[Outlook]In Kissinger’s shadow

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[Outlook]In Kissinger’s shadow

The United States solved the issue over North Korea’s frozen funds at Banco Delta Asia through the Federal Reserve Bank. Shortly after, Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state, visited Pyongyang. The United States’ recent moves signal that most of the obstacles on the U.S. side that blocked a breakthrough in negotiations between the United States and North Korea appear to have been removed. What’s left now is North Korea’s decision on whether it will be able to sustain its regime without nuclear weapons.
If North Korea decides to give up its nuclear weapons, the first step toward normalizing U.S.-North Korea relations is expected with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Pyongyang. This is because Secretary Rice’s moves are very similar to those of Henry Kissinger, the national security advisor during Richard Nixon’s administration who achieved the normalization of U.S.-China relations.
Rice and Kissinger also have similar experiences. They were professors and worked as national security advisors before becoming secretary of state. Kissinger, as a realist, chose to normalize U.S. ties with China as a way to press the Soviet Union to attend a meeting on strategic nuclear weapons control. He also received a promise from China that it would help the United States find an “honorable exit” from the hopeless Vietnam War. Compared to Kissinger, Rice, who aims at democratizing North Korea, is not a serious realist to the bone. But unlike neo-conservative forces who have taken hard lines on North Korea, she firmly believes that North Korea’s nuclear issue cannot be resolved without improving political relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
The two foreign policy experts also face similar circumstances in international relations, and they play more or less the same role in their respective administrations. Kissinger was in charge of U.S. foreign affairs in both the Ford and Nixon administrations. For two years beginning 1973, he served as both the national security advisor and the secretary of state. Rice took control of U.S. foreign policy in 2007 when Dick Cheney lost influence.
Defense Minister Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley have long worked with Rice. In Rice’s system where there are experts for separate foreign relations issues, Assistant Secretary Hill is in charge of North Korea.
Like Kissinger, Rice is also assuming the role of orchestrating the exit of an unpopular president. For the troubled President Nixon, Kissinger found a way out by normalizing ties with China. As a way to make an exit for President Bush, who is trapped in the Iraq issue, Rice is determined to normalize U.S.-North Korea relations.
If we abandon our near-sighted view of diplomatic tactics, which are subject to change at any time anyway, and if we try to take a long-term prospective, we can realize that Rice’s North Korea policy will be carried out at a fast pace like Kissinger’s moves for normalization of U.S.-China ties. Also, we will realize that while South Korea’s engagement policy knows no limits and does not have measures for midpoint check-ups, U.S.-North Korea policy will likely be pursued intensively and rapidly.
In April, the Atlantic Council, a U.S. civil organization, released a report on policy toward the Korean Peninsula under the premise that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons. This report advises that a nuclear agreement and a peace agreement between Washington and Pyongyang; a military agreement among Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington; and a peace treaty among Seoul, Pyongyang, Washington and Beijing be pursued at the same time to normalize U.S.-North Korea relations within one and a half years. For now, this report is, in fact, a guideline for Korea policy.
These changes in the United States were made because of the ever-worsening circumstances in the Middle East, which is a hundred times more important than North Korea in terms of politics, and the decline of neoconservative forces. If North Korea prolongs negotiations by playing games with its nuclear weapons, things will change again. Pyongyang should know that North Korea is now like how China was to the United States 35 years ago.
It should also know that Rice is prepared to change the circumstances in Northeast Asia by normalizing ties with North Korea, just like Kissinger changed the current of the Cold War by normalizing ties with China.
Although it depends on Pyongyang, Washington is thinking about changing the structure of the Korean Peninsula by normalizing its ties with Pyongyang.
But in South Korea, politicians are busy with the president’s appeal to the Constitutional Court, a dispute between the Blue House and the Grand National Party over the party’s presidential candidates and an absurd measure for university entrance examinations. With their near-sighted view, it is hard to secure a place in the U.S.-led process of reorganizing order on the Korean Peninsula.
If Korean leaders believe that U.S.-North Korea policy will automatically lead to denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula, they are the same as our ancestors in the court of the Joseon Dynasty 100 years ago who were blind to international politics. If they do not repeat that mistake, they need to be able to see the shadow of Kissinger behind Rice’s moves.

*The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungsung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Gweon Yong-lib
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