[Outlook]Short-term solutions are emptyOne month has passed since an agreement was reached at the six-party talks on Feb. 13. As the deadline for implementing first-step measures is 60 days after the agreement, exactly half of the time has passed. If the United States lifts its financial sanctions against the Banco Delta Asia, the first step for action will begin. This comes 14 years after the first North Korean nuclear crisis erupted in March, 1993.
While all other countries have moved ahead into the 21st century after the end of the Cold War, we have spent enormous energy on North Korea’s nuclear issue. Fourteen years from now it will be 2020. What long-term plans should we make now if we do not want to begin that year with a gloomy outlook while other countries welcome it with hope?
There are reasons the current situation surrounding the North’s nuclear issue has been progressing smoothly. Most of all, benefits that North Korea and the United States will gain from resolving the nuclear issue have increased. After experiencing sanctions imposed by Washington and international society, North Korea is attempting to secure necessary resources and the diplomatic environment needed to survive as a strong country in the 21st century through compromises rather than increasing tension.
North Korea even plans to wield as much influence as possible on the presidential election campaigns by controlling the speed of disabling its nuclear facilities. Pyongyang also wants to create the environment it needs to survive by normalizing ties with Washington before the term of the Bush administration ends. By all these means, North Korea can fortify the Kim Jong-il regime.
The United States has also altered its stance on North Korea as it is going through many difficulties, such as the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, the Bush administration defeat in the mid-term elections last year and Iran’s nuclear issue. Through North Korea’s abolition of nuclear arms and facilities, the United States wants to enhance its weapons of mass destruction proliferation security initiative and also wants to win political points for dealing with an “axis of evil” nation through compromise. The resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue can bring national benefits and political gains to the Bush administration, which needs gain ground in the areas of terrorism and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction for next year’s general elections.
With North Korea and the United States seeking to normalize relations and resolve the nuclear crisis, what policy do we need to implement?
The February agreement induces North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and facilities. The agreement was not made on the basis of North Korea’s decision to do so.
Thus, we need to prepare measures in case the resolution is delayed or we face an obstacle. South Korea’s North Korea policy gained momentum only when North Korea and the United States began compromising with each other. Now, we need to prepare for all possibilities.
We also need to examine how our engagement policy will be unrolled and what results it will bring, beyond the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue.
That engagement is effective when combined with sanctions is one of the lessons from the February agreement. North Korea will believe that international society has given in because of its nuclear test, while the United States will believe its financial sanctions and international society’s efforts have been effective. After the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we should keep forcing North Korea to meet the norms of international society and our plans and goals. We need to think logically about a strategy combining engagement and sanctions.
We need to look at the current situation and consider what policies toward North Korea we will take after the nuclear issue is resolved. It is wrong to think that after abandoning its nuclear development program, North Korea will naturally pursue reform, open its doors and come running into our arms. North Korea will still want to become a strong country by restoring its economy and expanding its role in international society. It will also compete with us for hegemony on the Korean Peninsula. We must design institutions to avoid military competition. We should begin negotiations for a system for long-term peace, not a peace system that is a tool to resolve the North’s nuclear issue.
We have presidential election this year. It is very likely that the timeline of the North Korea policy will be set in accordance with a political agenda. The people have power to prevent North Korean policies from being misused for political purposes. The people must send a clear message that achievement over short-term issues will not help candidates to gain votes.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chun Chae-sung