[Viewpoint] Policy of neglect has already failed

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[Viewpoint] Policy of neglect has already failed

Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek said that Pyongyang’s hard-line attitude has been changing since July. But that change is a tactical one rather than a fundamental one, since its attitudes toward the six-party talks and the nuclear issue remain the same.

And any improvement in inter-Korean relations, including inter-Korean dialogue, is premised on a strategic change on the nuclear issue by Pyongyang. As if trying to prove Minister Hyun’s remark, Pyongyang claimed in a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Sept. 3 that plutonium extracted from reprocessing spent fuel rods was being weaponized, and uranium enrichment had been successfully conducted and had entered the completion phase.

From South Korea’s position, North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is a grave concern that structuralizes instability on the Korean Peninsula and throws dark clouds over Seoul’s reunification policy. Unless North Korea gives up its nuclear program, neighboring powers will not welcome a unified Korea with a nuclear capacity.

From the United States’ perspective, Pyongyang’s nuclear development not only amplifies the threat of nuclear proliferation but also intensifies political instability within North Korea by complicating internal and external variables in the course of power succession. Therefore, Seoul and Washington are working together closely to realize the denuclearization of North Korea.

The point is how to guide Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. Lately, some experts have grown skeptical of the view that as long as the Kim Jong-il regime continues, the nuclear problem cannot be solved. They share in the naive hope that the regime will change soon because Kim Jong-il’s health is deteriorating, thus leading to a resolution. Such a mind-set will lead to a policy of neglect on the nuclear issue.

Since no resolution can be anticipated, we could simply wait until the Kim Jong-il regime falls. In fact, there are three possible responses to North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The first is a strategy of benign neglect. However, if the six-party talks end and no more diplomatic efforts are made, it is highly likely that North Korea will take the initiative.

The second strategy is one of “malignant neglect” - pressuring Pyongyang with economic and financial sanctions and encouraging regime change. However, we would have to persuade China, which does not want unification initiated by Korea and the United States.

The third strategy is to pressure Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and create some sort of progress on the nuclear issue.

In the end, the third is the most plausible and realistic option. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1874, we can threaten Pyongyang’s regime security and urge it to come back to the six-party table with sanctions.

The North has recently begun to feel the sting of Resolution 1874 and is displaying a friendlier attitude toward the United States and South Korea. China played an effective role by joining in on the pressure against the North.

Pyongyang stubbornly demands bilateral talks with Washington because this would reduce its tension with China, the United States, Japan, Russia and Korea all at the same time. China, the biggest beneficiary of the six-party talks, agrees.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth said during his recent Seoul visit that there had not been a fundamental change in Pyongyang. He emphasized that Washington was ready to talk bilaterally with Pyongyang but would do so only to urge resumption of the six-party negotiations. Japan and Russia are committed to North Korean denuclearization as well.

The ultimate solution will be to pressure Pyongyang constantly through the cooperation of the international community and among the five non-North members of the six-party talks, thus dragging North Korea out into the modern age.

*The writer is a professor of international politics at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University.

by Kim Sung-han
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