[Outlook]A good deal or a bad one?

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[Outlook]A good deal or a bad one?

Was the Feb. 13 agreement reached with North Korea at the six-party talks a real step toward resolving the nuclear standoff, or was it actually an obstacle? Some say it was better than nothing, but others say it has turned out worse than nothing.
For now, it is hard to evaluate the agreement. It is unclear whether it will even be implemented and there is no guarantee that if it is implemented it will lead to the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. South Korea needs to examine the effect of the agreement, in line with its own security strategies. To do so, the government must take a firm stance on three fundamental issues.
The first issue concerns the core meaning of North Korea’s nuclear test and nuclear arms capability. Pyongyang’s detonation of a nuclear device last October certainly poses a direct challenge to the global desire to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, while also being a serious threat to South Korea’s security. The detonation was an arrogant flaunting of the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with possibly dire ramifications. If the South Korean government takes a position that defends North Korea by saying that the the nuclear provocation was for the purpose of self-defense and not for a possible attack on the South, then the intention of the Feb. 13 agreement was wrong to begin with, because the agreement lacks the determination to make North Korea abolish its nuclear weapons.
The second issue concerns the goal of the the six-party talks. That is, whether abolition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons must be a first step or whether improved ties with North Korea come first. Both the previous agreement released in Beijing on Sep. 19, 2005 and the Feb. 13 deal established the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear arms as the ultimate goal. The problem with both agreements is that they are unclear about whether total abolition is the goal or just partial abolition. In both cases, the incentives given to the North for implementing the agreement are clearly stated but the punishment for failing to keep to the deal are not at all clear. In other words, Pyongyang can expect to be rewarded for implementing the agreements but it doesn’t need to be afraid of not implementing them. For North Korea, there is no need to hurry towards the abolition of its nuclear arms.
So far, the six-party talks have favored North Korea. Our government, like Beijing, seems to take improving relations with North Korea more seriously than the abolition of nuclear arms. If this attitude persists, it will be hard to avoid the appearance that the Feb. 13 agreement was worse than nothing.
The third issue to consider is the trustworthiness of North Korea as a dialogue partner on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. There has been a very wide gap between South Korea and the United States in their perception of North Korea. South Korea views North Korea as a trustworthy negotiating partner and thus depends on the carrot to make progress. On the other hand, the United States has traditionally relied on the stick. But for two allies to use carrots and sticks at the same time often seems to be nothing more than a series of diplomatic maneuvers that accomplish little.
However, since North Korea’s nuclear test, the Bush administration’s stance has changed. It has jettisoned the idea that the North is part of the so-called “axis of evil” and it now depends more on the rewards agreed within the six-party talks than on sanctions to compel compliance. If Washington’s new stance was reflected in the recent agreement, however, the chance that North Korea will abolish its nuclear arms is remote.
For now, few expect that the Feb. 13th deal, which is only the first-step toward implementing the 2005 agreement, will be carried out smoothly. Most believe that the next steps will be even harder.
Given that North Korea’s nuclear arms issue likely cannot be resolved quickly, what should South Korea do?
Should it shout for cooperation on the basis of a common Korean heritage and live under the threat of nuclear weapons?
Or, should it make the abolition of the North’s nuclear arms a primary task and seek all possible avenues to that end?
Now is the time to make a choice.

*The writer is the vice president of the Graduate School of International Studies at Hallym University and former vice minister of the Ministry of National Defense. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-ok
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