The U.S.-North Korea Relationship after the
2004 Presidential Election
Hankuk University Division of International Studies
The Results of the Election
The 2004 U.S. election was a triumph for President Bush and the Republican
Party. Although the country remains deeply divided, not only was President
Bush returned to office, but the Republicans increased their majorities in
both the House of Representatives and the Senate. A slow but significant
shift in the past 4 decades away from the formerly dominant Democratic Party
reached its high water mark in 2004, with the Republicans retaining party
control of the presidency and both houses of Congress in consecutive elections
for the first time since the 1920s.
Conventional wisdom would predict that a president who lost a million American
jobs during his tenure and who initiated a war that was clearly not going
well would have little chance of reelection. Analysts agree that there
were two key sources to Bush’s victory. One was the high turnout of
conservative Christians mobilized by social issues like gay marriage and
traditional family values. But probably much more important was the
aura of trust and leadership built up by George Bush as he led the nation
through the difficult time after the shock of 9/11. Despite the disaster
in Iraq, the all important national security issue worked to the advantage
of the Republicans, as Bush was perceived as a more effective leader for
the terrorism war.
The electoral success of the traditional values and hard-line against terrorism
themes have consolidated ideological conservatives’ control of the Republican
Party. Although 49% of the people voted for the other side, the Republican
Party is united and the conservative Bush administration is moving quickly
to take advantage of its perceived mandate.
The Changing Bush Foreign Policy Team
The most obvious immediate consequence of the election for U.S. foreign policy
was the replacement of Secretary of State Colin Powell with former National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Powell was the leading
moderate voice in the Bush Cabinet, an advocate of engagement with forces
historically hostile to the U.S., from the Middle East to North Korea.
As Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Iraq war, a skillful
Washington insider, and a darling of the media, Powell was a heavyweight
in the Republican Party even before his appointment to the top foreign policy
post. However, he was increasingly isolated in the Bush administration
by the hard-liners who coalesced around the more hawkish Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney.
In contrast, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the man most closely associated
with the invasion of Iraq, appears to have survived for the time being.
Vice President Cheney is reported to have commented that replacing Rumsfeld
now would be admitting that the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq, and the Bush
administration is nowhere close to such a conclusion.
Rice’s deputy at the NSC, Stephen Hadley, who once worked for Vice President
Cheney, moves up to National Security Advisor. Hadley, like Rice, has
not aired his own views widely. His most publicly circulated paper
includes a call for the U.S. to be more willing to use nuclear weapons in
future conflicts, even against non-nuclear states (http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/djcil/articles/djcil8p23.htm).
Secretary of State designate Rice conceived her role as National Security
Advisor as coordinator rather than policy maker. Rice’s personal views
are not well known because in her effort to be a team player and advance
the official administration line she consistently subordinated her own position,
letting no distance between her and other key players emerge. It is
disturbing that loyalty to the party line rather than independent judgment
seems to have been the Bush criterion for his top foreign policymaker.
Now that Rice’s loyalty has been rewarded it is unclear whether she will
continue to defer to others or will more forcefully put her stamp on policy.
Rice enjoys a much closer personal relationship with George Bush and Dick
Cheney than did Powell, but the key question is whether she will use these
relationships to influence these men or simply protect these relationships
by continuing to follow others’ direction.
Perhaps the best public statement of Rice’s own views comes in an article
she wrote for the insider journal Foreign Affairs during the 2000 campaign
on “promoting the national interest.” (Rice’s official statements as
National Security Advisor can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/index.html.)
Although this article has been superceded by events and was surely vetted
by the Bush campaign team, it probably expresses Rice’s own perspective on
a wide range of issues. She calls for a military build-up and bolder
U.S. leadership, pretty standard conservative themes. She advocates
cautious engagement with China and Russia (her original area of expertise),
although she carefully does not use that word.
On North Korea, Rice does not fall clearly into the neoconservative “regime
change” camp, although she does label the Clinton administration’s policy
toward North Korea as “failed” and characterizes the DPRK as the “evil twin”
of the ROK. Rice writes
The 1994 framework agreement that attempted to bribe North Korea into forsaking
nuclear weapons cannot easily be set aside. Still, there is a trap
inherent in this approach: sooner or later Pyongyang will threaten to test
a missile one too many times, and the United States will not respond with
further benefits…The possibility for miscalculation is very high…
The United States must approach regimes like North Korea resolutely and decisively.
The Clinton administration has failed here, sometimes threatening to use
force and then backing down…
The first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence…Second,
we should…deploy national and theater missile defenses as soon as possible.
Policy toward North Korea in the First Bush Term
Bush administration policy toward North Korea in the first term was paralyzed
by two conflicting pressures. On the one hand, neoconservatives openly
speculated about regime change. Visceral distaste could be seen in
Bush’s own characterization of Kim Jong Il as a “pygmy” and of his regime
as the worst government in the world. Republicans hard-liners had never
supported the Agreed Framework negotiated between a regime they despised
and the Clinton administration they distrusted. Old conservative anti-communists
saw the continued existence of the Stalinist regime in North Korea as an
affront to rationality and modernity in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet
Union and the reform of China. After 9/11 the neoconservative desire
to strike back at hostile regimes that might pass weapons of mass destruction
on to terrorists only hardened the Bush administration’s attitude.
But on the other hand, every nation in the Northeast Asian neighborhood was
unnerved to one degree or another by the breakdown of the Agreed Framework,
the suspension of negotiations between the U.S. and the DPRK, and the second
nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S.-ROK alliance was particularly
stressed, with large-scale anti-American demonstrations sweeping South Korea
and open policy squabbles emerging between Washington and Seoul.
The outcome of these countervailing pressures of conservative hostility toward
the DPRK and the unwillingness of key allies to support a regime change strategy
was a kind of “malign neglect” of North Korea during most of the first Bush
term. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not only consumed most of the
attention of the national security apparatus, they left the U.S. stretched
too thin to contemplate any serious action against the deteriorating but
still dangerous DPRK.
Late in the first Bush term the conservative reluctance to deal with Kim
Jong Il was trumped by the second nuclear crisis and intensified demand of
countries in the region for renewed negotiations. Six party talks began,
allowing the Bush administration to respond to concerns in the region that
negotiations be restarted while at the same time saving face and bringing
the other nations in the region into the process in an effort to bring greater
concerted pressure on the DPRK. The Bush administration has come to
recognize a leading role for China in particular, which because of its ideological
and economic ties is the only state with any real influence on the DPRK.
The six party talks so far have made little concrete progress, with the U.S.
and the DPRK far apart on the sequence of threat reduction and the other
four parties as yet unable to move either of the antagonists toward agreement.
The original U.S. position was that complete, verifiable, and irreversible
dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program must come before progress
on other issues would be possible. Not surprisingly, the DPRK continues
to demand simultaneous concessions from the U.S. before it abandons its crucial
The U.S. showed a bit more flexibility in the third round of talks in June
2004 when it put forward a two stage proposal in which South Korea, China,
Russia, and possibly Japan would give economic and energy aid immediately
upon a North Korean commitment to terminate all its nuclear programs and
allow international inspections. U.S. concessions would still be contingent
upon the closing of North Korean nuclear programs, surrender of nuclear materials,
and permanent monitoring of North Korean facilities although bilateral talks
between North Korea and the U.S. would begin in the first stage. However,
Pyongyang gave little response to the new proposal, apparently choosing to
wait out the U.S. elections hoping for a Kerry victory.
It is expected that a new round will occur in the next few months, although
the long term viability of the talks is in question. At the recent
APEC summit President Bush reassured South Korea that the U.S. remained committed
to the six party talks and a peaceful resolution of the nuclear crisis.
While lobbying from nations in the neighborhood brought renewed negotiations
as a response to the second Korean nuclear crisis, neoconservatives in Washington
won the Proliferation Security Initiative in 2003. PSI is a proactive
interdiction program designed to interrupt trade in WMD and related materials,
primarily through boarding of ships suspected of carrying WMD materials.
PSI gives the appearance of forceful action against nuclear proliferators
without great cost or risk, although it is unlikely to reassure skeptics
that WMD trade is under effective control, and if invoked frequently PSI
could rekindle fears of U.S. preemptive strikes.
Future Policy toward North Korea
The early days of the second Bush term will likely see more temporizing and
malign neglect because the contradictory policy pressures apparent in the
first term endure. Neoconservatives will still seek greater confrontation
and eventual regime change. The realities of the region are that South
Korea and China in particular will exert strong pressures to avoid confrontation
and pursue negotiation. The U.S. will still be distracted by the conflict
in Iraq and perhaps by new developments in Palestine and/or Iran as well.
There are reasons to fear a deterioration of conditions in the region.
The consolidation of the position of conservatives in the revamped Bush Cabinet
has strengthened the hand of those who advocate ratcheting up tensions.
The sobering situation in Iraq has quieted open talk about regime change,
but those who never wanted to negotiate with the DPRK in the first place
will brand the stalled six party talks a failure and push for new initiatives
to try to force the North Korea to capitulate.
That is highly unlikely. Collapse of the DPRK can never be ruled out,
but 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union it seems less probable than
it once did. Moreover, it is only from the geographical isolation of
Washington that collapse of the regime in the North can be seen as a positive
outcome. Governments in the region that would be flooded with refugees
and could be drawn into civil conflicts in an imploding North do not look
favorably upon rapid regime change in the North.
Serious ratcheting up of the military pressure on the DPRK would be even
more dangerous. The effect of a hardening of the U.S. position and moves
toward greater confrontation would have unpredictable effects on the already
strained alliance with Seoul, and to a lesser extent Tokyo. The cooperation
with China that has been carefully built up would be undermined. And
a cycle of escalation and miscalculation might spin out of control.
The DPRK does not want a war it cannot win. The U.S. is stretched too
thin by the Iraq war to want another major conflict. But escalation
of tensions could bring unanticipated reactions from the reclusive and volatile
regime in Pyongyang, setting off a sequence of events no one could control.
Those who contemplate turning up the heat on the DPRK should be honest enough
to admit that such a policy increases the probability of real hostilities
However, there is a glimmer of hope for positive developments. The
six party talks may yet bear fruit. The Bush administration conceived
of multilateral negotiations as a way to gather together the other powers
in the region to express their shared determination for a non-nuclear Korean
Peninsula and to intensify pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear
programs. The process has demonstrated to the DPRK that the demand
for it to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons comes not only from the
Bush cowboys, but from every state in the neighborhood. However, the
six party process has also had a kind of “rebound effect” on the U.S.
The other four parties have also consistently joined to cajole the U.S. to
take a more reasonable stance.
On the global level, if the debacle in Iraq drags on, it may eventually lead
to a strategic rethink in Washington. The American defeat in Vietnam
led hard-line anti-communist Richard Nixon to fly to Moscow and Beijing to
reposition the U.S. and to articulate the Nixon Doctrine which recognized
limits on U.S. power to shape events around the world. Changing political
conditions in Europe led conservative Republican Ronald Reagan, the author
of the “new cold war,” to open up to Gorbachev and a reforming Russian regime
in his second term. Presidents in their second term often give great
attention to foreign policy and turn to international agreements as an historic
legacy. Although George W. Bush is not yet under the same kind of pressure
from a domestic peace movement and an opposition party with a majority in
Congress as Nixon and Reagan were, international reality has a way of intruding
on even the most ideological administration.
If the Iraq war proves a continuing debacle, a second Cabinet reshuffle,
whether it comes in a few months or a year or two, could see the departure
of the war’s architects and the regime change strategy such as Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld and his allies at the Pentagon and the White House. Because
Condi Rice lacks the independent stature of Colin Powell, if the terrorism
war goes badly and she fails to put her own stamp on policy, her tenure at
State could be short. Hard-liner Vice President Cheney’s influence
may be diminished either by the procurement scandals around his former company
Halliburton and/or declining health. A more independent, moderate foreign
policy establishment “star” might need to be imported to Defense, State,
and/or the National Security Council to help rescue administration foreign
policy if it is widely perceived as strategically flawed.
Tactics for Moderating Bush Administration Policy toward North Korea
The election results assure that hard-liners will be in the ascendancy in
Washington for a while. It is unlikely that the victorious Bush administration
will give much credence to critics from the Democratic Party, NGOs, or even
moderates in the foreign policy establishment. The highly partisan
Bush administration might be more inclined to listen to Republican Senators
with foreign policy expertise such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chair Lugar of Indiana or Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Senator John McCain
of Arizona is a formidable figure and a potential 2008 Republican presidential
candidate, known for toughness in foreign policy but also skepticism about
ideological dogma. If Republican Senators respected for their judgment
on international issues could be persuaded that a new approach to North Korea
is needed, they could possibly gain the president’s ear. Particularly
as the 2006 midterm election approaches and the Republican gains in Congress
in the past few years have to be defended, congressional counsel might have
some impact on Bush administration policy and personnel.
But just as in the first term, the most important pressure to moderate Bush’s
policies toward North Korea will likely come from nations within the region.
It was not the political opposition at home but the pressure from South Korea
and China, and to a lesser extent Russia and Japan, which led the Bush administration
to finally begin negotiations with the North through the six party talks.
South Koreans who believe the current U.S. policy is off track should stand
their ground. It has proven to be expression of doubts by its allies
that has had the most impact in modifying U.S. North Korean policy.
The attempt of the hard-liners in the Bush administration to isolate the
DPRK in the immediate aftermath of the controversy over its uranium enrichment
program failed because Seoul and Tokyo would not rally to simply punish the
North, but demanded that negotiations over nuclear issues be restarted.
The foreign policy establishment in South Korea has historically been reluctant
to open up too much distance between Seoul and Washington for fear of offending
its crucial superpower ally. Disagreements have risen to the surface
in recent years as the Bush hard-line clearly diverged from the engagement
policies of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun. Yet the South Korean political
establishment has become increasingly worried about such open divergence,
as seen by the decision to deploy South Korean forces to Iraq against not
only large-scale public opposition but also widespread doubts among Korean
experts that it serves Korean national interest in any way except to curry
favor with the U.S.
Yet principled disagreement is natural between allies with different interests
and different positions within the international system. The U.S. and
France have openly bickered about a wide range of issues almost from the
launching of the NATO alliance. Yet as the 60th anniversary celebrations
at Normandy showed, the fundamental friendship between France and the U.S.
remains undiminished. Through all their numerous disagreements on strategy
and policy, there has been little doubt that the U.S. and France have remained
and will remain close allies.
The Bush administration hard-line has left the situation on the Korean Peninsula
more dangerous than it was four years ago. There is little reason to
be optimistic that in the short term the U.S. will moderate its policy enough
to move negotiations forward. Of course, North Korea’s intentions and
willingness to bargain are also in question. But the opening of the
six party talks and the improvement of relations with China have shown that
the Bush administration is capable of learning and has not lost touch with
the realities of the Northeast Asian region. The nations in the neighborhood
have a continuing obligation to help the U.S. save face and help North Korea
and the U.S. to find a way out of their confrontation.
Appendix on Victor Cha
In mid-November a rumor that Victor Cha of the Georgetown University School
of Foreign Service would be appointed as National Security Council deputy
responsible for East Asian affairs appeared in a couple of Korean newspapers.
In brief research on the internet I have not been able to track down any
U.S. source for that rumor or any subsequent evidence confirming it, other
than a few U.S. websites repeating the story a few days after it appeared
in an English language version of a Korean paper.
However, unlike many of the more prominent National Security figures currently
in the Bush administration, Cha’s views on North Korea are widely published,
so if he does receive the appointment, the perspective he would bring can
be analyzed. Below are abstracts and quotes of some of Cha’s more widely
“Korea’s Place in the Axis,” Foreign Affairs, May/Jun 2002, v 81, n 3
President Bush's condemnation of North Korea as part of the "axis of evil"
caused confusion worldwide, as allies and enemies alike tried to discern
his administration's constantly shifting policy toward Pyongyang. But there
is method to the madness. Look closely, and a consistent strategy emerges:
"hawk engagement." Although Bush's team may use tactics seemingly similar
to those of Clinton's, the administration wants to engage Kim Jong Il for
very different reasons: to set him up for a fall.
“North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: Badges, Shields, or Swords?”
Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2002, v 117, i 2
If evidence emerges about the DPRK that confirms the existential deterrent
(shields) hypothesis, then the threat is not nearly as bad as we believe.
Security dilemmas can be averted through engagement. Moreover, the potential
for denuclearization is real, provided that the North's survival can be guaranteed.
If evidence does not support this view, then the next step is to discern
whether the evidence validates a prestige-based or badges argument for DPRK
weaponization. If so, then the threat is resolvable if status incentives
on the part of Pyongyang can be satisfied. This could be accomplished through
engagement, particularly in the economic arena such that the DPRK could,
as Sam Kim argues, validate its state identity through economic rather than
military avenues.72 The third and most worrying outcome is if evidence surfaces
confirming the denial strategy (swords hypothesis). In this case, not only
is the threat real (and the regime "evil" in Bush's axis of evil verbiage),
but nuclear rollback is highly unlikely, because DPRK intentions are zero-sum
and aggressive. Engagement, though well-intentioned, will not work.73 At
best, the policy will build consensus among the United States and its allies
that once Pyongyang reveals it true intentions, more coercive measures might
“The Debate over North Korea,” Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2004,
v 119, n 2
with David Kang. This article is a shortened version of Nuclear North
Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies also with David Kang, Columbia University
There are still god reasons for engaging such a dangerous regime. The
primary point of departure…would be the withholding of such a negotiation
until the North Koreans first resolve international concerns about the HEU
program and restore the status quo ante at Yongbyon. To engage with
Pyongyang in the face of such a blatant breakout from the Agreed Framework
would be tantamount to appeasement. However, maintaining a coalition
of allies to impress upon Kim Jong Il in the strongest terms the need to
first come clean in order to return to a path of engagement with the outside
world appears to be the most prudent course of action. From a hawk
engagement perspective, such a strategy also puts the cooperation ball clearly
in the North’s court, and in this sense, also contributes to a coalition
for isolation and containment should Kim Jong Il drop this ball.
Alignment Despite Antagonism: The U.S.-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, Stanford
University Press, 1999
Interaction between Japan and Korea offers a vexing anomaly for the Realist
school of international relations…Given…general commonality of friends, enemies,
political values, and economic systems, logic as well as simple application
of balance-of-threat theory suggests that cooperative relations should ensue…However,
this has been far from the case. The Japan-ROK relationship has been
marked by highly volatile behavior throughout its postwar history.
This has ranged from intense friction to reluctant cooperation.
Product description from amazon.com: (The relationship of) Japan and the
Republic of Korea (ROK)…has fluctuated markedly and unpredictably. Despite
the existence of a common ally in the United States and common security threats
from the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea, bilateral relations
between Japan and South Korea have been persistently marred by friction.
In the first in-depth study of this puzzling relationship in over fifteen
years, the author compares the commonly accepted explanation for this relationship-historical
enmity-with one that focuses on policies of the United States as the key
driver of Japan-ROK relations. He finds that while history and emotion certainly
affect the ways in which Japanese and Koreans regard each other, cooperation
and dissension in the relationship are better understood through what he
calls a "quasi-alliance" model: two states that remain unallied but have
a third party as a common ally.
This model finds that the "normal" state of Japan-ROK relations is characterized
by friction that stems not only from history, but also from fundamental asymmetries
in Japanese and Korean expectations of support from each other.