Two Visions of Convergence in Northeast Asia: The Bush Administration, North Korean Nuclear
Weapons, and the Regional Powers
School of International Studies
The economic integration of East
Asia and the movement toward political and ideological convergence
over the past two decades has been almost as dramatic as it was
unexpected. Yet the North Korean
nuclear crisis threatens to reverse this progress and perhaps even trigger a
major rupture in regional relations.
Many of the papers in this conference
will be devoted to the historical commonalities and differences in the
experiences of Americans, Asians, and Asian-Americans, and the ever more
complex social and intellectual interaction of these peoples. Underlying these issues of identity is
an economic and political reality—the ever greater integration of the
Asia-Pacific. This process is generating
two contradictory phenomena--the increasing sense of cultural convergence
across the Pacific and the growing awareness of cultural difference between
peoples brought into interaction as never before.
Intensification or interruption of
this regional integration will profoundly affect all the peoples of the
Asia-Pacific and their conceptions of their identities. If convergence is understood as assimilation
of the panoply of traditional Asian cultures into a pale, homogenous,
pseudo-universal western dominated ideological hegemony, then it is clearly
undesirable. But convergence as it
is used in this paper is conceived as a lessening of political tensions and
development of institutions to ensure peace and security in a diverse area
historically prone to armed conflict. That kind of convergence around a stable regional
security regime would seem to most to be a good thing.
This paper discusses two different
visions of how to further positive convergence and resolve the North Korean
nuclear crisis. The vision of
evolutionary, multilateral regional convergence is increasingly challenged by
the hard-liners in the Bush administration who seek rapid regime change in the
North and resurgence of American hegemony in the Asia Pacific.
This paper begins with an overview of
the changes in post-Cold War and post-September 11 American policy toward the
Asia Pacific. The issues posed by
the first North Korean nuclear crisis are then presented. The paper covers how this crisis was initially
defused and how this apparent resolution unraveled and the problem reemerged. The
perspective of each of the major regional powers on the Korean situation is
briefly examined. Then the two
different visions of convergence are investigated in detail. The conclusion discusses which vision is
more likely to actually lead to successful regional convergence and which
vision is more likely to prevail in practice.
II. Changing Global Context and Changing
American Foreign Policy
In the past two decades the Cold War
division pitting the U.S.,
Japan, and South
Korea against the Soviet Union,
China, and North
Korea has ebbed. There has been considerable integration
of the economies of the Asia-Pacific.
In the late Cold War China
moved toward the West, first in tacit strategic cooperation against the Soviet
Union, then later with its economic opening. The Cold War on a global scale came to
an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia¡¯s
opening to Europe and the West although remnants of the
Cold War structure remained on the divided Korean
Many observers saw globalization
bringing ever greater convergence of the Asia-Pacific into one peaceful trading
system. However, economic
integration did not end political tensions entirely as western cultural and
institutional hegemony clashed with ¡°Asian values.¡± Many in the American political
leadership were uneasy with the rise of Chinese power and the potential threat
to American primacy in the region.
But clearly the overall trend was the breaking down of barriers and the
muting of historic conflict in Northeast Asia.
The early effect of the September 11
attack was to further this tendency toward convergence. Southeast Asian nations with large
Muslim populations, Malaysia,
Indonesia, and Singapore,
had been at the center of the Asian values movement. But now they were most threatened by the
rise of Islamic extremism and hastened to cooperate with the U.S.
on its global counterinsurgency campaign.
with its own Muslim minorities on its western frontiers and its historic
suppression of dissident religious groups, essentially concurred with the new
anti-Islamic campaign of the U.S. American criticism of authoritarian
regimes in the region was muted as a blind eye was turned to strong arm tactics
against political Islam, intelligence on Muslim extremists was shared, and
joint operations against Islamicist groups
However, after September 11 divergence
between the major powers has also occurred. There was widespread global opposition to
the U.S. and
British invasion of Iraq,
expressed not only by Arab and Islamic states, not only by Russia
and China, but
also by historic American allies France and Germany.
