No diplomacy for nuclear issue
According to the predictions of the Central Intelligence Agency, North Korea’s Kim dynasty should have collapsed long ago. In 2000, the CIA published Global Trends 2015, a future outlook based on 15 months of discussion with prominent experts. The report predicted, “A unified Korea with a significant U.S. military presence may become a regional military power. For the next 10 to 15 years, however, knowledgeable observers suggest that the process of unification will consume South Korea’s energies and resources.” But it more wishful thinking than prediction.
The CIA boasts world’s most extensive and accurate intelligence, but it is helpless when it comes to North Korea, the most closed nation in the world. Former U.S. Ambassador to Korea Donald Gregg, who had served as CIA station chief in Seoul, said in an interview that North Korea was the case of worst failure in U.S. history. Gregg criticized the harms and adverse effects of lack of intelligence on North Korea in his memoir titled “Pot Shards: Fragments of a Life Lived in CIA, the White House and the Two Koreas.” He wrote, “It seems clear that what invariably gets us into trouble is our tendency to demonize foreign leaders or foreign groups we neither like nor understand. In such cases, we fill our gaps of ignorance with prejudice, and the result is hostility fueled by demagoguery, and damage done to all concerned.”
Seoul and Washington’s intelligence on North Korea were caught off guard by North Korea’s fourth nuclear test earlier this month. While the United States has a spy satellite to monitor North Korea’s movements, they did not know about the test until the seismic waves were detected. While there were reports that the United States had been aware and prepared, President Park Geun-hye openly admitted lack of knowledge.
The lack of information on North Korea played a role in the failure to prevent the progress of cancer even when it had been detected in early stage. The United States and Korea clung to the wishful thinking of North Korea’s collapse without reasonable grounds. When the Geneva Basic Agreements between the United States and North Korea that outlined building two light-water reactors for North Korea in return for freezing nuclear program was signed in 1994, the U.S. negotiation team was reportedly absorbed in the hypothesis of North Korea’s collapse in 10 years. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, North Korea’s sudden change in 2015 was widely believed within the National Intelligence Service. It was believed the Kim Jong-un regime would not last long due to the instability of power succession.
As the nuclear crisis grew, Seoul and Washington were practically hands-off due to these vague hopes. The groundless hopes made the president say “the fundamental solution to the nuclear crisis is reunification” along with her “unification jackpot” theory without hesitation. But the Kim Jong-un regime is quickly gaining political and economic stability in its fifth year in power.
In the report of state affairs in foreign policy and security last week, President Park mentioned the need for five-party talks. As the six-party talks for nuclear resolution have become useless, she asked the other five nations gather to discuss putting pressure on North Korea. It is proof that she hasn’t given up the possibility of North Korea’s collapse. She also suggested that she finds China’s uncooperative attitude regrettable and thinks that North Korea would collapse with its help. But if China had such intentions, the nuclear crisis wouldn’t have escalated in the first place. Regrettably, that’s the reality.
Since the fourth nuclear test, Yun Byung-se’s foreign policy team is busily working to no avail. Its “corresponding price” and “unprecedentedly harsh sanctions” haven’t led to much. While it ambitiously pushed for ultra-strong sanctions to threaten the North, it’s like punching air without China’s help. Yun’s policy toward the North Korean nuclear problem is grand in form but empty in substance.
Now he needs to pursue true diplomacy. Seoul needs to wake up from the illusion of North Korean collapse and encourage a grand compromise between Pyongyang and Washington with tempting offers to North Korea. While implementing sanctions through the United Nations Security Council, Seoul should draft an arbitration plan and play a skilled mediator between North Korea and the United States.
While pursuing transition from the truce system to peace system and the grand bargain of exchanging North Korea’s nuclear abandonment with normalization of relations with the United States, Seoul may want to progressively consider suspending the joint military exercise with the United States if North Korea freezes its nuclear activities and sits at the negotiation table. The road not taken may be dreadful. But what we need now is bold, creative and true diplomacy.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 26, Page 35
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY Bae Myung-bok
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?