[Outlook]Pragmatic? Not reallyDoes history repeat itself? The George W. Bush administration, which took office in 2001, turned the Bill Clinton administration’s North Korea policy nearly upside down. The Agreed Frame-work that resolved the first nuclear crisis was dismantled and the construction of a light-water reactor in Sinpo, North Korea, was discontinued.
As a result, in 2002, a second nuclear crisis broke out. The Bush administration threatened North Korea with regime change, and North Korea responded with missile tests and a nuclear explosion. It was in its second term that the Bush administration backed off its hard-line North Korea policy and agreed to direct dialogue with the North. In short, the Bush administration’s hardline North Korea policy failed.
How similar is the degree of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s adjustment of a policy of engagement with North Korea to that of the Bush administration? The Lee administration’s policy hasn’t been completed yet. There is only the “MB doctrine,” which calls for denuclearization, opening doors and the goal of $3,000 per capita income for North Korea. Lee’s guiding principle is to pursue a pragmatic North Korea policy.
The Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun administrations’ North Korea policies were aimed at enticing the North to give up its nuclear program through economic aid. Contrary to this, Lee plans to offer aid only if and when North Korea gives up its nuclear program. Then it will help increase North Korea’s per capita income to $3,000 within 10 years, create a $40 billion international fund for North Korea, nurture 100 exporters with each company’s export volume exceeding $3 million and support the training of 300,000 industrial workers.
North Korea’s abolition of its nuclear program was a goal of economic aid during the Kim and Roh administrations, but in the Lee administration, it has become a precondition for support to the North.
Using four principles for economic cooperation with the North, the Lee administration is revisiting the agreement between former President Roh the and North’s Kim Jong-il. It will consider economic and financial factors, as well as public opinion.
Lee attempted to close down the Ministry of Unification, and his first nominee for unification minister was a conservative figure known for his tough approach to dealing with the North, someone whom North Korea surely wanted to avoid. All this gave the North the impression that the new administration has little intention of improving inter-Korean relations. As for North Korea’s human rights record, the Lee administration has urged North Korea to improve the situation.
If the precondition for North Korea to abolish its nuclear program is strictly upheld, no one knows when the MB doctrine will be implemented because the prospects for a non-nuclear North remain uncertain. The doctrine is merely a promise that will be realized only when North Korea gives up its nuclear program. Thus, the problem is that the doctrine is not and can’t be concrete measures to entice North Korea to abolish its nuclear program. In an interview, when asked about how to make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons, President Lee answered that he expected the European Union to persuade North Korea. This is a truly flimsy policy. It is too laid-back to expect North Korea to listen to Europeans who are far away and have already denounced nuclear arms.
Therefore, if South Korea doesn’t have the capacity to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, Seoul must at least coordinate the progress of inter-Korean relations at the six-party talks. Letting deteriorating inter-Korean relations hinder the progress of the six-party talks must be avoided.
Reciprocity must be flexibly applied, and the North’s abolition of its nuclear program must not be a precondition. Instead, the North’s abolition of its nuclear program and the MB doctrine must be carried out simultaneously. As Suh Jae-jean at the Korea Institute for National Unification suggests, opening doors, a concept which North Korea abhors, must be coordinated with improvements in U.S.-North Korea and Japan-North Korea relations. We should take a more realistic stance. The opening of North Korea will be carried out step by step.
President Lee’s North Korea policy seems to have measures that regress inter-Korean relations, rather than measures that will lead to tangible achievements. In an upcoming meeting with the leaders of nations involved in the six-party talks (with the exception of the North), President Lee should establish a pragmatic North Korea policy in the truest sense, which includes realistic and concrete strategies for denuclearization.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie