[Outlook]Peace, but not at any costThe second South-North Korean summit meeting was postponed until early October from the last week of August under the excuse that severe floods had damaged North Korea.
Then the six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization that were scheduled to resume Wednesday were suspended indefinitely without a clear reason.
A delayed shipment of heavy oil from China and media reports on North Korea’s suspected nuclear connection to Syria might have led, at least partly, to the postponement of the six-party talks.
But I have the impression that North Korea is agonizing over the strategic choice of whether the six-party talks about its nuclear program or the second inter-Korean summit meeting should come first.
From North Korea’s perspective, if the six-party talks are held first and the inter-Korean summit follows, it can concentrate on issues related to inter-Korean economic cooperation, establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and a formula for the unification of the South and the North at the inter-Korean summit. This will be possible because the nuclear issue will have been fully discussed at the six-party nuclear talks.
One of demerits of this plan is having to prepare for two big diplomatic events at almost the same time.
On the other hand, if the South-North summit meeting is held before the six-party talks, North Korea can adopt a “declaration of peace” at the inter-Korean summit and, helped by the declaration, concentrate on issues related to its diplomatic relations with the United States, to which the North attaches great importance.
But in this scenario North Korea has to risk the possibility that issues related to its nuclear disarmament will not be brought up by the South at the inter-Korean summit meeting.
If the North does not want to choose either of these two strategic alternatives, it can consider canceling the inter-Korean summit and concentrate its efforts on the six-party talks and improving relations with the United States.
Regardless of whichever alternative the North chooses, it seems that the road to peace on the Korean Peninsula is long and rough because we cannot find any sign that North Korea will discard its nuclear program in an internationally recognized verifiable way.
North Korea shed light on the “disablement” of its nuclear facilities by inviting a group of nuclear experts from the United States, China and Russia and providing them a chance to take a look around it’s facilities in Yongbyon.
However, the North did not give an assurance that it would make a “complete declaration” of all of its nuclear programs including nuclear weapons, nuclear material it extracted from used fuel rods and enriched uranium, according to the agreement signed on Feb.13.
On the contrary, the North Korean Foreign Ministry attempted to discredit New York Times reports on the possibility of the North’s export of nuclear-related materials to Syria by saying that, “North Korea, as a nuclear power, solemnly declared that it will not permit nuclear proliferation under any circumstances and has carried out its pledge.”
The statement sends an indirect message that the United States should recognize North Korea as a nuclear state in return for the North’s abstention from nuclear proliferation.
The North wants to follow in the footsteps of Pakistan, which possesses nuclear weapons and maintains friendly relations with the United States.
At present, there is a very slim possibility that North Korea will follow in the footsteps of Libya, which gave up its nuclear program all together and took the road to open-door policy and reform.
In order to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula, we must make finding a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem our first priority.
If the North is recognized as a nuclear power, it will be South Korea that would be first to fall victim to the North’s nuclear weapons. Keeping this in mind, South Korea should act very carefully and discreetly.
When the United States decides that it cannot expect further assistance from South Korea and China in its effort to discourage North Korea’s nuclear ambition, the United States will be left with two options.
One is a military attack on the North’s nuclear facilities and the other is recognizing the North as a nuclear power and preventing the spread of nuclear technology and material in the North’s possession to other areas in the world. We all know that taking military actions against the North’s nuclear facilities is not an easy option.
From a strategic point of view, therefore, North Korea is in a position to weaken the will of South Korea and China to denuclearize North Korea.
Herein lies the reason why North Korea has to accommodate China’s proposal to invest more in North and South Korea’s offer of expanded inter-Korean economic cooperation and an invitation to discuss the establishment of peace on the peninsula.
Judging from the North’s strategy, I think that the focus of our North Korea policy should be that we should not allow discussions on peace, prosperity and unification to lessen the importance of the North Korean nuclear issue.
The subject of peace that will be discussed at the second round of the South-North Korean summit meeting should not be a “peace for declaration’s sake,” but a “substantial peace” that can work under the principle of “seeking denuclearization first and establishing peace later.”
At the same time, the inter-Korean economic cooperation projects discussed at the summit talks should not exceed the level of economic incentives offered to the North by the six-party talks.
The discussions on national unification should also be in line with the process of keeping and expanding our system of liberal democracy.
*The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han