NEPSNet Special Report - DPRK(1)

2000-03-29 00:03
***** SPECIAL REPORT *****
March 22, 2000

The following report contains the prepared testimony of Mitchell B. Reiss,
Dean of International Affairs and Director of the Wendy and Emery Reves
Center for International Studies, College of William & Mary in
Williamsburg, Virginia, before the Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. on March 16, 2000


I would like to thank the Committee for inviting me to testify today on
this important and complex issue. My testimony will explore three myths
that currently influence U.S. policy towards North Korea and impede our
ability to maintain stability and security on the Korean peninsula and in
Northeast Asia. I will then suggest some ways in which Congress might work
to improve this policy.

Myth #1: It is impossible to negotiate with North Korea

That North Korea poses a threat to important U.S. interests in Northeast
Asia and around the globe is not in doubt. Ideologically hostile to the
outside world, armed with ballistic missiles (perhaps loaded with chemical
or biological agents), and capable of building nuclear weapons, North Korea
is the world's poster child for rogue regimes. This dysfunctional country
excels in only one area -- it exports trouble. The North's aggressive
military posture threatens American allies in the region and directly
places at risk the 35,000 U.S. soldiers based in South Korea. Through its
sale of ballistic missile technology to Pakistan and the Middle East,
Pyongyang helps undermine global security.

Determining how best to deal with North Korea has posed a serious challenge
for the Clinton Administration. But it is possible to do business with
Pyongyang, as proven by the experience of a specialized international
organization created to deal with the North's nuclear program.

In 1995, the United States, South Korea and Japan created KEDO (the Korean
Peninsula Energy Development Organization), whose mission is to deliver
500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil/year and two 1,000 MW(e) light-water
reactors to North Korea in return for the North initially freezing and
eventually dismantling its nuclear weapons program. In return, Pyongyang
pledged to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear complex capable of
producing enough plutonium for dozens of nuclear bombs.

At the start, it was unclear whether the North would even meet with KEDO
officials, let alone permit thousands of South Korean to live and work at
the construction site alongside North Koreans. Yet KEDO and Pyongyang have
reached agreements that have produced real and tangible progress to
implement this project. Many of these agreements deal with highly
sensitive national security issues, such as direct transportation routes
from the South to the North, independent means of communication from the
work site to the outside world, and blanket immunity from prosecution for
all KEDO workers.

With no clear road map to follow, KEDO has shown it is possible to engage
Pyongyang in ways consistent with U.S. national security interests.
Reaching agreement with the North is never easy, but few worthwhile things
in life are. Like other skilled negotiators, the North Koreans prefer to
keep their options open for as long as possible. Indeed, they are often
under instructions to do so because competing bureaucracies back home can't
agree on a common position.

The KEDO experience also teaches the importance of demanding strict
reciprocity; there is no such thing as a free lunch with the North Koreans.
It is possible to "take" from the North, but only if you are prepared to
"give" something in return. Although it is easy to blame the North Koreans
for many misdeeds, the truth is that stalemate in the negotiations was at
times due not to the North's belligerence, but to disagreements among the
KEDO parties - the United States, South Korea and Japan -- over what to
horse-trade. Significantly, when KEDO has reached agreement with the North
Koreans, they have largely kept their side of the bargain.

KEDO's experience also teaches that you must stand firm with the North
Koreans. They are masters at raising the tension level to realize their
objectives. The negotiating table is simply one more venue for this type
of brinkmanship. For example, in late 1995 the North's Ambassador Ho Jong
threatened to have Pyongyang restart its nuclear weapons program if KEDO
did not make certain concessions. Despite the risk of triggering a new
nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, KEDO hung tough. Ho eventually
dropped his demands.

Constant vigilance is warranted in dealing with North Korea. The United
States should not be surprised when Pyongyang engages in provocative
actions, such as the September 1996 submarine incursion, the August 1998
Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile launch, and the June 1999 confrontation
between the North and South Korean navies over the Northern Limit Line. It
is entirely possible that they may threaten to test launch another
ballistic missile later this year.

It is therefore essential that anyone negotiating with the North not be
afraid to walk away from the table. The United States should never be, or
seem to be, more eager than the North to reach a deal. Offering the North
inducements for simply showing up, or holding meetings solely for the sake
of holding meetings, diminishes U.S. credibility in Pyongyang and elsewhere
around the world.

At the same time, the United States should never be less eager than North
Korea to craft a more stable and secure Korean Peninsula. Hard-headed
engagement, which is strongly supported by South Korea and Japan, can
work. And by keeping faith with our allies, the United States will also be
in a much stronger position should North Korea decide to remain a rogue

Finally, it is useful to talk with Pyongyang if only to make absolutely
clear to them the consequences their actions will bring. In other words,
the U.S. has a strong interest in preventing North Korea from ever thinking
that its provocative behavior would go unanswered.

Myth #2: The Agreed Framework nuclear deal can be attacked
without harming U.S. national security interests

Despite all the criticisms of the Clinton Administration's handling of
North Korea, the reality is that the next Administration, whether Democrat
or Republican, is unlikely to substantially change U.S. policy. If there
is a Republican Administration come next January, I would expect to see
important changes in policy style and policy execution, but few changes in
policy substance (with the exception of addressing the North's military
posture along the DMZ). Indeed, leading Republican foreign policy experts
advising Governor Bush have already gone on record saying that it would be
difficult for a Republican Administration to overhaul the current U.S.
approach to North Korea.

These Republican foreign policy experts recognize that (i) the Agreed
Framework and KEDO, (ii) former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry's
Report of October 12, 1999, and (iii) ROK President Kim Dae-jung's
"sunshine policy" of greater economic cooperation and reconciliation with
North Korea provide useful tools with which to deal with many of the
challenges North Korea presents. This is not to say the current U.S.
approach is ideal. Far from it. It is the least worse option. But before
dismantling the current approach, it is essential to formulate a viable
policy alternative. Suddenly reversing Washington's North Korea policy,
without such a policy alternative, would harm our relations with two key
U.S. allies - South Korea and Japan - each of which has more at stake than
the United States in promoting a stable and secure Korean peninsula.

As former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea during the Bush Administration,
Donald P. Gregg, has recently observed:

A rapid and uncoordinated American policy shift away from the Perry Report
the "sunshine policy" to a more confrontational posture toward North Korea
would undermine President Kim [and] confuse the Japanese꿕ne of the greatest
strengths of the "sunshine policy" is the regional support that
it enjoys from Korea's neighbors. For the U.S. to distance itself from this
support, and by so doing weaken it, would be counterproductive in the
North Korea would be strengthened, not weakened, by such a move.

Indeed, the likely result of such behavior would be the weakening of U.S.
influence throughout all of East Asia, and perhaps beyond.