Unification News for December 2003 and January 2004

What is Needed for Peace in the Korean Peninsula

Antonio Betancourt
January 2004
Executive Director, Summit Council for World Peace

The Summit Council for World Peace, an affiliate of the IIFWP, has been deeply involved in the resolution of both the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, and has also undertaken an important facilitating role in the resolution of the current crisis.

Since 1991, as executive director of the Summit Council, I have traveled to the DPRK seventeen times, and met five times with the late President Kim Il Sung and twice with Chairman Kim Jong Il, as well as many other senior North Korean officials. My initial travels were part of the work of the Summit Councilís International Commission for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, created in September 1991 in consultation with Pyongyang. This commission was composed of five former heads of state who traveled under the leadership of the then-president of the Summit Council, Dr. Bo Hi Pak, as facilitators and advisors in the initial efforts to bring the U.S. and North Korea to a serious dialogue. Initially, our focus was to help the U.S. appreciate the necessity to engage in dialogue with the DPRK at a much higher diplomatic level in order for both sides to clearly understand each otherís positions and create a road map to address differences and find potential solutions.

The work of that commission began with a Summit Council roundtable of renowned scholars, Asian affairs experts and senior U.S. officials in December 1992, chaired by President Clintonís chief military advisor, Adm. William J. Crowe, USN (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Another roundtable was held in March 1993, also chaired by Adm. Crowe, just as the first nuclear crisis reached alarming proportions. These conferences were followed by subsequent trips to Pyongyang with not only former presidents and prime ministers but with key American leaders, and opinion and policymakers who could help shape a more positive American policy towards North Korea.

That was the beginning of Summit Councilís involvement. Throughout the last twelve years we have continued to help and nourish constructive dialogue and diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S. Our efforts were also extended in the early 1990s to the European Union and throughout that decade between the two Koreas.

It is so easy to misgauge North Koreaís perspective and motivation for its behavior. Many dismiss North Koreans as crazy or irrational, without acknowledging their fierce sense of pride, and how their society is a preserve of what Korea was like in the late 1940s: rural, isolated, strongly anti-colonial (antagonistic toward the big powers), and with a strong Confucianist tradition of loyalty and filial piety towards its leaders that remains unchanged even today. It is better to view North Korea as a national enclave of man-centered religious monks, who disavow the outside world. Yet, despite what many might regard as its bizarre qualities, my experience - and that of many others - proves that it is possible to negotiate satisfactorily with North Koreans with a mutually beneficial outcome. The prerequisite to this is to treat oneís adversary with the dignity that you may think they donít deserve.

I believe that this second nuclear crisis with North Korea can be resolved when the United States, along with Japan, China, Russia, and possibly, South Korea, provide written assurances against attack upon the North which will mean for them regime survival and the possibility of regime reform at their own pace and under their own conceptual understandings. In return for this multilateral security assurance, along with sizable economic assistance in various forms, the North is likely to freeze its nuclear programs and permit monitoring and even intrusive inspections of all nuclear facilities by representatives of these powers. There is a clear model in how Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites gave up their nuclear weapons (to Russia) after the Cold War in return for security assurances by the United States. There appears to have been considerable movement in this direction in October and November, especially on the part of the U.S. and China, and U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation has been strong.

It is fortunate that the Bush administration has moved in the direction of strongly supporting a multilateral solution to this crisis, as all the Northeast Asian powers have a stake in the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula. Those in the U.S. who advocate increasing pressure on the North to force a coup or capitulation now seem to be ebbing in strength. Clearly, a diplomatic solution to this crisis is the only solution desirable. Focused policy coordination within the Bush administration, among American allies Japan and South Korea, and with neighbors China and Russia, will bring about this positive outcome. Chinaís role is particularly important at this time. We look forward to another round of the Six Party Peace Talks in December and hope that North Korea will accept the written assurances it is expected to be offered.

Once the nuclear crisis is settled, it will be urgent on the part of these nations, especially the U.S., Japan and South Korea, to formulate a clear roadmap for bringing about peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. Key to this will be a sustained effort to support North Korean economic reform, aided by food aid, agricultural and technical assistance, especially in the areas of energy and institutional buildup to enable the North to interact with market economies. Moreover there should be significant involvement by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. By then the U.S. should be able to send a signal to these international financial institutions removing its objections toward their engagement with North Korea as was done with Vietnam in the early 1990s prior to the establishment of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

South Korea must play the lead bilateral role, but Japanís role will be no less important than that of the U.S. The Japanese public, despite its legitimate anger over North Korean behavior, must be reassured that this avenue will bring about the best possible result for Japan.

While the North Korean regime wishes to survive, it cannot do so without permitting major economic reform; it cannot rebuild its devastated economy on weapons. We already see small but visible and steadily-building economic changes in the North in the last two years, reminiscent of China in the early 1980s. These efforts need to be encouraged by the major powers, as well as by the European Union. By constructing an environment where North Korea feels secure and unthreatened, while promoting North Koreaís economic reform bilaterally and multilaterally, the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea can bring about long-term peace, stability and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

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