[Viewpoint] Redrawing North Korea strategy

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[Viewpoint] Redrawing North Korea strategy

Countries that created their North Korea policies on the premise that North Korea would denuclearize now face the bankruptcy of their policies.

Topping the list of such nations are South Korea and the United States. Strong United Nations Security Council sanctions on the North are only a short-term measure to counter the North’s repeated nuclear tests.

They are not a North Korea policy with a long-term vision.

North Korea has set a trial date for two American journalists in its custody, conducted a nuclear test, and fired missiles on the same day.

Pyongyang’s moves show that it is unlikely to give up the option of protecting its regime by possessing nuclear arms even in the face of the most painful sanctions, such as those imposed by Washington in 2006 when it froze the North’s assets in Banco Delta Asia.

Until now, the North’s long-range missile and nuclear test threat were interpreted as a tactic to attract U.S. attention and to secure an advantageous position in the nuclear negotiation with the Obama administration.

But there are other ways to view what is going on.

The North’s military has gained a powerful voice since last summer after Kim Jong-il suffered a health problem. It appears that the country has decided that it’s more important to secure the regime’s stability with nuclear arms than it is to find a breakthrough in normalizing U.S.-North Korea relations by implementing the denuclearization agreement of the six-party talks under Kim’s approval.

It also appears clear that Kim is preparing to hand over the regime to his third son, Jung-un. When the time comes that Kim is becomes unable to rule, it’s unclear how Kim Jung-un will control the country with what kind of power and under what title.

But, there is a possible scenario. Kim Jong-il has likely decided that it is a far safer survival strategy to hand over a nuclear-armed nation to his son, rather than normalizing relations with the South, the United States and Japan.

The Bush administration has ignored the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework formed between the North and the Clinton administration. From that, the North must have learned that it is too risky to entrust its regime’s survival on an agreement with the Obama administration, whether the agreement is bilateral or multilateral.

The North probably calculated that it will be an additional bonus if it can win economic benefits by normalizing relations with the United States and Japan on its way to becoming a nuclear-armed nation.

What will be the Lee Myung-bak administration’s strategy in dealing with a double-faced North, which conducted a nuclear test amid mourning in the South and while expressing condolences for the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun?

The South must revise its North Korea policy with a view that nuclear programs are no longer a bargaining chip for the Kim Jong-il regime. Instead, they are the core of its survival strategy.

And we must ask ourselves, will we be able to give up the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?

We cannot give up the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but we must recognize that the North is relentlessly pursuing a nuclear program.

How to resolve this conflict is our dilemma, and we should make a two-track choice.

First, it is unavoidable that strong sanctions be imposed on the North through the UN Security Council. In the aftermath of the North’s first nuclear test in October 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1718. It, however, became ineffective as the six-party talks found a breakthrough with the Feb. 13 agreement the next year.

Right now, the UN Security Council must impose all possible sanctions within its power. Individual nations, including Japan, must also impose additional sanctions.

And the most crucial part in this move is China’s participation in the sanctions. The June summit between Lee and Obama must focus on how they can cooperate with China in this short-term countermeasure.

The inconvenient truth about the nuclear issue is that it has become a matter between North Korea and the United States while the North argues “blood is thicker that water,” and while the South claims to play a leading role in resolving the crisis. This is our second dilemma.

Even if the North definitely chooses to become a nuclear-armed nation, will there be a need to pursue inter-Korean dialogue?

The answer is “Yes.”

Nuclear programs are a part of inter-Korean relations. A relationship beyond the nuclear issue and broader issues concerning the two Koreas should be the starting point of South Korea’s new North Korea policy in the aftermath of the North’s second nuclear test.

While seeking talks with the North, the South should begin discussion with the United States about maintaining and strengthening the U.S. nuclear umbrella on the South and utilizing the missile defense system of the United States and Japan. At the same time, South Korea must review a long-term strategy of building its own missile defense regime to intercept the North’s short-range missiles after seeking cooperation with the United States and the understanding of China.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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