Two Panels Debate U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Options
Chancellor Carnesale, other experts, examine the history and future of Korean Peninsula.
Two expert panels, sponsored by UCLA's Asia Institute, examined "Conflict and Cooperation in Northeast Asia" and held a roundtable on U.S. policy options in regard to North Korea on March 7 in the James West Alumni Center. The nine participants included UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, who led the U.S. delegation to the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (1978-80), a 66-nation study of the relationship between civilian nuclear power and proliferation of nuclear weapons. The panels were chaired by Professor Richard Baum (Political Science), Director of the Asia Institute.
The panelists in the "Conflict and Cooperation in Northeast Asia" panel were: John Duncan, director of the UCLA Center for Korean Studies; Moon Chung-In, Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University; Susan Shirk, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific; Victor Cha, Director of the American Alliances in Asia Project, Georgetown University; and Ronald Morse, former U.S. Dept. of Defense, State, and Energy staff member.
The panelists in the "Roundtable on U.S. Policy" were: Albert Carnesale, Chancellor of UCLA and Professor of Policy Studies and Aerospace Engineering; Victor Gilinsky, formerly of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Chae-jin Lee, Director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, Claremont McKenna College; Namhee Lee, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA; and Norman Levin, Asia-Pacific Center, RAND Corporation.
The discussions were supported by the UCLA centers for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean studies.
Because of the importance of these issues we are presenting below the full text of the presentations with only minor editing and abridgement.
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Conflict and Cooperation in Northeast Asia
John Duncan (East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA): "There is no way that Chun Doo Hwan could have taken these troops off of their position and sent them to Kwangju without the cooperation of the American authorities."
It seems to me that in many ways the nuclear crisis evolving around North Korea is very much an issue of Korean American relations. The North Koreans have made it abundantly clear that they want bilateral talks with the United States to resolve the crisis. There has been a rising widespread attitude more critical of the United States and its policies in South Korea in recent years as well.
Why do these people have the attitudes they have today? A typical American attitude on Korea starts with the Korean War. I have heard this a million times: When South Korea was invaded by the North Korean communist aggressors in 1950, the United States came to their aid at the cost of thousands of American lives. After the war the U.S. poured massive aid into South Korea to rebuild its economy. The United States maintains sizable forces in South Korea to this day to deter North Korean aggression.
So people tell me that they can't understand why South Koreans might be critical of U.S. relations with Korea. Well, American - Korean relations are much older and much more complex.
The first significant encounter between Americans and Koreans came in the summer of 1866. In the mid nineteenth century the Choson dynasty was pursuing a policy of seclusion and was not interested in trade with the West. An armed American merchant ship called the General Sherman appeared in Korean waters and asked the Korean government to open trade relations. When they were rebuffed they sailed up the Taedong river to Pyongyang, the present North Korean capital. They renewed their demands, and when their demands were rejected again, they opened fire, perhaps hoping to intimidate the Koreans into complying. Unfortunately they happened to get stuck on a sand bar in the river. Korean forces then attacked the ship, burned it down, and killed every man on board.
Five years later the U.S. sent a force of five ships and 1,200 soldiers to the Korean coast seeking retribution for the loss of the General Sherman and forcing the Koreans to open up to trade. They landed on the island of Kanghwa off the coast near the South Korean capital of Seoul. After 20 days of combat the American forces withdrew and went back to the waters off of China. This was the first armed conflict between the Koreans and a Western power.
In 1882 at the urging of the Ching dynasty of China, the Korean government entered into a treaty of amity and commerce with the United States. What the Korean government was hoping to gain from this was American support against the imperialist powers that were starting to gather around the Korean peninsula. This was also a concern of the Chinese. After this treaty an American was posted there as a legate and American missionaries and merchants arrived in large numbers.
There was a structural problem in Korean-American relations from the very beginning. Because whereas China loomed very large in Korea's vision, Korea was barely a blip on American horizons. This was borne out in 1904-1905. In 1904 war broke out between Japan and Russia. By the summer of 1905 it was abundantly clear that Japan was going to win the war. American secretary of state Taft stopped in Tokyo and met with Japan's foreign minister Katsura and drafted what became known as the Taft-Katsura Memorandum. The United States would recognize Japan's interests in Korea in exchange for Japanese recognition of American interests in the Philippines. After the war ended in September 1905, President Roosevelt sponsored a conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in which Russia was pushed out of the region and Japan was placed in the driver's seat.
The Japanese forced on the Koreans a protectorate treaty that gave them authority over foreign affairs -- until 1910, when the Japanese, tired of the charade, simply announced the annexation of Korea. So the Americans played something of a not very nice role in the background of this.
America began to play an important role in Korea again in 1945 with the defeat of Japan. At its very moment of liberation in August 1945, Korea was divided into two zones. This was initiated by the United States and accepted by the Soviet Union: The establishment of two separate and hostile regimes, a Soviet-backed regime in North Korea and an American-backed regime in South Korea.
Two years later, in 1950, we had the outbreak of the Korean War. And after three years, the war never really came to an end. But I think it is important to look at how Koreans viewed this in 1953. Both Koreas were unhappy at this solution. They wanted to fight it out. The North Koreans eventually, under Chinese and Russian pressure, did sign the armistice, but in their view the United States was the big bad guy, they were the imperialists who prevented them from unifying the country.
The South Korean perspectives: They were not happy that the war was coming to an end without victory. They refused to sign the armistice agreement. So there was a great deal of unhappiness in both Koreas after the Korean War.
In the 1960s tension rose very high along the DMZ. There were 100 casualties in 1967. So relations remained bad between the United States and North Korea.
In the 1970s there came what people in Asia referred to as the Nixon shock. This was the initiation of ping pong diplomacy and the restoration of relations with Communist China. The South Koreans and the Japanese said, this must mean a lessening of American commitment. As a matter of fact, in the 1970s the United States withdrew one division from South Korea. The Park Chung Hee government began to work out plans to develop nuclear weapons of their own.
But a really important event for U.S.-South Korean relations occurred in the month of May 1980. Demonstrators in the southwest city of Kwangju arose to protest the establishment of military rule under Chun Doo Hwan. Then general, and later president, Chun Doo Hwan took a couple of units of South Korean forces off of their post near the demilitarized zone and sent them down to Kwangju. And the result of that is that hundreds of citizens of Kwangju were killed.
Now why is this a problem for Korean-American relations? Because all of the ROK military units are under the tactical command of the United Nations command in Korea, and the head of the United Nations command is none other than the head of the U.S. 8th army.
There is no way that Chun Doo Hwan could have taken these troops off of their position and sent them to Kwangju without the cooperation of the American authorities. This caused many South Koreans to rethink the role of the United States. Instead of seeing the United States as a protector, the United States was coming to be seen as an oppressor, at least to the degree that it was seen as supporting the military regimes.
And so thus we saw the rise of widespread anti-American sentiment in the 1980s. This anti-American sentiment subsided after South Koreans attained democracy in 1987, and wasn't too visible on the surface through the rest of the 1980s and the 1990s. However, as we got into the 2000s, things began to change again. There was a kind of bedrock sentiment against the United States after the Kwangju incident in 1980. But a few new incidents fanned this sentiment.
