[Outlook]The North’s effect in DecemberAfter U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill’s visit to Pyongyang last week, negotiation teams for the Six-Party Talks are starting to move quickly. On Feb. 13, the talks belatedly agreed to implement the joint declaration reached on Sept. 19, 2005, preparing a base camp for denuclearization.
But due to trouble releasing North Korean funds frozen at a Macao bank and finding a way to transfer the money, the agreement still has not been implemented.
After his visit to Pyongyang, Hill had a press conference in Seoul where he said (wearing a bright smile) that North Korea is willing to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility immediately and is ready to disable it.
In the meantime, a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry said that during the meeting with the U.S. envoy, they discussed ways to enhance cooperation in financial transactions, shared opinions for implementing the next measures in the February agreement and discussed holding the Six-Party Talks. The North Korean official said the discussion was comprehensive and constructive.
In the journey toward denuclearization, the route from the base camp to the halfway point has become clearer. First-step measures which have been delayed will be implemented; the Yongbyon nuclear complex will be shut down, and the International Atomic Energy Agency will carry out an inspection. In return, South Korea will provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. At the same time, the talks will resume, and foreign ministers of the six countries will have a meeting.
There will be a discussion about disabling the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is part of the second-step measures.
However, there are no routes yet leading toward the North’s reporting all its nuclear programs, which is crucial to reaching the second phase, the halfway point. The reasons are simple. We need to overcome four obstacles. For now, we cannot find a way easily.
The first obstacle is the clash between North Korea’s military-first policy, which drove it to develop nuclear weapons, and the goal of denuclearization.
For denuclearization to occur, North Korea must abandon its military-first policy. However, giving up the military-first policy is not a simple decision because it means transformation of North Korea’s power structure, which has Dear Leader Kim Jong-il at the center.
The second obstacle is the United States’ conditions for normalizing its ties with North Korea. The U.S. refuses to normalize ties with the North until it completely denuclearizes. Disabling the Yongbyon nuclear complex is not enough to satisfy them.
At the same time, the North refuses to give up its nuclear weapons until the United States withdraws its hostile policies toward the North ― in other words, until it normalizes ties.
The third obstacle is China’s policy toward North Korea’s denuclearization and its worries about the stability of the North Korean regime. In October, last year, China agreed to sanctions by the United Nations on North Korea after it carried out a nuclear test. China is also working closely with the United States within the Six-Party Talks.
But if North Korea keeps refusing denuclearization, China, unlike the United States, will face tremendous problems. China is worried about the North Korean regime’s instability as much as it is worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Thus, one should be careful about expecting China to work as closely with the United States as the United States wants it to.
The fourth obstacle is South Korea’s engagement policy and North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the last resort for the Kim Jong-il regime, so North Korea cannot give up its nuclear weapons in return for political and economic rewards, as we expect.
Nevertheless, with the presidential election coming nearer, South Korea’s participatory administration will keep up its efforts to achieve denuclearization through offering assistance and holding a summit meeting.
If we can’t find ways to overcome the four obstacles, we cannot achieve denuclearization, the ultimate goal of the journey to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue. Measures favored by each member of the six nations are not comprehensive enough. Neither domestic measures which were used during the Cold War era, nor international measures, which are commonplace in the post-Cold War era, are adequate to resolve the issue.
Domestically, a new system for North Korea to reform and open its doors is needed.
Internationally, a peace system must be built on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia. We need effective measures to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue and new leaders who understand the changes to the world order in the 21st century. Electing the right president will be the first step for this.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun