[Viewpoint] Making the ‘grand bargain’ stick

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[Viewpoint] Making the ‘grand bargain’ stick

North Korea has so far kept silent on President Lee Myung-bak’s proposal of a “grand bargain,” or a package of economic aid and security guarantees in return for an irrevocable end to the North’s nuclear program.

The basic idea of the proposal is to give the North an ultimatum to settle the nuclear problem once and for all, having concluded that the word-for-word and action-for-action reciprocal approach employed for the last 20 years has failed to motivate North Korea to disarm.

South Korea and the United States may differ a little on the details, but they agree on the principle of the new approach. The idea is unlikely to be as agreeable to North Korea’s ears but could certainly act as an obstacle to its “salami tactics,” in which the communist regime offers thin slices of concessions in exchange for more time, which it uses to solidify its nuclear program.

At the negotiating table, we cannot expect to achieve all we aim for nor can we endlessly concede to the adversary. So how and which issues to place on the table is important to make certain the negotiations turn out successfully.

Realizing the grand bargain could happen in two steps: first bilateral and then multilateral talks.

North Korea and the United States could first reach an agreement, and then South Korea, China, Japan and Russia could seal the deal. Washington naturally should be Pyongyang’s first negotiating partner as only it can ensure the security of the communist regime. When the two come to a settlement, the rest of the six-party members could wrap up talks with a formal treaty.

What to discuss would mainly involve what the U.S. offers in return for the North’s renunciation of nuclear weapons.

First of all, Washington can provide a positive security assurance, referring to the assistance a nuclear weapons state can offer to a non-nuclear state if the latter falls victim to nuclear aggression or is clearly threatened by nuclear arms. These assurances were recognized by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 255, adopted in 1968.

Secondly, it can offer negative security assurances, a guarantee by a nuclear-weapons state not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states that have formally renounced nuclear weapons.

The assurance includes no immediate use of nuclear weapons as well as non-participation in nuclear alliances and non-involvement in aggressive nuclear activities.

Since 1978, the U.S. has pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states. But both assurances are more rhetorical as they are not legally binding.

Non-nuclear weapons states have been demanding these assurances be mandated in a binding treaty.

Therefore, the “grand bargain” could end up more appealing to the North if the United States pledges security assurances in writing that would make them legally binding.

Lastly, the U.S. would have to pronounce its commitment to a no-first use policy, or a pledge not to use nuclear weapons first during wartime unless already attacked by an adversary using nuclear arms.

It won’t be easy to get such a pledge, since one could undermine America’s guarantee of a nuclear umbrella to South Korea. During the Cold War, China and the Soviet Union had promised no first use, but the U.S. maintains the option of a pre-emptive nuclear strike due to the instability in Europe and the Middle East. This option serves as the ultimate security guarantee for allies of the United States.

But a U.S. pledge not to use nuclear weapons first against North Korea is unlikely to undermine security conditions on the Korean Peninsula significantly, while for the United States, a pre-emptive strategy only worked as a supplement to conventional military power during the Cold War.


*The writer is an international politics professor at Myongji University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Kyong-soo

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