One was the discovery of a massacre of Korean civilians by American troops during the Korean War at a place called No Gun Ri. Then this was made even worse by a series of gruesome crimes committed against Koreans by American servicemen. There were two or three incidents where Americans on military bases at Taegu and at Yongsan released toxic substances into Korean rivers, and of course there was the death of two young middle school girls just a few years ago while American soldiers were out on training exercises.
What makes many Koreans particularly unhappy about this is the Status of Forces Agreement. The Status of Forces Agreement contains a lot of provisions. Basically it is seen in the eyes of many South Koreans as protecting American servicemen who commit crimes in Korea from being tried and punished in the Korean criminal court system. People have been looking at the Status of Forces Agreement with South Korea and comparing it with the status of forces agreement in Germany and other places and have decided that the agreement with Korea contains many more aspects that are unfavorable to Korea, the host country, than those with Japan or with Germans. So they feel they are being treated very unfairly by the United States and the American military.
But behind all this, the people of South Korea have gained a great deal of self-confidence in the last 10 or 12 years. They now have the 11th or 12th largest economy in the world. They have a democratic political system. They have made great strides culturally. And they feel they should no longer be treated like a backwards, impoverished country, and they want the United States to treat them more fairly. And this is what lies behind the anti-American sentiment in South Korea. The South Koreans are very critical of many of the policies and actions of the United States. This greatly complicates the Bush administration's efforts to come to a successful conclusion of the North Korea nuclear crisis.
Chung-in Moon (Yonsei University, ROK): "Pressing hard strengthens the power of the North Korean military. It victimizes the people of North Korea and prolongs the life of the Kim Jong Il regime."
The joint new year editorial in Rodong Shinmun [organ of the North Korean Communist Party] declares: "We should counter the American imperialist irrational maneuver with the unified forces of the Korean people." That is, the North Koreans are appealing to South Korea in the name of the Korean nation.
then we have a wonderful piece by Richard Allen in a column in the New York Times. The tile of his column is "Seoul's Choice: The U.S. or the North" "In his quest to win election, Mr. Roh suggested that South Korea may stay on the sidelines if war broke out between the United States and North Korea. We would not stay where we are not wanted."
And apparently, given these two quotes, Roh must make a choice between the United States and North Korea. I think this terminology of alliance and nation is grossly oversimplified. Why? Roh treasures and appreciates our tie with the United States. He has said the U.S.-ROK alliance is and will be treasured by Koreans. He has emphasized the importance of American forces in South Korea in deterring a North Korea military attack, assuring strategic balance in northeast Asia, and reducing future uncertainty that might arise from disengagement of the U.S. from northeast Asia.
Even on the North Korean military issue there is a great similarity [between President Roh's position and that of the United States]. He presents three cardinal principles in dealing with North Korean nuclear issues. First, nontolerance of a nuclear North Korea. He is very well aware of the negative consequence of the nuclearization of North Korea. It can pose a major threat to South Korea. It may tempt North Korea to continue to deliberate on its old strategy of communizing the South. It may create a nuclear domino effect in northeast Asia, making a nuclear Japan, a nuclear Taiwan, putting the entire northeast Asian theater in the vortex of a nuclear arms race, potential consequences of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons.
Roh's second principle is the peaceful resolution of the issues with North Korea through dialogue and diplomacy. Roh Moo-hyun strongly rejects the possibility of relying on military options. He believes the choice, the solution, will be found somewhere between no nuclear North Korea and the rejection of military options.
The third principle concerns the cardinal importance of bilateral cooperation between Washington and Seoul. He believes that if the U.S. and South Korea do not work together, the North Korean issue cannot be resolved.
What are the difference between South Korea and the United States in dealing with North Korean issues? There is a reservation on the part of Roh Moo-hyun: he believes that the United States has been taking unilateral initiatives toward North Korea and that there must be more balanced cooperation between Washington and Seoul. He also wants to see some amendment to the wartime operational control that governs the deployment of South Korean and American troops in South Korea.
Roh used to be very anti-American, but he is very prudent and a pragmatist. And when he actually became president his attitude began to change in a very positive direction. But on the issues of North Korean nuclear I see some major differences between the Bush administration and the Roh Moo-hyun government.
First, on the diagnosis of the current situation. If the situation is not handled things could get worse. North Korea could cross the red line, by reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods, even processing and exporting plutonium. The Roh Moo-hyun government considers the North Korean situation to be a crisis. From President Bush's speech yesterday it is clear that the United States does not consider it to be a crisis.
It is a contrived crisis created by North Korea for the purpose of blackmailing and does not reflect any real difference from the situation of the last twenty-five years.
Another big difference is in setting the strategy goal. Apparently the Bush administration has adopted the strategy of a "hawk engagement," a term coined by Victor Cha. The underlying principle of a hawk engagement is to isolate, contain, and transform North Korea. Without a fundamental change in the regime of North Korea there cannot be a solution to the problem of weapons of mass destruction.
But the position of the South Korean government is very different. When you press hard the North Koreans press back hard. Pressing hard strengthens the power of the North Korean military. It victimizes the people of North Korea and prolongs the life of the Kim Jong Il regime. The Roh Moo-hyun government strongly advocates narrowing the focus to nuclear missiles, not broadening it to encompass human rights or regime change.
The third major difference between the Bush administration and the Roh Moo-hyun government is over how to overcome the current standoff. The American position has been very static and firm: North Korea, you dismantle the nuclear facilities and then we will talk. The South Korean position is: why can't you take a proposal to the North Koreans? Why can't you have a simultaneous exchange of a North Korean declaration of no nuclear weapons and an American declaration of nonaggression against North Korea, issuing some kind of joint communique of nonhostile intent, noninterference with domestic affairs, etc.?
Why don't you try to talk with North Korea, and if North Korea will not cooperate in terms of inspections, etc., South Korea will join with the United States in applying sanctions against North Korea? Why don't you have a dialogue first? And if that doesn't work, then we can come up with a more hard-line position on North Korea.
The fourth: there is a major difference in strategic orientation. The American initiative has been framed around the concept of crime and punishment. The North Koreans committed a crime by developing a highly enriched uranium program clandestinely. This is a violation of the Geneva framework. The United States has been emphasizing that they should be punished for this.
The South Korean government has been different. The Roh Moo-hyun government has emphasized the utility of the stick and carrot approach. Let us come up with an array of incentives and disincentives. If North Korea cooperates in inspections, verification, and dismantling of the installations, we reward North Korea for their good behavior. In that way we can resolve the North Korean problem.. If North Korea doesn't cooperate, we punish North Korea.
South Korea also emphasizes the virtue of bilateralism, letting Washington talk with Pyongyang. If you go through the multilateral route, it could take a much longer time and the situation in Korea could be worsened. Hopefully such talks could be within the framework of the UN Security Council.
Finally, there is a major difference in domestic approach since September 11. More and more the Bush administration has been rejecting any form of accommodation as Clintonesque. But on the other hand, Roh Moo-hyun got elected on a mandate of peace. He is not in a position to accept hard-line policies from the United States in dealing with North Korea.
