Time to call Pyongyang’s bluffWhen North Korea in 1993 came under suspicion of developing nuclear weapons, it announced its intention to withdraw from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. For the past two decades, the country has been playing hide and seek with its nuclear weapons program. The United States and South Korea are now dealing with the third generation of the Kim dynasty over its dangerous game. U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye can draw lessons from their respective predecessors - Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun - in addressing North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un.
Clinton is still one of America’s favorite presidents. During his two-term presidency, America enjoyed an economic boom and budget surpluses. The Democratic president also promoted landmark legislation like the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as a handful of welfare reforms.
Despite his overall competency in domestic and foreign policies, Clinton was completely outplayed by North Korea. Washington believed its worries with North Korea would end with the bilateral framework signed in Geneva in 1994. In it, the United States promised necessary aid and fuel for light-water reactors in return for Pyongyang’s elimination of plutonium and reprocessing facilities, and eventual normalization of diplomatic and economic ties. Pyongyang instead moved on to enriching more dangerous uranium. The Geneva agreement completely broke down in 2003 with Pyongyang resuming operations at its plutonium-based nuclear facilities and kicking out international inspectors.
George W. Bush condemned North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” and vehemently went after so-called rogue nations following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He entered a war in Afghanistan in 2001 and started another in Iraq in 2003.
But he, too, could not stop Kim Jong-il. Despite a hard-line bilateral stance on Pyongyang, Washington aggressively worked with the six-party talks which involved the two Koreas, China, Japan, and Russia and were committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The world and its leaders believed they were making progress with the unruly North Koreans through diplomacy. North Korea began to demolish its symbolic nuclear program facilities and was generously rewarded.
While playing a good boy on the global stage, however, Pyongyang continued development of nuclear weapons and finally detonated an underground nuclear device in the fifth year of the Bush presidency. The six-party talks had been Pyongyang’s best cover-up and source of financing for its nuclear program. The multilateral discussions came to a stalemate after six years and North Korea carried out a second nuclear test.
South Korean leaders were even more gullible. Still flushed with excitement upon returning from a historic summit meeting in Pyongyang in June 2000, President Kim Dae-jung declared the danger of war would no longer exist on the peninsula. In 2001, he said North Korea had never developed nuclear weapons nor did it have the ability to do so. He said he would be accountable if North Korea developed nuclear weapons. But Pyongyang had been pursuing its uranium enrichment program all along.
In terms of cluelessness over North Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun would score highest. He chose to turn a blind eye. During an overseas trip, he said North Korea had a point in demanding nuclear sovereignty. “If Pyongyang received assurance on the security of its regime, it would surrender its nuclear program,” he said. Roh took Pyongyang’s side by saying it was unfair to conclude that North Korea was developing a nuclear device for military or terrorist purpose. But the same regime is threatening to burn down and wipe out the South with nuclear arms.
If the head of the house falls prey to a scam, damages are done to the entire family. If the leader of a country is fooled, the entire people would pay the price. If the contemporary generation errs, the future generation would suffer. President Obama is working with an unruly state because his predecessors were negligent. South Korean people live under a constant nuclear threat because their liberal-minded presidents had been naive.
After it got the world’s attention again with a third nuclear test, North Korea is again feigning reconciliation. It declared it will never give up nuclear weapons, at the same time floating the idea of dialogue. It is another poker game with Kim Jong-un playing Pyongyang’s hand.
Can President Park read the cards clearly? She has already been fooled once. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had been generous in hosting Park during her visit to Pyongyang in 2002. She was shown the Pyongyang the regime wanted her to see and prohibited from seeing the real North Korea. She spoke favorably of Kim following her visit.
To be a greater leader for this country, one must not lose a sense of reality and fall for North Korea’s trick. She must erase the illusory image of Pyongyang during her last visit.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin