A Reality Check Next for DPRK-US Relations

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The Chosun Daily might understand that the Obama administration is skeptical about the Six-Party Talks format, but its perceived solution – it’s Beijing’s responsibility – is becoming more shibboleth than plan.

…some skeptics there argue that the six-party talks are useless and have only aggravated the situation while giving the North Korea breathing space to develop its weapons. This was reflected in a recent remark by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who said the U.S. is interested in a “new way” that could generate more positive results than the six-way talks.

The Chosun Daily might understand that the Obama administration is skeptical about the Six-Party Talks format, but its perceived solution – it’s Beijing’s responsibility – is becoming more shibboleth than plan.

…some skeptics there argue that the six-party talks are useless and have only aggravated the situation while giving the North Korea breathing space to develop its weapons. This was reflected in a recent remark by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who said the U.S. is interested in a “new way” that could generate more positive results than the six-way talks.

Remarks by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Wu’s visit to the U.S. last week also reflect these views. “We’re certain that China has its own ideas on how to proceed from where we are to a better place,” Crowley said. “We have our own ideas. Other countries also will have their thoughts on how to move forward. We will be consulting, as we are this week. We’ll have further consultations in the upcoming weeks as we evaluate what we think the next steps should be.”

A March, 2009 “Issue Brief” for the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) by Insook Kim identified the incoming Obama Administration’s position as Six Party Talks PLUS Bilateral Engagement.

Although the broad strokes of U.S. President Obama’s North Korea policy have been outlined, it seems premature to discern exactly how these policy objectives will manifest themselves. The new administration has indicated that it will pursue a dual-track course of diplomacy. While inheriting the Bush administration’s policy in its last two years in office to work within the Six-Party Talks framework, the new Obama administration has signaled that it will be more aggressive in engaging the North Korean regime directly in bilateral talks. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Hillary Clinton expressed support for the continuation of the Six-Party Talks saying that it is an “important vehicle to exert pressure on North Korea in a way that is more likely to alter their behavior.” President Obama also expressed support for the Six-Party Talks. In a phone conversation with South Korea president Lee Myung Bak, Obama “stressed the importance of close cooperation in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-nation talks forum.”

The White House also vowed to pursue “tough and direct” diplomacy in addressing the challenges posed by the North Korean nuclear weapons program.[35] During his campaign, Obama supported “sustained, direct and aggressive” engagement with North Korea, which sparked speculation that Obama may be willing to hold a summit with Kim Jong-il. At the same time, the Obama administration has indicated its intention to use both carrots and sticks in dealing with the Kim Jong-il regime. Newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the Obama administration’s goal is to put an end to both the plutonium- and uranium-based nuclear programs and to get answers to questions regarding North Korea’s involvement in proliferation to Syria. Furthermore, Clinton warned that the Obama administration will not shy away from imposing sanctions if North Korea were to back-pedal on its commitment.

In a significant departure from the previous administration’s policy, the new U.S. administration has placed renewed emphasis on the important role of international laws and regimes. The Obama administration pledged to “crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.”[39] Against this backdrop, one can reasonably expect that Obama may emphasize the importance of bringing North Korea back into the NPT and IAEA safeguards regime. The IAEA’s role has been marginalized during the disablement process, but at this present juncture, it is critical that the IAEA is brought back to the center of the verification activities. Instead of the ad-hoc basis under which the IAEA has been working on, a proper and enduring safeguards arrangement with the IAEA needs to be re-enacted to verify the declared nuclear materials and activities as well as to provide assurance as to the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in North Korea.

And, a March, 2010 position outline from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists looks little more concrete – despite phrases, like “reality check” and “out-of-date thinking” – and, probably politically DOA domestically.

So what do we do now? For starters, Washington needs to accept the reality that North Korea is a country with nuclear weapons; that there is–in the short term at least–little we can do about it; and that continuing to focus on denuclearizing Pyongyang gains us nothing. In fact, the only way to advance U.S. interests on the nuclear issue with North Korea is to admit that the ground has shifted. We don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program cannot remain our overriding objective, as crucial as that might seem. Rather, it’s time we refocused our work, keeping the nuclear problem on the agenda but not letting it completely dominate our approach.

To move forward constructively, we should first resume efforts by several U.S. administrations–from Reagan to Bush to Clinton–to prod the North into becoming a state more fully integrated into the global community. That will take years of hard work, conducted simultaneously on several fronts, but we had better get on with it. Next, we need to sit down and talk with the North Koreans to better refine our assumptions about what will work and what won’t work.

Waiting around for significant political change in Pyongyang to solve our problems is the longest of long shots. North Korea as we know it isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and the problems that flow from its anomalous policies won’t lessen if Washington keeps banging its collective head against the same old wall.

This all sounds very neoliberal, perhaps shades of complex interdependence

complex interdependence is characterized by three characteristics, involving (1) the use of multiple channels of action between societies in interstate, transgovernmental, and transnational relations, (2) the absence of a hierarchy of issues with changing agendas and linkages between issues prioritized and the objective of (3) bringing about a decline in the use of military force and coercive power in international relations. Respectively, complex interdependence is based on specific characteristics that critique the implicit and explicit assumptions of traditional international politics;[1] (i.e., the superiority of the state and a hierarchy of issues with military force and power the most important leverages in international relations, which traditionally defines political realism in political science).

But, with Japan already skeptical of further talks with Pyongyang, Seoul taking a hard line, and Beijing fostering closer links with Pyongyang, it’s unclear anything but a reality check is possible.

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Filed under: East Asia, IGOs, Korea, USA, WMD Tagged: barack h. obama, china, complex interdependence, direct engaement, dprk, japan, lee myung bak, north korea, nuclear proliferation, nukes, prc, rok, six party talks



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