Do these differences mean an end of the U.S.-ROK alliance? No, I don't think so. It is misleading for you to think in terms of a tradeoff between alliance and nation. Alliance and nation can be complementary. South Korea, North Korea, and the U.S. can be beneficiaries of a positive gain. In my opinion, engagement still works. Cooperation begets cooperation. We can rely on punitive measures if North Korea fails to cooperate.
The point I would like to emphasize here is that ROK-U.S. cooperation is the most important aspect of dealing with the problem of North Korea. If that falls apart, we cannot solve the North Korean problem. If North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. can still strike North Korea.
Susan Shirk (Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific): "What the Bush administration is really seeking is a way not to talk. Not talking has become the goal rather than solving the problem."
The Bush administration says that this is not a crisis. It is not a crisis because the president has defined it as not a crisis. It is not a crisis because he told his administration when the revived North Korean nuclear program was discovered last summer that he will not have two crises at the same time.
To me it does look like a crisis. It is a crisis created by the North Koreans, by their cheating on the Agreed Framework and on the North - South agreement, and by the nuclear brinksmanship that they have carried out in the last several months. However, the crisis was, to a certain extent created in Washington. The Bush administration has refused to talk to the North Koreans from the first day that President Bush came into office. The president himself not only declared North Korea an enemy, in the axis of evil phrase in the State of the Union address the year before last, but also he has made no secret of his personal loathing for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.
The North Koreans have been very frustrated by their inability to get us to talk with them and to follow up on the progress in improving relations under the leadership of former Secretary of Defense Perry in the last years of the Clinton administration. They were particularly eager to get talks started with the Bush administration because last summer they launched an economic reform, and they knew that this economic reform was doomed to failure if they could not get investment and development aid from the United States. The way it looks to me is that they tried to get our attention, first by a series of positive initiatives, including after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, when they expressed their sympathy and support for the United States, condemned terrorism, and offered to cooperate in addressing the threat of terrorism. A few weeks later we responded with the axis of evil speech.
When they hit a brick wall with the United States, they turned to Japan and South Korea. They apologized to the South Koreans for a naval clash that occurred last summer. They started to connect rail and road links across the demilitarized zone last summer, including a military-to-military agreement to carry out de-mining of the zone so that those connections could be made.
And then of course there was the summit with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi at which Kim Jong Il admitted and apologized for kidnapping Japanese citizens and allowed them to return back to Japan.
But then, even after the second nuclear program was revealed this fall, the North Koreans were very anxious to get their intentions across to us, but no one in the Bush administration would talk to them, even at very low levels. So the North Korean ambassador at the United Nations went to the New York Times to describe what the North Korean goals were. Well, when none of that worked, then they turned to their old playbook, the tried and true methods that they have used in the past. Namely, threatening to do bad things, and then actually doing them.
Now, the Bush administration's response to this was to say, Well, if we didn't want to talk to them before, we certainly don't want to talk to them now. They cheat, they lie, they do a lot of bad things. We won't be coerced, we won't be blackmailed. We won't reward bad behavior.
And what that has meant is that talking to North Korea has now been defined as a reward, and we can't reward North Korea for its bad behavior.
It appears to me that we have responded emotionally, and it has become a matter of U.S. face. We have now dug ourselves into a hole and said we absolutely won't talk to them. But we have also said we can't use military force to solve the problem, because the North Koreans would attack the South. So therefore, what is the solution?
The solution that the Bush administration has turned to is multilateralism. To me this seems like a kind of faux multilateralism. It doesn't seem very real. What the Bush administration is really seeking is a way not to talk. Not talking has become the goal rather than solving the problem. So much so that the Bush administration and friends of the administration end up, after going through these arguments that, Well, it really wouldn't be such a big deal if North Korea was left with these nuclear weapons. Because then we pursue counter proliferation policies to interdict them and make sure they won't sell them to somebody else, but it won't be such a problem if they are bottled up there because they may have nuclear weapons but meanwhile we will be tightening the noose around the regime and eventually the regime will collapse.
In contrast, Chung-in [Moon, see above] has described the South Korean view. It is quite interesting that the Chinese view is essentially the same. The Japanese are a little more sympathetic to our view, but they kind of straddle the position of the Chinese and the South Koreans on one hand and our position on the other hand. All of the parties -- China, South Korea, Japan, the United States, Russia -- they all want the denuclearization of the peninsula. But the other countries believe that Pyongyang has the incentive to give up nuclear weapons. They believe that diplomacy and the proper carrots and sticks can induce North Korea to give up both of its nuclear programs and its missile program, especially because now that they have begun this economic reform they have very strong incentives to get the benefits of economic cooperation and give up the nuclear weapons instead. Now, maybe they are wrong, but they believe that at least that proposition should be tested.
Unlike the United States, China and South Korea don't want to put too much pressure on North Korea for fear that its economy will deteriorate even more, bringing down the regime but creating a humanitarian catastrophe including hundreds of thousands of refugees. And they suspect that there are some people in the Bush administration, and this may include the president, whose goal is regime change in North Korea instead of solving the problem of weapons of mass destruction.
The other difference between the Chinese-South Koran position and the U.S. is that China and South Korea, Japan and Russia, favor the use of multilateralism as part of the solution, but they see it as a supplement to bilateral talks between North Korea and the United States instead of a substitute for it.
So these two very different approaches to the problem, the U.S. approach on one hand and the Chinese-South Korean approach on the other hand, has not only frustrated any real progress in addressing the crisis, but it has brought our relations with our ally South Korea to the worst state in decades.
And from the standpoint of U.S. interests this is very worrisome. North Asian countries are starting to question the U.S. role in the region. If the United States can't play a constructive role in solving problems, then who needs them there? The result could be the marginalization of the U.S. role in northeast Asia.
Now let me say something about China here. The Bush administration says it expects China to play a central role in solving the problem. That this, for the Bush administration, is a test of whether China is a responsible power. True, China has more communication channels with North Korea than any other country and it supplies it with much of its food and fuel. China, like the United States, does not want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It worries about nuclear dominoes in northeast Asia. But China, as I said earlier, does not want to bring down the regime and cause chaos.
Some people say that China favors the status quo in North Korea. I don't agree with that. They don't favor the status quo. What they want is a reform in North Korea. And China has been trying to persuade North Korea to initiate reforms for some time. I think that China actually could and would be influential in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, even though it would prefer to do so quietly from behind the scenes.
Back in 1994, during the last nuclear crisis, the main communist newspaper in Hong Kong, Da Gong Bao, ran a front page article saying that if the United Nations decides to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, China will stop supplying food and fuel. So China at that time was prepared to join a sanctions regime. And I believe that if China had confidence in the approach that the United States was pursuing, they would back it wholeheartedly, including a willingness to tighten economic pressure on North Korea. But the fact that China has this important role means that it has a lot of leverage on Washington. It can insist as a condition of its cooperation that the United States pursue the matter through bilateral discussions, and it could also insist that the United States reassure Beijing that its goal is to solve the nuclear problem and not to bring down the regime.
Well, it looked like that kind of pressure on China's part, along with South Korea and Japan, was working. We have said, Now we'll talk; we won't negotiate, no quid pro quos. But when [Deputy Secretary of State] Rich Armitage said he would talk, in testimony before Congress [February 4], apparently the president balled him out and said, No, we won't talk. So the U.S. position is actually quite unclear.
Now one interesting question I would like to conclude with is whether China is likely to step forward to help the United States save face here. China is worried as they see North Korea's nuclear brinksmanship continue. They are worried about what will happen if there is a missile test, if reprocessing begins. It might be a quite Chinese way to go about it. I can imagine a discussion in a leading Chinese small group: Should we help Bush save face here? Help him step down from this position of refusing to talk and figure out a way to get talks started, perhaps by calling a multilateral meeting, maybe in Beijing, and helping the two sides get talks started? So that the Bush administration can say, well, we've been principled, we haven't really talked except in the context of multilateral discussions.
Its conceivable, and I am watching to see if Chinese pragmatism, and their understanding that face can drive decision makers to make some unwise commitments might actually help the Bush administration save face.
Victor Cha (Georgetown University): "If North Korea has already chosen to go for nuclear weapons, as many in this administration already believe, then negotiations by definition are going to fail."
I want to make two sets of points, one about the future of the alliance and the other about North Korea.
First, in terms of the alliance and Roh Moo-hyun: I had a chance to spend some time with him when he was a candidate for president of South Korea. Just coming back from the inauguration, we heard a lot about how this guy is anti-American, how this is bad for the alliance, how he won because of a younger generation that fears George Bush more than Kim Jong Il. But I am not so worried about Roh Moo-hyun, and this is for two reasons.
Roh Moo-hyun is president of South Korea, and South Korea is a democracy. And in a democracy, leaders can no longer represent a narrow constituency or a narrow voice. They have to represent the entire nation. And while he may have personal views that go in a certain direction, I think his policy will gravitate toward the center. And I think we have already seen some of that with his meeting with USFK [the U.S. forces in Korea], the American chamber of commerce. He had a very good meeting with Secretary of State Powell when Powell came out for the inauguration. They are all focused on Cheney's visit in April and President Roh's visit to Washington after that.
The second reason that I am more optimistic about Roh Moo-hyun as president is that he is clearly a pragmatist. And he is a survivor. There is one thing you have to give this guy credit for, and he is a survivor. He story is actually a very American story. He came from nowhere and then rose to the presidency.
Being a pragmatist, one thing that will become very clear to him and to his foreign policy advisors is geography. And Korea will always remain a small country in a region of big powers. And among these big power it is going to need an outside ally. And the best ally is the one that is furthest away, and which shares the same values, regime type, and belief system.
Some of you may have seen the 60 Minutes TV show a couple of weeks ago where they hand selected some young Koreans and got them to say on television that they feared George Bush more than Kim Jong Il. That they are betting on China rather than the United States. I think there is a selection bias going on here. While the younger generation may feel that way, there is a silent majority in Korea that doesn't feel that way.
The notion that the Koreans are going to bet on China and dispose of the alliance is more of a knee-jerk reaction. It wasn't betting on China that got them to be the tenth largest economy in the world. Having said this, there is no denying that as we look to the future, the U.S.-Korea alliance is due for a fundamental, bottom up review, and as I said in an Op Ed piece in the International Herald Tribune, this is going to be the most important issue the Roh Moo-hyun government deals with before it leaves office in five years, not North Korea but big change in the U.S.-Korea alliance.
As Chung-in [Moon] said, what we saw in December was the North Korean threat growing and protests in South Korea against the alliance. There is something wrong with that picture. And if anything, that is a wakeup call for a fundamental bottom up review of the alliance, which, thankfully, is beginning to take place.
The U.S.-Japan alliance in the mid-1990s went through a fundamental review because of domestic change, because of the changing view of the strategic context. And while the situation isn't exactly the same, you have the same conflux of forces, the same pieces moving. That makes it look like the U.S.-Korea alliance is due for a fundamental review.
Let me move to North Korea. One question that I always get in Washington is, What do the North Koreans want? What they say they want is a bilateral dialogue with the United States, a nonaggression treaty, and, implicitly, food, fuel, and economic assistance.
What's wrong with that particular set of demands? First is that my notion and your notion of a nonaggression treaty is different from a North Korean notion of a nonaggression treaty. I understand that when the North Koreans speak of a nonaggression treaty, what they mean is withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, capitulation of the South Korean government to the North Korean form of government, and the "liberation" of the South Korean people.
That, I'm sure, is not your definition of a nonaggression treaty. But that is the definition the North Koreans traditionally have held. The North Koreans say they want bilateral talks with the United States, but they seem to spurn initiatives by all parties in the region to do something to get that bilateral dialogue started. In other words, there have been numerous proposals put before the North Koreans, by the South Koreans, by the Chinese, by the Russians, about trying to get something going.
For example, asking the North Koreans to make a declaration that they are not going to proliferate, and asking the U.S. to declare that it is not going to attack. That will give us a start, then we can move to the United States and see if that is a basis for dialogue. The North Koreans have spurned all of these entreaties.
Finally, if what they want is food, fuel, and security, and if they are willing to trade the proliferation threat to get food, fuel, and security, well that's basically what they were getting under the Agreed Framework that my boss in Georgetown, Bob Galucci, negotiated [in 1994]. That was essentially the quid pro quo that we are talking about today. So what does North Korea really want? They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want food, fuel, and security, but they also want to hold onto the proliferation threat. They want the benefits of the Agreed Framework, and more, but they also want to keep the nuclear capabilities as well.
Now having said all this, can they be turned back at this point? I am not really certain. There is no denying, as Susan [Shirk] said and as Chung-in [Moon] said, where we are is that we are locked in this really vicious circle. On the one hand, as long as the North Koreans advance along this path without a firm response from the United States the more it confirms to them that they should continue along this path to nuclear weapons. At the same time, frankly, if Secretary Powell were to turn around tomorrow and say, Well, we're ready for bilateral dialogue, the North Koreans would find this duplicitous, they just wouldn't believe it, they wouldn't trust the Bush administration. It would just confirm to them that they need to continue along this path.
It's almost as much fun trying to guess what the U.S. policy is as to guess what the North Korean policy is. I think tactically, the policy at this point is to take this to the UN Security Council. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] referred it there, and I think what these guys would like is a resolution, not for sanctions but that recognizes the obvious, that North Korea is way outside the nonproliferation regime and needs to come back in. The hope is that you could get all the countries to sign on to this because it doesn't include sanctions.
I think that when Secretary Armitage testified, that he wanted a stronger international platform on which to approach North Korea. This is essentially what he was talking about. So that's the tactics, at least in the medium term.
The principle that the United States is coming from is that the North Koreans can't have both, they can't have their cake and eat it too. If you are willing to step back from the nuclear proliferation, there are lots of things that sit on the other side of that fence. But if you don't, then you are going to be completely isolated. And North Korea has to make this choice. It is a stark choice.
Is this strategy going to work? I don't know. But the one thing that we do know is that when North Korea reaches a point in their decision making where they know that they are going to be completely isolated, it is often at that point that if you throw them a face saving gesture you are more likely to get cooperation.
What happens if it doesn't work? Then you end up with a nuclear North Korea and a U.S. isolation and containment strategy. Why doesn't the United States negotiate now? There are two reasons. There is a lot of skepticism that even if they could get a deal, it would be almost impossible to verify. The kind of verification you would need would make Iraq look easy. And were talking about thousands and thousands of caves.