As recently pointed out by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Bush administration doctrine of pre-emption of
potential terrorist threats runs counter to the rules of the international
system that have been developing since the end of World War II. The unilateral right the U.S. has
asserted to take military action anywhere in the world any time it decides it
feels threatened by potential terrorist action violates principles of state
sovereignty and collective security long held sacrosanct by international law. It remains to be seen just how far the U.S.
will push this doctrine of pre-emption, whether it is a short term overreaction
to U.S. fears
after September 11 or a more long term transformation of American foreign
III. The North Korean Nuclear Crises
is a charter member of George W. Bush¡¯s ¡°axis of evil.¡± So is North
The division of the Korean Peninsula
is the most dangerous relic of the Cold War. This partition has become all the more perilous
because North Korea¡¯s
pursuit of nuclear weapons makes it a prime candidate for the Bush
administration¡¯s post-September 11 doctrines of pre-emption and regime change.
The first North Korean nuclear crisis threatened
a radical rupture in relations in Northeast Asia, as
mutual threats of military action brought the peninsula to the brink of
war. However, tensions were
eventually diffused by negotiation, demonstrating that historic hostilities
could be overcome. Yet reaching a
second deal may prove tougher because of the rise of tensions in the
international system and the mutual suspicions engendered by the breakdown of
the first agreement.
The Agreed Framework negotiated in
1993-94 seemed to promise a convergence of interests in Northeast
Asia and make possible a dismantling of the Cold War system on the
Korean Peninsula. In return for renouncing nuclear
weapons, North Korea
was to be brought into the international system. Not only would North
Korea be provided with alternative energy
supplies, the U.S.
would recognize the Pyongyang
trade restrictions would be dropped, and the U.S.
would allow international institutions to lend support to the rickety North
The massive changes envisioned by the
Agreed Framework were slow to work out in practice. Follow-up talks were repeatedly
postponed and political relations between the North and the U.S.
remained far from normal. However,
the U.S., South
Korea, and Japan
began closely coordinating their engagement policies with the North through the
mechanism of Trilateral Cooperation of Governments (TCOG). The historic Pyongyang
summit of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was followed up by
several rounds of bilateral talks.
Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
for his sunshine policy. A parade
of foreign leaders trekked to Pyongyang,
including former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, then sitting Secretary
of State Madeline Albright, and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi. Kim Dae Jung
even proposed regular multilateral meetings, which he labeled the Northeast
Asian Security Dialogue, to facilitate regional integration and eventually
replace the Cold War security architecture.
Despite the flurry of diplomatic
activity, the Agreed Framework was never fully implemented. The promised new nuclear power facilities
are still far from becoming operational.
Normal trade and political relations between North
Korea and the U.S.
were never established. North
Korea resisted international inspections of
its nuclear facilities.
In recent years new divergences have
emerged. The Bush administration that
came to power in 2001 was suspicious of the Clinton
engagement policy. It suspended
talks with the North. Friction
between the Bush administration and the Kim Dae Jung government
had already surfaced before 911.
Just a few months after 911 in his first State of the Union address
President Bush included North Korea in his ¡°axis of evil,¡± implying they were a
candidate for ¡°regime change,¡± further undermining the South¡¯s sunshine policy.
In October 2002 it was revealed that North
Korea had been secretly experimenting with
uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons, a violation of its non-nuclear
commitments under the Agreed Framework and other international agreements. The United
States suspended its participation in the
Agreed Framework and began an international campaign to isolate North
Korea and force it to renounce nuclear
weapons entirely. North
Korea reacted angrily to the new hard line,
demanding a non-aggression pact with the U.S.
before it would agree to any restrictions on its nuclear weapons development. Rhetoric
and tensions between the U.S.
and the North ratcheted up as a full fledged second nuclear crisis developed. Pyongyang
suspended international monitoring of its existing nuclear program and threatened
to reprocess its plutonium forweapons.
In recent months a few rays of hope
have appeared. China
brokered talks between Pyongyang,
which demanded direct negotiations with the U.S.,
and Washington, which was
demanding multilateral talks involving all powers in the region. A six power meeting between the North,
the U.S., the
South, Japan, Russia
and China was
recently held. No concrete progress
was made and questions remain whether a second round of multilateral talks will
IV. Other Powers and the North
How have the other powers in Northeast
Asia reacted to the North Korean nuclear crisis and the stand-off
between the U.S.
and North Korea? All powers in the region back the U.S.
goal of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. But there is one key difference in
perspective that all the local powers have vs. the U.S.
point of view. All regional players
have been unsettled by the Bush hard-line and its seeming intent of regime
change in the North. While the U.S.
would be largely insulated from the direct effects of a collapse of the Pyongyang
regime, all other nations in the region would certainly suffer greatly from
massive streams of refugees fleeing a failing economy and society. No one knows to what degree a collapsing
North might strike out against its neighbors, nor the level of civil strife
between rebels and remnant factions of the falling regime. No one can predict the degree to which
such conflict would further destroy the North¡¯s decaying infrastructure and/or
engender struggles between regional powers over the shape of a post-collapse
regime. But these concerns make
Northeast Asian nations much more reluctant than the U.S.
to seek rapid regime change in the North.
The nuclear crisis has reminded the
South of its dependence on Washington,
and officially the South has backed the U.S. But there have been serious frictions in
the relationship since the Bush administration came to power which still
percolate barely below the surface.
Differences between the U.S.
and South Korea
over nuclear weapons policy are nothing new. The former dictator Park Chung Hee raised the ire of the U.S.
when he sought nuclear weapons for South Korea. In the mid-1990s the Kim Young Sam
administration gave less than complete support to the Clinton
engagement policy, feeling left out of the negotiations over the Agreed
Framework and suspicious of the motives not only of the North but also of the U.S.
In the late 1990s Kim Dae Jung¡¯s sunshine policy dovetailed more easily with Clinton¡¯s
engagement. But when Bush abandoned
engagement for a new hard-line, new frictions emerged not only with Kim Dae Jung and his successor Roh
Moo Hyun, but also with progressive forces in South
Korea who protested Bush¡¯s policies and the
conduct of U.S.
armed forces in Korea
in massive numbers.
Open South Korean criticism of Bush
policies has been muted by the severity of the current crisis. The U.S.
and South Korea
clearly share the goal of de-nuclearizing the
North. But there are still serious
differences on the way of reaching this goal. The South has continued to try to engage
the North, while the Bush administration until very recently relied more on
isolation and punishment of Pyongyang.
The other historic U.S.
ally in the region, Japan,
has been more in line with the U.S. As the former colonial occupier of Korea,
Japan is still
vilified in the North and widely distrusted even in the South. It was no accident that the last North
Korean test of an advanced missile was shot over Japanese airspace. On the heels of the North Korean
which had been resisting U.S.
pressure, signed on for co-development of missile defense systems.
Japanese attitudes toward the North
have been hardened by North Korean admission that it abducted several Japanese
citizens. Some of the abductees
have been allowed to return to Japan,
but emotions still run high over the fate of the children of the abductees and
those abductees that North Korea
claims are dead.
A nuclear North
Korea could have great impact on Japanese
foreign policy. So far, this
prospect has only spurred Japan
to seek reassurance in its alliance with the U.S. But a permanent North Korean nuclear
threat would strengthen the currently isolated militarists and raise
significantly the probability that Japan
would seek nuclear weapons of its own.
How have America¡¯s
historic rivals in the region responded to the U.S.-North Korea stand-off? On the one hand, no neighbor of North
Korea can feel comfortable with the prospect
of the Pyongyang regime with
nuclear weapons. But on the other
and China have
been more inclined to seek a middle ground between the U.S.
and the North. Russian grand
strategy is still deeply committed to joining the West, and so as a general
rule Moscow tries to minimize
friction with Washington. But Russia
still has ties to North Korea,
and as seen in the case of Iraq,
Moscow can still be critical of
American unilateralism. Most of all
Russia wants a
place at the table—to be recognized as still a global and regional power that
has a significant role to play on the Korean
After the U.S.,
China is the
most important external power in the Korean drama. China
is not only a growing economic and political force, it is also North
Korea¡¯s closest friend. China
is the only nation that still has significant trade with the North, and perhaps
the only power with significant positive influence over Pyongyang. The North Korean regime has become a
liability and an embarrassment to China,
but Beijing cannot just abandon Pyongyang
without serious domestic and international consequences.
