[In-depth interview]Professor: Ban on luxury goods is ignorant

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[In-depth interview]Professor: Ban on luxury goods is ignorant

Park Han-shik, one of the United States’ most prominent experts on North Korea, visited Pyongyang from Nov. 18 to 21. Including three visits to the North this year alone, Mr. Park has visited the reclusive communist country more than 40 times since 1981. He also initiated and took part in informal negotiations to resolve the controversy over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In Nov.

2003, he organized a high-level track-II diplomacy involving North Korean and U.S. experts. Mr. Park is a professor of international affairs and director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. He was interviewed by the JoongAng Ilbo’s Kim Young-hie on Nov. 22 in Seoul.

Q. While you were in Pyongyang, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the United States is willing to declare the end of the Korean War if North Korea gives up its nuclear arms program. How did North Korean officials react to the announcement?
A. The North Koreans appeared to think it was significant news. None of the high-ranking North Korean officials have ever supported the U.S. troops’ presence on the Korean Peninsula. But some were actually quite flexible on the issue. After North Korea and the United States normalize their relations and the U.S. forces’ role here is the same as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, some said they would not oppose the U.S. Forces Korea’s presence.

Why do you think Kim Jong-il decided to return to the six-nation talks?
Simply because the United States said it is willing to discuss the financial sanctions on the North at the talks. North Korean officials did not say it directly, but it was clear that they were hurt more by the financial sanctions led by the U.S. Department of Treasury than UN-led sanctions. As the case of Banco Delta Asia in Macao shows, the North appeared to suffer from the cut-off of financial activities. That is why North Korea is reinforcing its diplomatic ties with the European Union. A senior North Korean official led a delegation in October and toured Europe.

What was North Korea’s reaction to South Korea’s support for the North Korea human rights resolution at the United Nations?
North Korea did not seem very bothered by it. North Korean officials said it was only a gesture, saying it would have been hard for the Roh Moo-hyun administration to oppose every request made by Washington. North Korea was actually very encouraged by President Roh’s decision not to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative. North Korean officials said it would have been a disaster if South Korea actively joined the PSI.
North Korea was also highly interested in the 2007 presidential election in South Korea and the U.S. presidential election in 2008.

Will North Korea conduct a second nuclear test?
I think it is very unlikely. North Korean officials said they don’t need any more since they have successfully conducted one already.
But the North will probably consider conducting another one seriously if neighbors say the test was a failure, or if the neighbors do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.
Will North Korea try to change the focus of the six-party talks to arms reduction talks, or try to up the ante?
No one can deny that North Korea’s stakes have increased after the nuclear test. The joint communique adopted on Sept. 19, last year, did not mention a nuclear bomb, but the situation is different now. It is now time to seriously discuss North Korea’s nuclear arms at the six-nation talks.
While I was in Pyongyang, North Korean officials said it is time to talk about disarmament, saying North Korea’s nuclear possession is a given fact. Therefore, North Korea and the United States will likely engage in boring diplomatic offenses and defenses at the six-nation talks over the sequence and contents of dismantling the North’s nuclear arms program in return for security assurances. The North is likely to demand that the United States dismantle its nuclear arms in return for its dismantlement.

Will North Korea actually give up its nuclear arms?
While in Pyongyang, I asked North Korean officials, “Isn’t the six-party meeting useless if you don’t intend to give up your nuclear programs?” and “Will a nuclear-armed North Korea encourage a nuclear arms race?” The North Koreans said Kim Il Sung, the late North Korean founder, had said “The Korean Peninsula must be nuclear-free,” adding they are willing to give up nuclear arms if security is assured.

How exactly can security be assured in return for giving up nuclear arms?
They talked about two things. They said the Korean War must be ended, and the United States and South Korea must stop joint military exercises.

Who decides the North’s security policy, including its nuclear policy?
The core of the North Korean system is its “military-first” policy. And the North Korean military leadership is at the center of that policy. The military leaders think nuclear arms and missiles guarantee their security. North Korea’s nuclear, foreign affairs and security policies are 100 percent decided by the military. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry does not have decision-making power. It only plays the supporting rule of executing the long-term foreign affairs and security scenarios prepared by the military.

The United Nations, under its resolution 1718, banned the trade of luxury goods such as Mercedes Benzes, cognac, Rolex watches and caviar to North Korea. Will such a measure actually weaken Kim Jong-il’s influence over the military leadership?
That analysis comes from ignorance of the North Korean system. First of all, the North Korean military leaders do not need money. The military takes care of its money matters on its own, because its units are self-financed. In other words, a North Korean general does not need to receive an envelope full of cash from the North Korean leader Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim can still provide gifts to generals and Workers’ Party leaders in return for good performance. But the military will never be discontented with Mr. Kim or rise in revolt because he does not give them gifts. North Korea is not a society built on economic foundation. Remember, it is a society built on ideology.

by Brent Choi
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