Second, if North Korea has already chosen to go for nuclear weapons, as many in this administration already believe, then negotiations by definition are going to fail.
Finally, why do they [the Bush administration] resist the bilateral dialogue so much? The president last night said it is a regional issue, but it is more than that. Everybody knows that everybody in the region has vested interests in not seeing a nuclear armed North Korea. But what they [Washington] are trying to avoid is a situation where they are placed up in the front and everybody in the region says, you go first, you go negotiate with North Korea, and oh, by the way, you can't use sanctions, and you can't talk about isolation and containment. It's a very unattractive negotiating position to go into.
Finally, on preemption, what is the likelihood? We all know the dangers that come with preemption. The warning time for a North Korean artillery shell on Seoul is 57 seconds. There is no effective defense against that. I'm not going to hazard a guess on whether preemption is really on the table. I will only say that the likelihood of preemption grows the more the United States defines the North Korean issue as a homeland security issue. Because one of the things I think we forget is that from a U.S. perspective the whole issue of North Korea has changed after September 11. And the more the notion gets out that tons of fissile material is in tens of thousands of caves in North Korea and it can never be found, that it can possible be sold, if it reaches that point then this becomes a homeland security issue in the United States and the more the probability of a military option goes up.
Ronald Morse (Paul I. Terasaki Professor in U.S.-Japan Relations and Japanese Studies, UCLA): "The whole nuclear proliferation issue emanates from our fear of dependence on oil. So nuclear reactors were built around the world, and as a result plutonium has been produced."
It's interesting to contrast the panel just before this panel, the one on Iraq. The interesting thing about the Iraq issue is that they reject U.S. direct negotiations, they want multilateralism, and there are no proven weapons. However, the North Koreans demand only bilateral discussions with the United States, they don't want multilateral discussions, and they are blatantly aggressive in promoting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and declare that they will become a nuclear power. The question is what is the difference between the two powers?
There has been a lot of debate over why we deal with North Korea in one way and with Iraq in a different way. But the point is that both of these countries are identical in many ways, and the point is that they are both rogue states. They are both doing things that violate international agreements and they are both involved in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which is indirectly linked to the question of terrorism. Now, from my perspective, North Korea really doesn't have too much to do with the United States.
The thing that comes out when you talk about Iraq and you talk about Asia is that France, when it comes to the Iraqi issue, is just the same as the South Koreans when it comes to the North Korean issue. In other words, alliance politics are in disarray in every part of the world. It's not particularly unique with South Korea. The Asia alliance and how China is behaving are not much different from how France and Germany and other European countries behave when it comes to dealing with Iraq. So we are seeing here a search for a totally different framework for dealing with rogue states.
Really, why are we in this particular pickle? All nations try to translate the resources that they have. In the United States we have economic resources, military resources, and political resources. We try to translate them into influence in the international community. If you look at a country like North Korea, it doesn't have any economic power. It doesn't have any political power. The only thing it has is its military and its weapons of mass destruction. North Korea will use that to try to leverage food, fuel, and security, to obtain those things.
Why did we get to the situation where nuclear weapons became an issue in the first place? It began with the search for nuclear power, where a lot of the plutonium is produced. And the reasons for that go back to the weapon that Iraq and the Middle Eastern countries have, and that is petroleum. The weapon that North Korea has is nuclear.
Both of those weapons emanate from the same problem. The problem was that in 1973 in the first oil crisis, the Middle Eastern countries took control of the oil away from the international oil companies. And they took the revenue from that, and that is how the Middle East began its economic development. Today the Middle East is a very wealthy place because it holds oil. Today, 30 years later from when this revolution took place, 40% of all the energy used in the world is still petroleum. We have never been able to reduce our dependence on petroleum.
However, in the 1970s and the 1980s we developed the idea that if we developed natural gas power, and solar power, and nuclear power, somehow we would not have to rely on the Middle East countries for their natural resources, oil. So the world went about developing nuclear reactors around the world. We were involved in it, the French were involved in it, everybody was involved in it.
The Agreed Framework negotiated with North Korea in 1994 centers on the whole issue of power, electrical power, nuclear power, and substitutes for oil power..
The whole nuclear proliferation issue emanates from our fear of dependence on oil. So nuclear reactors were built around the world, and as a result plutonium has been produced. And that plutonium has leaked out into the world in various ways. One was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent lack of responsibility for their nuclear stockpiles. The Japanese earlier this year lost 206 kilograms of plutonium, enough to produce 25 bombs. And this is the case everywhere.
So we are in the nuclear box simply because we were looking for an alternative for oil supplies. We have never reduced our dependence on oil. It is much larger today than in 1973. The demand for oil resources is going to continue to explode worldwide, especially in China and the rest of Asia. The United States is still the major consumer of this oil. In a sense we have gotten ourselves into this situation of nuclear power and oil power which is at the heart of the situation.
There has been discussion here of the fact that our allliance with South Korea is under tension because Washington has not agreed to open talks with the North Koreans. Last year the prime minister of Japan went to North Korea to have a so-called dialogue. And this why I really question whether talking to North Korea really means very much. I think the only thing they really understand is leveraging power and I think that is what this administration is really doing. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't. The North Koreans don't seem to appreciate talking to people. They talk at people. They talk with people. When Koizumi went there, Kim Jong Il told him they had kidnapped a lot of Japanese. Yes, we kidnapped them, and it was a mistake. And it was probably on his watch. And then he says, a number of them had died. And the Japanese asked, can you verify how they died? No, we can't verify. Can you provide the bodies? No. Can some of these people visit Japan? Sure they can, but we're going to hold their families as hostage. And so on and so on. So the Japanese tried to get into a dialogue with these people and it blew up in their face.
In regard to Japan's role in the Asian situation, I see the Japanese are lining up with the American position against the North Koreans, and they are supporting the American position on Iraq as well, for the simple reason that they themselves tried to deal with the Middle East, they tried oil diplomacy, and it failed. They tried to talk to the North Koreans and it failed.
Now the question is, if alliance with the South Koreans is breaking up, as it is with our allies in Europe over Iraq, what are the alternatives? This is something we really need to talk about. Because so far talking to the North Koreans has not worked. The Agreed Framework has not worked. The threat of American forces in South Korea has not worked. An alliance policy with South Korea and the Sunshine policy has not worked. What I'd like to hear from other people here is what kind of policy can work other than the one we are using, which is for containment and for bringing the North Koreans to a compromise on international terms not on their terms.
Roundtable on U.S. Policy Options in Korea
Albert Carnesale (UCLA Chancelor, professor of policy studies and aerospace engineering): "So one of the things you don't want to do is go in to try to destroy their nuclear weapons, which makes them very angry, to say the least, if they still have nuclear weapons."
Any remarks I make on this subject are not for UCLA but strictly in my role as a professor. First I would like to say how pleased I am to see this subject discussed at UCLA and see this audience here for it. There are people arguing in the national security administration on whether the main threat is Iraq or terrorism or North Korea. Whichever answer you give, North Korea is in the top three. I'll be very brief on some aspects of this but lay a little more groundwork.
First, what's the problem with North Korea? Our estimate is that they may have enough plutonium separated for as much as two weapons now. We don't know how much reprocessing they may have done, but they may have two weapons now. They may have enough plutonium in the spent fuel rods they have to produce another six or so within months. You could argue about whether it is three months or six months from reprocessing. And their reactor produces enough plutonium to make about one weapon a year if the reactor is operating and they can reprocess.
So thats the nature of the potential nuclear threat in the near term. Needless to say we can't say precisely what it is. What do we care? How does it pose a threat potentially to the security of the United States and to the security of the region? There are several possibilities that one might think of that might give you some degree of reservation. One, is if North Korea had nuclear weapons they might be more aggressive in the region, if for no other reason than because they might believe the U.S. would be unwilling to risk nuclear war to protect allies in the region. So, one is a greater likelihood of being aggressive. And a subset of that is that this aggressiveness might actually involve the use of nuclear weapons. But it's a problem even if they wouldn't use nuclear weapons.
A second problem is that if North Korea brandishes nuclear weapons this could cause what is called a proliferation cascade. If North Korea brandishes nuclear weapons, is South Korea more likely to want nuclear weapons than otherwise? I think the answer to that is yes. Would it get them to produce their own? I don't know, but it is certainly more likely than otherwise. I think you could say the same for Japan and for Taiwan and for others. Notice that I am not saying they would all produce nuclear weapons. I'm simply saying they would have a greater incentive to do so than if North Korea did not have nuclear weapons.
North Korea is well known for selling weapons technology to the highest bidder. Would that also be true of nuclear weapons? Would it be true of fissile material? Highly enriched uranium or plutonium that they might have, to sell, not only to other states but plausibly to terrorist groups.
And finally, if North Korea were to have a nuclear arsenal and the regime were to topple, one would have to worry about the same sorts of things we worried about with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the loose nukes as it was called. Where are those things? Might they be stolen or sold or used without authorization?
Now why might North Korea do this? What might North Korea be trying to do? I am not a specialist in North Korea. I might add that there are specialists on North Korea but there are very few experts on North Korea. If they exist, the experts are still in North Korea.
So if I try to look at this and try to think what they might be trying to do, one thing is that they may think this is really important for their security. The United States includes them in the axis of evil, number one. Two, we're talking about preempting against Iraq, which has no nuclear weapons. Isn't it plausible that we night preempt against North Korea to prevent them from producing any?
And of course, we talk about regime change in Iraq and it is not as though we are fond of the regime in North Korea. So all of those things would seem to apply at least as much to North Korea as they do to Iraq.
North Koreans may see nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip. They might indeed be prepared to trade them away, perhaps for more than they got last time. They might feel that the Agreed Framework of 1994 wasn't quite enough. They'd like some more, start things up again and see if you can get something more than 1,000 tons of fuel oil a year and two nuclear power plants.
They might want the nuclear weapons option, just to keep it alive and try to get some money. I don't know what they are trying to do, but what should be our response?
This is not easy. I wish I had an easy answer and could say, this is what you ought to do, because there are a number of complicating factors, not the least of which are the interests of the actors in the region -- China, Japan, South Korea.
And trying to do something there independent of their interests is even worse than trying to do something in Iraq independent of everybody's interests. You have questions of the United Nations and of international law in going in to preempt because you don't like their government or their program.
There are problems with preemption and I will state those in a moment. And this can be another distraction, not only from Iraq but from the problems of terrorism and Al Qaeda.
What are the problems with preemption? If we had a nice easy military solution? First of all, we don't know where all the plutonium is. Or if there is any highly enriched uranium. So one of the things you don't want to do is go in to try to destroy their nuclear weapons, which makes them very angry, to say the least, if they still have nuclear weapons. That's probably not a very good idea.
Secondly what might be their reaction to such a preemption? It might be difficult for them to react against the United States, but Seoul is a pretty easy target. You can reach Seoul with artillery and short range missiles. You could use some of the old scuds. They could reach Japan. You don't have to have nuclear weapons on those missiles to cause great damage, not to mention our 37,000 troops in the region. Which helps to explain why the people in the region are not nearly so interested in preemption as we are.
So diplomacy is the least bad option. It may not look very inviting, but it is worth a shot. Economic sanctions haven't done much. Military strikes look like a big problem. North Korea may already have some nuclear weapons. Japan, China, and South Korea surely do not want to see military action there. So one thing you might do is to seek a United Nations resolution that determines that the North Korean actions are a threat to international peace and security, so at least they then become a special case in international law. The principal priorities are refreezing the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, accounting for the fissile materials, accepting nationwide verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
What should we be prepared to do in return? Certainly to comply with the 1994 Agreed Framework, but probably go beyond that. And not go beyond that simply with economic benefits, but if North Korea were prepared to do more, we should consider very seriously a security pact or a nonaggression pact that can assure them that if they are not the aggressor that we would certainly not be the aggressor, and not only would not use nuclear weapons against them but would not take aggressive actions against them.
What if diplomacy does not work and we are faced with the dilemma of either attempting military preemption or simply standing by and watching North Korea increase its arsenal by one weapon per year until they build another reactor and increase it more rapidly than one nuclear weapons per year? If it turns out that diplomacy does not work and which of these solutions to pick, I leave that to the other panelists.
Chae-jin Lee (Claremont McKenna College): "If we would be able to construct a package of benefits for both North Korea and the United States, perhaps we can solve these procedural matters."
I didn't know exactly what my role would be so I decided to look at the domestic situation in both North and South Korea so we can try to understand why the North Koreans behave the way they do, though there are obviously limits to this. In the case of North Korea, to say the least, there is a sort of vicious cycle of mutual distrust between the United States and North Korea, particularly since the inauguration of the Bush administration.
Amitai Etzioni, an eminent sociologist has suggested that when you look at any organization or society we can look at three dimensions or capabilities. One is the economic capability. The second is normative, and the third is coercive. So when we apply this standard of judgment to North Korea I think it is safe to say that in the economic arena it is well established that there is a shortage of food, energy, capital, managerial ability, infrastructure. There was starvation and death in the millions and large numbers of refugees going into northeastern China. So the economic capability of the state has dramatically declined in the last ten years or so. I would also say that on the normative side that the moral fiber of this society has also dwindled, and a sense of community has collapsed as far as we can tell.
I was in North Korea in 1981 for 19 days and back in North Korea in 1998. My observation is that the military is the only aspect that they have. That is to say, Kim Jong Il's reliance on the Korean People's Army, the military, which receives some 25 percent of the gross national product, with more than one million soldiers plus other paramilitary units, plus an extensive security force that sustains the government, so that when we look at the nuclear issue we have to look at it from this perspective.
So the regime uses military force, including missiles and its nuclear weapons program, to achieve what it cannot achieve through moral, normative, or economic channels. If they try to develop nuclear weapons there must be reasons for this. That is to guarantee their system's survival. When they look at Iraq they may think that if Iraq did have nuclear weapons then indeed the U.S. reaction might be different. They may hope to extract concessions from the United States, from South Korea, and from the international community. They may hope to export nuclear weapons for cash, and to solidify Kim's position vis-a-vis the military.
Kim has no military experience. When I was in North Korea in 1981 I asked what did he know about the military, how was he going to control the military? I was told he knows how to shoot a pistol very well. Obviously this means that his control over the military is always questionable. So we can understand his desire to emphasize nuclear weapon development. It is in a way his attempt to exercise his firm control over the military. Also it places the US forces in South Korea, Japan, etc., as hostages. It is also an instrument for bargaining
On top of this vicious cycle of mutual mistrust, we have a new government installed two weeks ago in South Korea. It was reassuring to hear from Professor Moon that the new President Roh has changed his mind in regard to the United States. Now he is somewhat pro U.S. Also Dr. Cha told us he is a pragmatist. I think he is a remarkable individual. He is a good listener, although sometimes he is a risk taker. But on top of other things he is assisted by a group of people who seem to be very competent, and somewhat liberal in their orientations. I am talking about his oreign minister, special assistant for national security, and the current South Korean ambassador to the United States. I know them very well and I have a great deal of confidence in their ability. That is, as long as the president listens to them perhaps the situation may not be so bad as some critics have suggested.
Now, to resolve this issue today we have discussed all kinds of mechanisms, and ways in which the negotiations can be conducted. I would suggest a different way of looking at this. We should look at the final outcome of the negotiations instead of talking about the beginning of the negotiations. I think if we look at that outcome, then probably the parties concerned, especially the United States and North Korea might be more amenable to all kinds of mechanisms. Certainly it does include an exchange of major commitments on the part of North Korea. That is, to dismantle its nuclear facilities, and accept NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty] safeguards on agreements, and join the missile technology control regime in regard to its missile manufacturing and export. And so on and so forth.
In exchange the United States can supply the diplomatic assurance demanded by North Korea, normalized economic and diplomatic relations, etc. If we would be able to construct a package of benefits for both North Korea and the United States, perhaps we can solve these procedural matters. I certainly agree with Professor Susan Shirk's observation that China can perhaps provide a face saving device to open a dialogue between the United States and North Korea. One mechanism that does exists on paper is a four party talk. The United states, North and South Korea, and China were engaged in this four party talk to work out the structure for peace on the Korean peninsula [after the Korean War]. Perhaps this instrument could be revived to start negotiations. So instead of talking about the specific forms under which negotiations could be begun we should talk about the final outcome and the road map to get there.
Victor Galinsky (former commissioner for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency): "What I see as the one fixed point in North Korean nuclear relations with the rest of the world . . . is an unyielding aversion to serious inspection."
I come at this from the nuclear side rather than from the Korean specialist side. But I have followed what the Koreans say about this on their website for a very long time. Professor Cha spoke of a vicious circle. In some ways the question is whether it is a vicious circle or a descending spiral. I can best contribute to the discussion today by highlighting what I see as the one fixed point in North Korean nuclear relations with the rest of the world, and that is an unyielding aversion to serious inspection. Every attempt to hold them to their commitments on this score is met with extreme hostility and stubbornness. From everything they say, my observation is that this is not just a bargaining position they will give up for some suitable set of incentives.
I said they resist serious inspection. They did allow an inspection about ten years ago by the IAEA, which they had to do as new members of the NPT, the nonproliferation treaty. They rather underestimated the IAEA and when the agency used some very sophisticated chemical techniques to prove that on the basis of small samples that the North Koreans had lied about the amount of plutonium they had actually separated, the North Koreans proceeded to throw them out and then threatened to leave the NPT if the other countries pressed them further on the inspection point. The Clinton administration dealt with this crisis ten years ago by means of a very generous arrangement with the North Koreans known as the Agreed Framework of 1994. It included a $5 billion nuclear power station which we were providing them. Actually the South Koreans were paying the bulk of that. And this was done in exchange for a halt in North Korean plutonium production.
The agreement dealt with the contentious inspection point by basically sheltering North Korea from the NPT inspection provision. And the word shelter in this context was used by Mohammad el-Baradei, the director general of the IAEA, who you may have seen on TV in the context of inspections in Iraq.
If we fast forward to the present, it is again the North Korean aversion to inspection that underlies the current breakdown to the agreement. They have gotten the idea along the way that they can postpone these inspections indefinitely. The Agreed Framework postponed the inspections but it didn't postpone them indefinitely. They were set to take place at a time determined by the reactor construction schedule. When it became clear that this administration intended to actually enforce that agreement, the North Koreans realized that the reactor project was headed up a blind alley. They got very nasty and the agreement started to unravel.
As we know, the triggering element for the United States was the discovery of the uranium enrichment, or at least the North Korean admission of this, that they had been trying to produce the other nuclear explosive, highly enriched uranium. We can discuss why they did this. But the agreement basically came apart. They withdrew from the NPT, or at least announced their withdrawal, and restarted plutonium production.
We know they had some plutonium already. We can be certain they turned this plutonium to weapons use. It is simply inconceivable that weapons scientists would just sit around looking at this stuff for a dozen years. From everything they say it seems clear that they are not going to take a chance on the IAEA getting in their way ever again. Yet all the proposals from one side of the spectrum to the other assume that one of the outcomes of the discussions will be that we will get some real kind of verification. That applies to former President Carter's position at one end, that we return to the Agreed Framework, to General Scowcroft at the other end, who talks about drawing a red line and if they cross that they do so at their peril.
But if you take out the element of inspection, if you cannot get it, and I think you cannot, what you are left with is at one end acquiescence and at the other military action, neither of which is a good idea.. Now you might say, why not get into this and see how far we can get in direct talks? If they want a nonaggression pact, why not go forward with it? Former President Clinton has said its a no brainer. Well you have to read the fine print.
North Korea is looking for a deal with the United States, as they say, between equals. One that washes them clean of their NPT violations and one that validates the fact that they have no further obligations by way of IAEA inspections. In effect, that they would be a kind of sub rosa nuclear state. Whether they declare they have nuclear weapons or not. They know if they get this in direct talks with the United States, that everyone else will go along, no one else will protest. However, we cannot bend on these points. To do so throws in the towel on our efforts to restrain the spread of nuclear weapons, not only in the region but throughout the world. And when people talk about the responsibilities of the United States government, obviously they have more on their minds than just North Korea.
The remaining more sensible options seem to me to lie in the middle. They also do not offer immediate solutions, and they are not such happy options either. But it seems to me that the starting point needs to be an international determination that the DPRK is basically an NPT outlaw. A violator of the nonproliferation treaty. The IAEA has indeed referred the DPRK violation to the Security Council as the IAEA has to do under its statute when it makes that determination. I think we should support a strong Security Council resolution on this point. It will open possibilities for effective collective action in a way that is not available at this point. North Korea, by the way, is extremely hostile to any move to internationalize the issue. As people have pointed out, they want very much for it to be a bilateral issue, and I think this is all the more reason to go the other way.
Let me say in closing that they are a tough and dangerous bunch. There is no reason to provoke them gratuitously, but at the same time, submitting to nuclear blackmail is not the answer either. The IAEA director general had something to say about this and let me read you his quote: "The lesson would be very dangerous if it showed that nuclear blackmail paid." And I think he has it right.
Namhee Lee (East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA): "George W. Bush's open hostility toward North Korea and his unwillingness to engage in bilateral negotiations reflects a mentality that sees the world in black and white."
I am going to concentrate on certain aspects of modern Korean history. For a start, I would like to for a moment to recall the scene of the collective soccer fever around South Korea's performance in the 2002 World Cup. The scene of waves of tee shirts and banners with the insignia "Red Devil." I remember being overwhelmed with the sense of euphoria that millions of Koreans in Korea and around the world felt. And putting aside any analysis of the significance of this phenomena, I wanted to share with you the equally overwhelming sense of gratitude I had while watching the TV screen, for the Internet generation's seemingly blissful innocence in light of the calculated defiance. In light of what the red has symbolized in South Korea. Grateful because for the first time in decades the color red had come to symbolize hope and confidence instead of communist evil North Korea. And along with the Red Devils exhilaration and joy, I felt that there was a sense of recovering a lost humanity that had been buried under slogans of anticommunism.
You know, the Korean War caused millions of deaths. But it also corroded the souls of the living. Both societies became hostage to military tension, real and imagined, always imminent. This tension contributed to the formation and reinforcement of undemocratic political systems in both North and South. The South has moved to a democracy only in the last decade. In the South, the constant vigilance against the North wounded the psyche of the South Koreans. Anyone accused of being a communist could be terrorized, tortured, and imprisoned, some for up to 41 years. While celebrating and indulging myself in the collective enthusiasm of the Internet generation I could not help thinking about the many who perished in the last five decades, and the students who died in the 1980s calling for democracy and reunification. I dare say their sacrifice brought about the gradual thaw of anticommunism and a new confidence that Korea's future could follow a path of peaceful coexistence.
The historic summit meeting between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il in June 2000 was a result of such sacrifice. George W. Bush's open hostility toward North Korea and his unwillingness to engage in bilateral negotiations reflects a mentality that sees the world in black and white and divides trends into evil and good. Although this simplistic dichotomy may still appeal to a small segment of the population, the majority of South Koreans will no longer submit to the logic that has caused them so much grief and pain. And I would have to add the loss of their humanity, collectively and individually.
Americans also live with ignorance and extreme hatred of North Korea. A few years ago at the University of Chicago a civilian spokesman for the Pentagon told an audience that if Pyongyang dared to start anything, there would be a magnificent symphony of death in the valleys of North Korea.
South Koreans are keenly aware that the United States has shaped their history and daily lives since 1945. The U.S. has been involved in every major event of Korea's post-1945 history -- and this is a response to Professor Ron Morse's question of why the United States should be involved in this question. From the division of the country into a separate government in the South and the Korean War, South Koreans have been keenly aware that the North's prolonged isolation and economic difficulties caused fits of paranoia among its leadership that could quite possibly lead to a war. Because they want to ease the misery and suffering of fellow Koreans and because they want to reduce the possibility of military confrontation, South Koreans support the Sunshine policy of peacefully engaging North Korea.
I would also like to add that, knowing how it feels to always be treated by the U.S. as less than equal, many in the South see the North's recent posturing as the high flying braggadocio of the weak, formed in the cauldron of a fifty-years war with the United States.
As an expert on North Korea said recently, "It is inevitable that one of the axis of evil countries, threatened with preemptive attack, would preempt the center stage and call Bush's bluff."
And as someone in Koreatown recently put it, "For North Korea it is about survival. For South Korea it is about peace. And for the United States it is all about exercising its hegemonic power unilaterally."
Norman Levin (RAND): "Unless there is more going on than I am aware of, the present U.S. approach, it seems to me, is simply running out of gas."
I understood that my assignment was to say something about U.S. policy options in dealing with North Korea. In five minutes I can perhaps cover two points, so let me begin by stating what I consider to be a true fact, and that is that there are simply no really good policy options. Bowing to North Korea's demand and negotiating a new bilateral U.S.-North Korea agreement would reward what in my view can only be described as egregiously, outrageously extortionist behavior. With significant repercusions not only for U.S. relations with North Korea but for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction more broadly.
Increasing pressure on Pyongyang through economic sanctions or other means is not currently feasible, primarily because neither South Korea nor its neighbors will go along, and moving unilaterally in this direction will cause serious tensions in our relationship with South Korea while probably having limited effects on Pyongyang. And resorting to a preemptive military attack risks both a full-scale war, with the enormous casualties that that would involve, and in the current environment, as we have heard from Professor Moon earlier, would probably cause a major rupture in U.S. relations with South Korea.
Doing nothing, on the other hand, and simply hoping that continued North Korean escalation will persuade South Korea, China, and others to cooperate in isolating the regime and forcing it to back away form its current efforts is also not a great option, not only because it is not likely to succeed in containing the proliferation problem, but because it undermines allied confidence in the U.S. defense commitment.
None of this, of course, tells us what to do, but it does suggest some humility in our assessment of U.S. policy options. My own view is that the administration's identification of this issue as a regional and international problem and its effort to set up some sort of multilateral framework within which talks between North Korea and the United States could take place was both correct and sensible, particularly given the realities of the situation with which we have to deal. But I also share the skepticism and the doubts my colleagues have expressed about North Korea's willingness to voluntarily give up these capabilities no matter what kind of negotiations take place. But having said that, unless there is more going on than I am aware of, the present U.S. approach, it seems to me, is simply running out of gas.
Partly that is because of the kind of tepid support it has received from the other key actors, with China and Russia doing next to nothing to be helpful and South Korea somewhat bizarrely directing its criticisms at the U.S. rather than at North Korea. But a more important reason, and Charles Krauthammer makes this point in his piece in the Washington Post today, is that the issue is no longer simply a question of rolling back North Korea's nuclear activities. Rather it is dealing with North Korea's provocative and increasingly dangerous behavior more broadly. I myself personally don't subscribe to Krauthammer's notion of temporary appeasement, but I do think that we need to broaden the terms of the debate from simply bilateral versus multilateral and other process issues and instead focus on the central question of how to deal with a growing danger.
In this context it was alluded to at the end of the first panel that promoting plans to withdraw troops from Korea when the North Korean threat is demonstrably rising may actually light a fire under certain parts of South Korean society, and moreover it may be the right direction in which the U.S. should move over the longer term. But in the current context it seems to me that it is not likely to be an effective answer to this central question of how to deal with North Korea. Where this all leaves me, especially given the exigencies of the situation in Iraq, is with a kind of short-term/long-term orientation.
In the short term I believe that we should seriously explore a new diplomatic initiative that would be designed to cap rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, rising tension broadly, going beyond just the nuclear issue.
The details of this initiative obviously would have to be worked out but they would have to include some version of a U.S. commitment not to attack North Korea or adopt economic sanctions as long as talks continue, in exchange for a verifiable freeze on North Korea's nuclear program and missile exports. Such an initiative could also include a multilateral component, as I believe Professor Lee mentioned, alluding to the four-party talks, but it would be focused toward giving North Korea a chance to demonstrate that its assurance that all of the concerns of the international community about its nuclear activity could be solved if the U.S. discusses these issues directly with North Korea. If nothing else, such an initiative could buy us time to deal with Iraq while strengthening our position internationally. If the initiative fails and if military action become necessary.
Over the longer term in my view we should explore in a more purposive manner how to induce change in North Korea itself. Because as the regime stays as it is, we're simply going to be in for a bumpy ride.
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2003