Next to South Korea China has the most
to lose from deterioration of the situation on the Korean
Peninsula. It is already experiencing a refugee
crisis on its border. But its
current refugee problem would pale compared to what would ensue if there were
military or civil conflict in the North.
has profited greatly from the goodwill it has built up with the West in the
past two decades and its growing participation in the global trading system. These gains could be undone by military
conflict in the region or prolonged confrontation with Washington
over Korea. China
wants to avoid anything that undermines the economic growth that has been the
foundation of its renewed influence in the region. Moreover, the legitimacy of its own
regime might come under further question in the wake of the sweeping away of a
neighboring socialist regime.
On the other hand, China
has the most to gain from resolution of the crisis. A robust peace regime on the Korean
peninsula would do much to ensure the regional stability that is the
prerequisite for further growth of Chinese economic and political power. An active role in defusing the current
conflict would cement China¡¯s
role as a constructive regional power.
has been reluctant to take an activist public stance on Korean issues not only because
of the intractability of the problems but also due to its own changing
relations with Pyongyang, Seoul,
and Washington. However, recently recognition of both
the dangers and opportunities posed by the Korean crisis has spurred China
to take a leading role in fostering multilateral talks aimed at defusing the ticking
time bomb on its border.
V. Two Approaches
to the Korean Nuclear Crisis, Two Visions of the Future of Northeast
While each nation in the region has
its own unique set of interests and perspectives on the Korean crisis, divisions
over how to deal with the Korean nuclear crisis cross national boundaries. The contrast between the Clinton
engagement policies and the Bush hard line show that there are significant
divergences between conservatives and progressives in the U.S.
over how to deal with Pyongyang.
These same conservative-progressive
differences can also be seen in South Korea
and Japan. Progressives have had the upper hand in Seoul
in the past two presidencies, but powerful conservative forces in the National
Assembly and within the society have resisted sunshine policies from the
beginning. The escalation of
tensions on the peninsula has strengthened the hand of the conservatives in the
South and forced the Roh Moo Hyun government to give
greater lip service to coordination of its policies with the Bush
significant divergences remain not only between Seoul
and Washington, but also within
the South as well.
The same is true in Japan
to a lesser extent. Tendencies
toward engagement were buoyed by Prime Minister Koizumi¡¯s trip to Pyongyang,
but a harder line has followed the nuclear revelations and lack of progress on
the abductees issue. In the shadow
world of Japanese consensus politics individual politicians rarely stake out
clear stances. However, prolonged
confrontation with North Korea
energizes both revaunchist sentiment for a nuclear
armed Japan and
neo-pacifist dread of being drawn into a new conflict on the Korean
Similar divergences exist in China
and Russia. Hard-liners in both China
and Russia place
more value on historic ties with the Pyongyang
regime and have been highly critical of the Bush administration¡¯s policies of
isolation and punishment of the North.
Reformers in both China
focused on better ties with the U.S.
and the West, are more critical of Pyongyang
intransigence on both military and economic issues and less critical of Washington¡¯s
pressure on the North.
At the heart of these policy divisions
within each nation lie two fundamentally different views of the future of the
Northeast Asian region. Both these
perspectives ultimately predict and seek convergence of Northeast
Asia into one peaceful zone of economic and human
development. But they differ
significantly on how this convergence should be achieved.
The Evolutionary, Multilateral View
The evolutionary, multilateral view of
convergence sees basic parallel interests of all the nations in the region in
economic growth and political stability.
It relies on broad based multilateral organizations like APEC and ASEAN
to institutionalize economic integration and harmonize political
interests. According to this viewpoint, despite huge
economic, political, and cultural differences between the peoples of the
Asia-Pacific, growing trade and economic integration can progressively reduce
cultural barriers and political conflict as each nation develops an ever
greater stake in peaceful and secure regional development.
Perhaps the single most serious
obstacle to this vision of continuing multilateral integration in the
Asia-Pacific is the Korean problem.
Before a truly benign multilateral system can emerge, the current
nuclear crisis must be defused and the Cold War division of the Korean
Peninsula must be overcome.
All the great powers in the region have
a parallel interest in the denuclearization of the Korean
Peninsula. If the current impasse can be overcome, the
two Koreas could
be gradually demilitarized, much as Germany
and central Europe was at the end of the 20th
century. Simultaneously the North
Korea regime must be reformed and brought
into the international system. Once
these processes are set in motion, a new multilateral security architecture can
replace the Cold War division of Korea.
The key to the evolutionary,
multilateral vision of convergence is the harmonization of the interests of all
the nations in the region. Security
concessions and political reform in the North would be matched by security
concessions and political flexibility by the U.S.
and its allies South Korea
and Japan. The security of a demilitarizing Korean
Peninsula would be assured by joint
guarantees of each of the 4 major Northeast Asian powers. No one power will prevail, but all
powers will negotiate and compromise until all parties can satisfy their basic
security, economic, and political interests.
Convergence under U.S.
Hegemony through Rapid Regime Change
The hard-liners in the Bush
administration and their counterparts in South
Korea and Japan
also seek regional convergence, but on different terms and through different
means. Their vision can be labeled
convergence under U.S.
hegemony through regime change. The
hard-liners seek not compromise and mutual concessions but conversion of regimes
that oppose the U.S.
The new regimes that emerge will
accommodate themselves to U.S.
power and an international system dedicated to maintaining U.S.
and more broadly western predominance.
Bush¡¯s axis of evil speech laid out
the rationale for removing ¡°rogue¡± regimes from power. The invasion of Iraq
over the opposition of not only of Russia
and China but
also historic U.S.
allies like France
demonstrated the hard-liners belief that only the U.S.
has both the capability and the will impose regime change on rogue states and
bring a new international order to regions in conflict.
Despite its harsh rhetoric, the Bush
administration has never been as eager for armed conflict in Northeast
Asia. The U.S.
is deterred by the probability that the North can make the U.S.
pay a stiffer price than the Iraqis.
The Bush administration is even more influenced by the opposition of not
only its historic rivals in the region, China
and Russia, but
also by its historic allies, South Korea
and Japan, all
of whom would be catastrophically affected by streams of refugees and political
instability that would be the inevitable consequences of armed conflict with
the North. But North Korea¡¯s
economic failure and political isolation have encouraged wishful thinking in
Washington that the Pyongyang regime is so rickety that a small push will
topple it and set in motion a quick and painless transition to a government
more friendly to the U.S. if only the U.S. and its allies have the will to
stand down Kim Jong Il.
These hard-liners believe that China
and Russia may
squawk at a tough U.S.
policy but in the end they will have no choice but to go along. The hard-liners believe the opponents to
U.S. policy in
those countries are also on the wrong side of history and on their way out of
power and influence in Beijing and Moscow,
that they are undergoing their own more gradual regime changes. According to the hard-liners, hard
military and economic American power must be utilized to isolate and punish the
North, while the softer power of the ideological and institutional attraction
of joining the prosperous West deters China
and Russia from
effectively opposing this U.S.
strategy. In this view, if China or
Russia do pose sustained resistance to U.S. policy, they are outed as not truly internationalized and liberalized
regimes not ready to constructively participate in the U.S.-led international
Convergence and Rupture in Both
Views of the Northeast Asian Future
Both visions of convergence also imply
ruptures with the past. The
convergence through regime change view threatens to bring North
Korea and the U.S.
and its allies into open conflict, with the reaction of China
quite unpredictable. Even if armed
conflict is avoided, the region may well be repolarized
into two hostile camps, not only crushing the hopes raised of reconciliation of
the two Koreas but perhaps also undermining the economic and political
integration of the East Asian region.
But the evolutionary, multilateral
vision also implies a serious rupture with the past. Genuinely multilateral security
guarantees and institutions would have to reflect the interests of not only the
current American hegemon, but also the rising power
of China as
well as the continuing interests of Japan
and Russia. The U.S.
would most likely have to relinquish its position as sole superpower given to
unilateral action to entice full Chinese and Russian participation in a new
VI. Which Vision Is More Likely to
Further Regional Convergence?
The Dangers of Rapid Regime Change
The vision of the hard-liners of quick,
easy, rapid regime change is unlikely to be realized. Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, predictions of the imminent failure of the North Korean
regime have abounded, yet however besieged Kim Jong
Il remains in power. Every
intensification of U.S.
military pressure to coerce the North seems only to reinforce the siege
mentality in Pyongyang.
Success in toppling Kim Jong Il would probably be worse than failure because it
would most likely be massively destabilizing to the Northeast Asian
region. Every ratcheting up of the
military pressure also increases the possibility of escalation into actual
conflict. The North could not
prevail in such a conflict, but it could impose massive costs on the South and
perhaps large scale casualties on the American forces in the South. Even more seriously in the long run, a
military conflict in Korea
could repolarize the region. China
or Russia could
conceivably be drawn into a second Korean war. Even if they stood aside this time, they
would have to react strongly to unilateral U.S.
action so close to their borders.
Integration of the region would grind to a halt and repolarization
into opposing camps would be highly likely.
Even if collapse of the Kim Jong Il regime could be engineered without open military
conflict, the consequences would be dire.
Huge numbers of refugees would almost certainly flee starvation and
deprivation, flooding not only south but across the Chinese and Russian
borders. Civil strife between
factions of the imploding regime and between civilians and regime remnants
would not only further degrade infrastructure and interfere with relief
efforts, but the South and outside powers could well be drawn into a morass as
bad or worse than the current situation in Iraq. After the trauma of a tragic transition,
there is no guarantee any new North Korean regime could overcome half a century
of anti-American indoctrination and an even longer history of ant-foreign sentiment
to become a more tractable member of the regional community.
The North¡¯s Reform Dilemma
North Korea faces a difficult balancing act, a serious reform dilemma. The Bush administration and the
hard-liners in the South need to realize the tightrope the North Korean regime
is walking. If it leans too far toward maintaining the existing system,
the North will fall into oblivion. But if it leans too far toward rapid
reform, the regime could quickly become as irrelevant as Gorbachev became in
the Soviet Union, with the additional danger that prominent members could
end up on trial for their lives like leaders of the former Yugoslavia. As Moon and Kim put it
For Pyongyang, the Soviet failure must be a negative path model that
should be avoided at any price. The reason North Korea has yet to introduce and implement
serious economic reforms is not because it doesn¡¯t want to change, but rather
because its leadership is concerned about reforms slipping out of its control.
hard-liners in the U.S. so ardently hope for such a day that they would pay any
cost, they should be more careful what they wish for. Gradual reform and
transition is a much less catastrophic method to defuse the ticking time bomb
on the Korean peninsula.
the regime in the North is still light years from a liberal, capitalist system,
although the North may be willing to embark on a path that will eventually
force it to jettison its long-time goals of communizing the South. If
Mao¡¯s China and the Vietnamese who fought for generations against the U.S. and
the West can reform and open up, so can the North. The more the North
opens up to the South and the global capitalist economy, the more the regime in
the North will be changed. Realists in the North recognize U.S. military superiority and realize that the only way to
reduce the U.S. threat to the North is to reduce the Northern threat to
the South. The revolutionary slogans still spouted from hard-liners in
the North will eventually be tempered and finally abandoned if the North
becomes more enmeshed with the South and the global system. The
experience not only in Russia and Eastern
Europe, but also in China and Vietnam, shows that seemingly highly ideological communist party
leaders can be enticed to turn themselves into state capitalists if they
themselves can profit from the transition.
The goals of
reform, reconciliation, and a peace regime are tightly interrelated. Some
reform in the North is necessary to assure the United States and South Korea that things have changed and the historic North Korean
goal of reunification through communization has been abandoned. But North
Korean reforms are likely to remain only incremental until the regime can be
assured of its security and survival. The issues of reform and security
are both/and, not either/or.
the North and easing of security tensions must go hand-in-hand. U.S. and South Korean concerns about the authenticity of
changes in the North must be assuaged if there is to be real movement on
security issues. But the regime in the North cannot really relax its grip
until it can be assured that it is not signing its own death warrant.
Progress on reform is necessary for a true peace regime to emerge, but progress
on security issues is also necessary before real reform can take hold. The North needs to truly accept that more
substantial reform must come. But hard-liners in the U.S. and the South must also accept that a gradual reform of the
North is preferable to rapid regime change.
Can an Evolutionary, Multilateral
Only an evolutionary, multilateral
approach has any real chance of resolving the Korean nuclear crisis in a way
that furthers integration of the region.
An evolutionary approach is necessary because it is the only way to
overcome the North¡¯s reform dilemma.
Multilateralism is necessary because
only an approach that satisfies each of the major powers in the region will
bind them to participate in the development of a new security architecture for
the region. Only an approach that
meets the basic security interests of each power will get all the powers on
board and avoid repolarization of the region.
Of course, there is no guarantee an
evolutionary, multilateral approach will succeed. However reasonable the inducements of
the outside powers, the North could always choose isolation over integration
into the international system and ideological purity over real reform. The Bush administration could remain so
ideologically hostile to Pyongyang and
so unwilling to compromise that the North has little to gain from
engagement. The Bush administration
could be so jealous of U.S.
supremacy in the region that a new truly multilateral security architecture
cannot emerge. China¡¯s
distrust of U.S.
power and American motives could also be a serious obstacle to the development
of a multilateral regime. All the
powers talk multilateralism, but everybody means something different by
multilateralism and eaxh power wants something
different from it.
VII. Which Vision Will Prevail?
Which vision of Northeast Asian
convergence will prevail? No one
has a crystal ball. Most analysts
in both the U.S.
and South Korea
are focused on the behavior of the North.
There is an old saying in the U.S.,
¡°You can lead a horse to water, but you can¡¯t make him drink.¡± No matter what carrots or sticks are put
to Pyongyang, ultimately the North
has to become committed to fundamental change and willing to part with the one
bargaining chip it has used for a decade to get the attention of the rest of
the world. Pyongyang
seemed to be willing to do just that in signing the Agreed Framework. However, the Agreed Framework was never
fully implemented, in part because of the North¡¯s unwillingness to live up to
It is an oversimplification to blame
the failure of the Agreed Framework on North Korean intransigence. The U.S.
and its allies also did not live up to their commitments, most notably in the
failure of the U.S.
to normalize relations. The outside
world, particularly the hard-liners in the Bush administration, need to become
more sensitive to the reform dilemma the North Koreans face. Yet in the end, the problem will not go
away unless the North Koreans are willing to part with their nuclear weapons. And the North cannot solve its security
or economic problems unless it finds a way to survive without nuclear weapons
and open itself up to participation in the regional system.
On the other side, questions remain
about just how deeply the Bush administration is committed to rapid regime
change in the North and to isolation and punishment of the North until the
regime falls. The Bush
administration has been sending mixed signals on its policy from the
beginning. The ¡°axis of evil¡±
speech was accompanied by promises to talk with the North. Denunciations of Kim Jong
Il have come along with assurances the U.S.
would not attack North Korea. Suspension of projects under the Agreed
Framework has been followed with requests for multilateral negotiations. At the same time the U.S.
was invading Iraq
it was stating that there was no ¡°cookie cutter approach¡± to axis of evil
The Bush administration may be
learning that despite its wish for rapid regime change, policies intended to
achieve that end are unpalatable to both friends and former rivals in the
region, and more importantly, unlikely to succeed without unacceptable
costs. The Iraq
adventure is not turning out as intended.
As long as the U.S.
has more than a hundred thousand troops bogged down there, it will be difficult
to mobilize more forces to confront a North
Korea much more able to inflict damage in a
military conflict. Furthermore, the
Bush administration¡¯s frustrations in going it largely alone in Iraq
may have made it more receptive to the pleas of Northeast Asian regional powers
to avoid unilateral military confrontation with North
The multilateral talks the U.S.
sought to pressure the North to give up its nuclear weapons have also
intensified pressure by the other powers in the region on the U.S.
to moderate its positions.
is only a year from its next presidential election. Previous Republican hard-line presidents
have made dramatic reversals under re-election pressures. Facing re-election, the inveterate cold
warrior Richard Nixon flew to Beijing and opened up to Mao¡¯s China and then
flew to Moscow and signed the first serious arms control treaties with the
Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan¡¯s ¡°new
cold war¡± was put on the back burner during his re-election campaign and in his
second term the man who had opposed every arms control treaty the U.S.
ever signed became buddies with Gorbachev and signed sweeping arms reduction
treaties. As yet Bush has not faced
the kind of domestic pressure that the anti-Vietnam war movement put on Nixon
or the anti-nuclear movement put on Reagan, but support for his Iraq policies
is slipping daily and protests are rising.
So far the Bush administration has
been deterred from unilateral action against North
Korea, but that will not prove enough. Inaction will not slow North Korean
nuclear development. The U.S.
will have to actively engage the North and be willing to compromise on key
security issues if there is to be any hope of resolving the nuclear crisis in a
way that furthers convergence in the region.
This is perhaps where the other powers
in the region must play a greater role.
is an increasingly important player.
Prodding by the South has been one of the major factors in moving the
Bush administration from its original reluctance to talk to its current
ambivalent position. The South can
remain a key catalyst in keeping communication open, although it does not have
the leverage to force either the U.S.
or the North to bargain seriously.
Similarly, the other regional powers
can play a constructive role in pressuring both the U.S.
and the North to negotiate. China
has both the most influence with the North and the most to lose it the
situation deteriorates further. Russia
and Japan have
less leverage with the North, but they stand to win prestige and influence if
they can help broker a new agreement and gain participation in an ongoing
also figures into the equation as the only non-nuclear regional power. If the North Korean nuclear issue
remains unresolved, Japan
may choose to develop its own nuclear weapons, or it may continue to show the
restraint it has demonstrated in the past 60 years.
It is important to keep the six party
talks alive even if there is no apparent progress. Simply keeping communication open can be
the beginning of a learning process.
It is at least possible that hard-liners in both North
Korea and the Bush administration will learn
how isolated they are from the feelings of the other peoples and nations in the
neighborhood. The U.S.
strategy of bringing all the regional parties together to pressure Pyongyang
may also eventually have an echo effect on Washington
In conclusion, the outcome of the
North Korean nuclear crisis cannot be predicted. A radical rupture through rapid regime
change in the North and/or armed conflict is unlikely, although until the
crisis is defused it cannot be ruled out completely. Convergence of all the powers in the
region around an evolutionary, multilateral solution is more likely, although
certainly not assured. Muddling
through without any clear solution to the crisis is most likely in the short
term. However, inaction does not
mean no change. If nothing is done,
will eventually develop and deploy nuclear weapons. That outcome would in the long run slow
and perhaps even reverse the quarter century trend of regional
convergence. Such an outcome might
be called divergence through inaction.
Arms Control Today, May 2003, North
Korea Special Issue, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_05/default.asp
(articles include: North Korea: What¡¯s Next, The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: A
Strategy for Negotiation, A Test for Beijing: China and the North Korean
Nuclear Quandry, Steering Between Red Lines: A South
Korean View, A Disillusioned Japan Confronts North Korea, Recommendations for
U.S.-Korea Policy, and Undersecretary of State Bolton Speaks with ACT)
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