Domestic consensus firstNorth Korea carried out its first nuclear test in October 2006. I was on the National Assembly’s defense committee at the time. Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Seoul with other members of the Korea-U.S. Interparliamentary Exchange, and they were surprised to find how calm things were in the South. To an outsider, it is bizarre how Korean society has grown immune to everyday dangers and threats from across the border.
The Korean Peninsula has long been associated with things nuclear. Nuclear weapons were used for the first and last time on Japan, our neighbor. The uranium bomb that landed on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, immediately killed 100,000 people, with 200,000 dead within five years later. The plutonium bomb that hit the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9 killed 70,000 by the end of the year and another 140,000 within five years. On the following day, Japan, which had been defiant even after Germany was defeated, surrendered. Five days later, Korea was informed that it was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. The Koreans who were taken to those two cities as forced labor were sacrificed. There are no formal counts, but an estimated 100,000 Koreans were affected by the atomic bombings and half perished.
Atomic weapons were also considered an option during the 1950-53 Korean War. Classified military documents released later showed that U.S. President Harry Truman considered authorizing the use of atomic weapons to prevent communist expansion into South Korea. The Park Chung Hee regime briefly sought nuclear weapon development after President Richard Nixon announced plans to withdraw American troops from Korea as part of the Nixon Doctrine in the 1970s.
The development never went through. Nuclear issues arose again on the Korean Peninsula in the 1990s after the U.S. announced a withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, Seoul pledged denuclearization. The following year, both Koreas signed a joint statement of denuclearization. Committee meetings were held 13 times, and yet, two years later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), after rejecting international inspections of its suspected nuclear sites.
That conflict appeared to subside when North Korea signed the Agreed Framework in Geneva in 1994 to dismantle nuclear facilities after months of negotiations with the United States. But North Korea went on with clandestine nuclear development, violating the agreement by building uranium enrichment facilities. Amid growing suspicions of a uranium-based weapons program, Pyongyang again bolted from the NPT in 2003.
A six-party negotiation framework was initiated to address a renewed North Korean nuclear crisis. The six parties - the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia - held talks from 2003 to 2008, generating a Joint Statement on Sept. 19, 2005, on incremental steps for the goal of “verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and another landmark deal on Feb. 13, 2007, specifying concrete steps for Pyongyang to cease nuclear weapons activities in return for economic, energy and humanitarian assistance.
But negotiations fizzled out after North Korea conducted a series of nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Kim Jong-un, succeeding his father who died in December 2011, declared that North Korea was a nuclear state and had mastered the technology to miniaturize nuclear weapons. He included his nuclear capabilities in the country’s constitution.
The six-party talks have been in a hiatus for seven years now. Meanwhile, 13 years of international endeavors to stop Iran’s nuclear development ended in a deal. U.S. Republicans are opposed to the deal, and Israel warns it will only imperil Israel and the wider Middle East. There is a clear difference between the nuclear crises in Iran and North Korea. Tehran maintains it does not possess nuclear weapons. The goal of the Iranian deal is to prevent any development of nuclear weapons. The goal with North Korea is dismantlement of current nuclear weapons and related facilities.
The UN Security Council members, as well as the European Union, are in consensus on the Iran deal. But six countries involved the North Korean denuclearization talks differ on their positions. President Barack Obama has been passive on the issue. Washington maintains it cannot apply the Iranian model to North Korea. China wants to solve the problem through talks rather than sanctions. Japan and Russia are simply not that interested.
The North Korean nuclear issue involves military trust between the two Koreas. But Pyongyang prefers to talk the matter out with Washington rather than Seoul. It demands the withdrawal of U.S. troops for any development in nuclear and missile talks. The two Koreas still cannot solve their differences on their own.
In pitching the Iran deal, President Obama said, “Some deal is better than no deal.” That suggests many things. We must narrow our own differences between conservative and liberal forces. We need the political leadership to unite voices at home first and then strengthen the international coalition to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 8, Page 27
*The author is a former environment minister and a visiting professor at the KAIST Science and Technology Policy Graduate School.
by Kim Myung-ja