea ― possessing nuclear weapons, Japan has to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This imbalance will likely exert pressure for Japan to develop nuclear arms. A nuclear-armed Japan will inevitably lead South Korea and also Taiwan to go nuclear too. This is a nightmare scenario.
If South Korea and Japan possess nuclear weapons, the foundation of security in Northeast Asia, based on the axes of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the South Korea-U.S. alliance, could be shaken. As China and Japan emerge as new contending powers, the United States’ dominance in this region will be threatened. The possibility that Taiwan will attempt to possess nuclear weapons will create a crisis in cross-strait relations with China. The domino effect of nuclear development in Northeast Asia will bring nonproliferation to an end and thus a succession of countries - Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - will develop nuclear bombs.
This is the worst-case scenario for the United States. Thus, Washington should work on removing this insecurity in Northeast Asia caused by the North’s nuclear test.
The only possible way is to negotiate with the North behind the scenes. While working with the international community in placing sanctions on North Korea, Washington should leave open a dialogue channel with the North. China can serve as a sponsor or a mediator. Removing the detonating cap of a nuclear bomb is a dangerous job. Subtle and masterly negotiating skills are needed.
The answer is written in the Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks in Beijing. To abide by the joint statement, North Korea should abandon its nuclear development program and restore its relations with the United States and Japan. The truce on the Korean Peninsula should be transformed into a peace system. A multilateral security system that embraces all of Northeast Asia should be built. We should acknowledge Mr. Kim’s regime, no matter how repugnant it may be, and should lead his country toward change through opening up doors and reforms.
Kim Jong-il raised the stakes by conducting a nuclear test, which will be judged by history. He forces his people to go through inconceivable hardships in order to sustain his power.
However, the situation is too dangerous to do nothing but wait for the regime to collapse. A possibility that pressure on North Korea might lead to unfortunate calamity cannot be ruled out.
Seeking dialogue does not always mean understanding and forgiving the other party. In order to prevent a war from occurring, the United States should be able to negotiate even with the devil. The whole world is watching what decision the White House will make.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok