[OUTLOOK]No gifts for PyongyangNorth Korea’s present to the world on the Chuseok holiday was a nuclear test. Now the international community has high expectations of what Kim Jong-il’s regime will offer for Christmas.
The leaders of the nations involved in the six-party talks, currently in Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, have reaffirmed the imposition of United Nations sanctions on North Korea. However, they are preparing various “gifts” they will offer to Pyongyang for Christmas, if Kim Jong-il authorizes his negotiators to announce at the six-party talks in December that the North has abandoned its nuclear program.
Will it be possible for the participating nations, including the United States and North Korea, to look forward to a hopeful 2007 by taking this year’s failure as a lesson or will they just take what they want at the negotiation table? It will probably be the latter and the six-party talks in Beijing will usher in a gloomy Christmas.
Before we even begin to unwrap the presents, we must remember what happened on September 19, 2005. South Korean government officials called that meeting’s joint statement a “historic achievement,” saying that it signaled a victory for Korean diplomacy. But upon closer examination, it was easy to see that the terms of the statement would never be realized. North Korea will never abandon its nuclear program nor will the United States allow Pyongyang to be a nuclear power. This is why the steps required for the North to abandon its nuclear program ― normalizing relations, providing economical support, and negotiating a permanent peace regime - were impossible from the beginning. As a result, Pyongyang’s nuclear issue developed into nuclear tests, international sanctions and eventually in today’s situation, to the opposite of what the international community wants.
With the six-party talks coming up in December, the member nations have yet to find a clear solution. They haven’t even accurately understood the reason for the current situation. In order to find the formula for a solution, we must look at what North Korea has to offer. Since Pyongyang considers returning to the discussion table as a gift in itself, it would be safe to say that the North has nothing more to offer.
What officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States must understand is that North Korea doesn’t consider its nuclear program as something that can be exchanged for economic aid or guarantees to sustain its regime. For Pyongyang, its nuclear weapons are the foundation and the last line of its defense. As a result, it is impossible for the North to change course until it changes its “military first” strategy.
From North Korea’s viewpoint, expecting it to trade nuclear arms for economic aid is like trying to tell someone to sell their life for money. It is the same with ensuring the safety of its regime. The negotiators must realize that Pyongyang maintains its traditional footing with Washington, which requires the destruction of the U.S. for the safety of the regime in Pyongyang. For Kim Jong-il, forfeiting its nuclear program isn’t about strategic choices. It’s about the life or death of his regime.
Expecting too much from Washington’s offer is also undesirable. At a lecture for the Heritage Foundation on October 26, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained the U.S.’s five-step comprehensive policy - strengthening of strategic relationships in Northeast Asia, observing UN sanctions, expanding measures to defend against North Korea’s proliferation efforts, continuing the vitality of the global regime to prevent and counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and resuming the six-party talks. U.S. under secretary of state Nicholas Burns summarized his country’s. policy for removing North Korea’s nuclear weapons in a House International Relations Committee hearing last Thursday - simultaneous execution of UN sanctions combined with the six-party talks. What’s important is that carrying out the joint statement has become more difficult after the North’s nuclear test. The U.S. has reconfirmed that economic aid, improved relations and a peaceful regime is only possible after Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program, abides by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and agrees to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. Washington is also showing a firm stance, just like Pyongyang.
It is unreasonable to expect the six-party talks next month in Beijing to come up with a solution for the situation. But we must remember that a crisis can also be an opportunity. A nuclear-armed North Korea is standing at the crossroads of life or death. The current situation reminds us of the Christmas carol which says that Santa Claus does not give out presents to those who are naughty, but to those who are nice.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun