[VIEWPOINT]Let’s hope North Korea acts quicklyAs the United Nations Security Council resolution 1718 states, international society demands that North Korea return immediately and unconditionally to the six-party talks and give up all of its nuclear weapons development programs. However, North Korea is still demanding direct talks with the United States and sticks to the position that it cannot return to the six-party talks unless the U.S. withdraws its financial sanctions.
The core problem here is whether or not North Korea and the United States intend to solve the nuclear problem through negotiation. The nuclear problem can be solved if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and the United States acknowledges North Korea as a sovereign state, and both countries decide to put an end to any hostilities against each other.
However, there is little chance that either North Korea or the United States will make such a move in the near future.
As long as there is no change in North Korea’s attitude, the United States will actively work to impose the sanctions against North Korea, expand implementation of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and, in cooperation with its allies, take additional punitive actions against the North.
Although the United States may not resort to military action, such as a preemptive strike, it will apply pressure on North Korea through a policy designed to contain and isolate the North, with a change of the country’s regime in mind.
North Korea has a few options. First, it can return to the six-party talks, while demanding the withdrawal of the sanctions imposed by the United States and the UN Security Council, and make efforts toward implementing the joint statement signed on Sept. 19 last year.
In a far too optimistic scenario, North Korea would take part in the international meeting to discuss nuclear disarmament in an equal position with the United States. That would happen not because North Korea yielded to American pressure, but because North Korea had proven itself to be a nuclear state by testing a nuclear bomb.
Another option for North Korea is to refuse to participate in the talks in practice while continuing to increase its nuclear capability, its existing position. As a condition for its return to the six-party talks, the North may present such demands as the withdrawal of U.S. financial sanctions, a change in the hostile policy followed by the United States toward North Korea, the prior settlement of pending issues at direct talks between North Korea and the United States and the withdrawal of UN Security Council sanctions.
There is another scenario that even if the North participates in the six-party talks, it will refuse to conclude a final settlement with the Bush administration and wait until the inauguration of the next U.S. administration, continuing “the hardship march,” if the United States does not make enough concessions.
Chinese special envoy Tang Jiaxuan, who visited North Korea a few days ago, is said to have confirmed North Korea’s intention to attend the six-party talks if the United States withdraws its sanctions and the two countries have direct talks. There have also been many speculative reports on the truth of the statement that the North has no plans for an additional nuclear test. North Korea may freeze nuclear tests for a certain period of time under the current conditions, but I find it hard to believe it will easily abandon its nuclear test card unconditionally. I think China will ultimately reach the conclusion that the persuasion of its special envoy was not enough to change North Korea’s basic policy. It is the opinion of many specialists in the United States that there will not be a change in North Korea’s nuclear policy unless an emergency situation occurs ― for instance, if a military attack by the United States is imminent, or China’s sanctions deal a blow to the North’s survival.
The third option is to react strongly against international sanctions, which includes physical actions against the North, rejecting the UN Security Council resolution.
North Korea’s countermeasures could include additional nuclear tests, additional missile launches, the destruction of U.S. facilities in Korea and Japan (with the help of pro-North Korean elements in South Korea and Japan), provocation of a partial attack or an all-out war against South Korea, restraining the United States by announcing a South-North peace declaration, or transferring weapons of mass destruction to anti-U.S. states or terrorist groups. There are chances of armed conflict with North Korea in the process of the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution. We cannot exclude the possibility that it could lead to an all-out war.
The highest chance is that North Korea will choose the second option of the three, and stays the course. And if it decides that the country is losing too much by choosing the second option, there is a good chance it will switch to the first option. The best thing for North Korea and other countries concerned is that North Korea should decide its choice of action as soon as possible.
* The writer is a professor emeritus at George Washington University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-jin