Go to contents

[Washington’s Policy on the Korean Peninsula] <4> Are There Any Consistent North Korean Policies?

[Washington’s Policy on the Korean Peninsula] <4> Are There Any Consistent North Korean Policies?

Posted January. 15, 2004 16:16,   


Do you think that North Korea will give up on its nuclear programs?

I asked this question at every encounter with officials from the White House and State Department. However, they avoided direct answers.

They said it was because they did not know the real intentions of North Korea. The only method to know their real intentions is the six-party talks and there is no other way but the talks for the present, they also said.

Korean peninsula experts in Washington seem to have problems with this attitude. They cannot find the desperateness in the attitude. Viewed from one step further, some ask, “Are there any consistent North American policies on the North Korean nuclear issues?”

“We cannot find any desperateness to stop the North Korean nuclear program, and resolve the issues,” said Senior Fellow and Chairman Morton Abramowitz of the Century Foundation expressing his discontent when I met with him on December 5 last year.

He also said, “They do not mean to participate at the negotiation table seriously even though the Administration might say that they will have conversations with North Korea,” adding, “Serious proposals for the progress of the negotiation were nowhere to be found at the negotiation table.” He also explained that the reason why the second six-party talk was not held was because there were no serious proposals prepared for progress in the talks.

Still, the U.S. Administration insists that the six-party talks are progressing successfully. Regarding this, Robert Galluci, dean of the Walsh School for Foreign Service at Georgetown University refuted, “North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has even expelled nuclear inspection team members. If they call this success, what is failure?”

Some officials in Washington suspect that North Korea and the U.S. are only pretending to negotiate as part of their strategy. The pretense is Bush’s Republican administration’s strategy and the North Korean policy just to avoid criticism from the international society and the Democratic Party until the presidential election in November.

I asked an administration official directly, “Do you think that North Korea will really give up on their nuclear programs, or is the U.S participating in the talks just to show to the international society that it has done everything it could?”

The official interviewed under the condition of background briefing asked half-jokingly in response, “Are you asking if we are pretending?” and answered, “Both.”

Mr. Abramowitz said, “The six-party talks have a strategic side to show Korea and China that the U.S. is talking with North Korea before declaring a break down in the talks.”

Often-changing script: There are also many criticisms that the main North Korean policies are not consistent due to discord in the administration. Mr. Galluci explained, “The split within the administration regarding the North Korean policies are more serious and fundamental.” Let us listen to what he says.

“While Secretary of State Collin Powell tried to use the “Perry Process” from the Clinton administration, the Defense Department and the Vice President’s office, and also the White House, including the president, from my point of view, are inducing reforms within the regime with isolation and pressure from other surrounding nations or hoping that the current North Korean regime is destroyed. The problem is this fundamental discord.”

The Perry Process established by Special Envoy to North Korea William Perry during the Clinton administration is based on an inclusive policy toward North Korea and takes the middle way while using carrots and a whip.

For instance, even though the president chooses to negotiate with North Korea, the disputes and split restart over details such as the scope of the negotiation, its deadline and others.

Researcher Allan Romberg at the Stimson Institute said, “The problem with the Bush administration is that [the hardliners and the moderates] lessen the meanings and try to interpret the situations in their own ways even though the president speaks up and sets the further direction for himself.”

Mr. Abramowitz said, “For example, even if the president decides to speak with North Korea, it cannot be promptly implemented because of the split within the Administration.”

The conservative Washington Post pointed out in its December 8 edition, “The script of the U.S. administration is changing frequently.”

Secretary Powell’s status is also unclear: In the midst of the split and conflict within the administration regarding the North Korean nuclear issues, there is no other opinion so far than that the diplomatic effort insisted on by Secretary Powell is the official status of the U.S.

A turning point came from Secretary Powell. When President Bush was visiting Africa last July, Secretary Powell had a lengthy talk with the president and Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about North Korean nuclear issues while guiding the president, and that was how the keynote policies were changed to the resolution of the issue through diplomatic channels and talks. President Bush has increasingly solidified the status of Secretary Powell, and that was the fuelling factor for the first six-party talks in Beijing last August. The Washington Post reported this in its December 7 edition last year.

However, many of the Korean peninsula experts in Washington showed suspicion about whether or not the strengthened status of Secretary Powell will last with the continuing split within the administration.

Undersecretary of Arms Control John Bolton, a line from Donald Rumsfeld within the State Department, gives rise to the splitting situation in the State Department, and other hardliners’ power is not negligible including Vice President Dick Cheney.

An official at the administration, requesting anonymity, said, “With the growing importance of the North Korean nuclear issues, Secretary Powell had more chances to talk with the president,” and added, “However, the very close aide (the ultimate decision maker) is really Advisor Rice or Vice President Cheney.”

Mr. Romberg said, “It is said that Secretary Powell was mandated regarding the North Korean issues by President Bush, but it is difficult to tell the keynote policies ahead for sure.”

[Washington’s Policy on Korean Peninsula] ‘Neo-con Fortress’ Bush’s North Korean Policies Viewed by American Enterprise Institute

“The U.S.’s North Korean policies are close to paralysis.”

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the so-called “neo-conservative fortress,” is located on 17th Street, in northwest Washington D.C. Senior Fellow Nick Eberstadt that I met at the AEI used many provocative words such as “paralysis” and “black hole” and harshly criticized the U.S.’s North Korean policies. This was unexpected.

He said, “Nobody is talking about penalties even though North Korea has violated the rules and developed nuclear programs,” and insisted, “In order to resolve the nuclear issues, it is better that a new regime comes in to North Korea.” He also said, “President Bush has said that he wanted a peaceful resolution, but this is a complete fantasy.”

Have there been any genuine changes in the Bush administration’s North Korean policies from the mention of the “Axis of Evil” to the six-party talks?

“The Bush administration’s North Korean policies are like a black hole that has no output regardless of the amount of input. There weren’t any major measures taken except for a stoppage of heavy oil supply to North Korea, declaring the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) regarding weapons of mass destruction, and several speeches criticizing North Korea. American approaches to North Korea are not strategic but just reactive.”

You said American policies are “close to paralysis….”

“The U.S. Administration did not predict the result of the 2002 president election in Korea at all. The U.S. did not know how to deal with the newcomers elected through the election, and they still do not know. The discord in the administration is another problem. There are still ongoing disputes whether they should induce destruction of the North Korean regime or whether they should keep the inclusive policies. Of course, there was much change in the atmosphere. The current administration’s moderates are much more hardliners than the hardliners during the Clinton administration. However, the disputes [between the moderates and the hardliners] will not be resolved unless the president speaks up for himself.”

Then, what should they do?

“I think regime change in North Korean will resolve it. Things will only worsen unless a better dictator settles in. It is a difficult problem to decide where and how to lead the way. The worsening relationship between Korea and the U.S. in the last three years [since the start of the Bush administration] makes the situation more complicated.”

Jung-Ahn Kim credo@donga.com