[Viewpoint] Broadening a North Korean approachNorth Korea’s nuclear campaign is intolerable. It is clearly underway and cannot be reconciled with international norms. Getting a good night’s sleep is impossible when you have nuclear bombs hanging over your head. We don’t know when the next atomic device will be detonated. At the same time, we cannot let society and the economy jump and rattle upon every nuclear scare or test.
The country is still at technical war with the North, and the North’s nuclear armaments pose a serious security threat. Even if other countries and neighbors are happy with our nonproliferation commitment, we cannot and should not settle for that alone.
The government is on the right track in trying to solve the problem through a “grand bargain,” a package of security guarantees and economic aid in return for irreversible denuclearization. Seoul proposes that all six parties - the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia - sit down with all bargaining chips on the table to resolve the matter once and for all. The incremental approach of the past has been a failure, a victim of Pyongyang’s brinkmanship and insincerity. A recent survey by the Korea Institute for National Unification showed that 84.1 percent of the population supports the government’s new approach.
But North Korea’s response to the proposal has been cold. Upon hearing the proposal last fall, the North lashed out that it was a “vain concept” that will do more harm than good in solving the nuclear issue. This is because the North sees the U.S. as the primary negotiating partner, not the South. The North refers to one race all the time, but hypocritically seeks out a country it calls an “imperialist Western power” to solve its problems. In its New Year’s statement, the state pledged to take the initiative in reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas to pave the way to better relations. But in action, it has been going in the opposite direction. But we cannot give up. We must employ patience and dialogue. President Lee Myung-bak again proposed a serious discussion of the “grand bargain” in his March 1 Independence Movement Day address.
The government must not be satisfied with its new idea, but must continue with efforts to complement the deal to make it workable and beneficial. No matter how mutually attractive the idea might be, it must be shown to be workable in order to be accepted by the rest of the world. The North cannot find its own way to settle the problem, either.
The North Korean issue does not take up all our policy engagements and agendas and the same goes for Pyongyang. We are not their only solution. Recently, the North has been more eager in trying to rekindle friendship with China.
We must reassess and reinforce our strategy before we sit down with North Korea. In the economy, we talk of an exit strategy. We need also to work out an entrance strategy for North Korean affairs. In order to fish, the right bait is crucial. There is no need to revise the original framework. We just need some supplementing or trimming to make the plan work. The idea complies with the government’s policy on North Korean affairs, exercising tenacity on principle and flexibility in its approach.
We must work more on baiting by building up more bargaining chips. We cannot get North Korea’s attention with the offer of a security guarantee and economic aid. To the North, nuclear technology is more than a weapon. It is its last way to sustain the status quo ideology and regime. The matter of surrendering nuclear arms is a matter of life or death for North Korean leaders. From the perspective of the North, it is not difficult to acknowledge the current regime and provide economic aid. Easy political recognition and economic concessions may not come across genuinely enough to talk the recalcitrant country down from the ledge and hand over its precious weapons.
We should look beyond today and re-evaluate our North Korean policy in a farsighted and broader context. To do so, we must stack more chips to bargain and sell. Nuclear arms are not the only North Korean problem that concerns us. Even with the nuclear issue out of the way, the country’s conventional forces are still powerful. Human rights issues remain alarming and we would have to raise issues on welfare and environment if we have our eyes set on having a united country in the future. We must discuss a permanent arrangement on repatriation of prisoners of war and separated families. We need frequent social and cultural exchanges to narrow the differences in the two societies. An extensive and comprehensive package one day should contain all of this.
We must stretch the extent and depth of the grand bargain package. Its success would depend on such efforts. The government reiterates that it would take necessary initiatives to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. If it is serious, it should get to work on a greater, broader and more far-reaching package.
*The writer is a professor on North Korean affairs at Ewha Womans University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Dong-ho