Special Report - ROK-PROK Summit, Manning

2000-06-09 00:06
***** SPECIAL REPORT *****

May 23, 2000

The following article was written by Robert Manning, Senior
Fellow and Director of Asian Studies at the US Council on Foreign
Relations. This article originally ran on May 18 in the Korea

Manning says that the agreement to hold an ROK-DPRK summit
meeting marks a major shift of the DPRK's diplomatic strategy
from one based on Washington to one based on Seoul. He warns,
however, that to be successful, Kim Dae-jung must insist on
reciprocity, including a major reduction of the DPRK's military


THE KOREAN SUMMIT--A Test of Both Kims

By Robert A. Manning

Washington: It may appear an act of Western arrogance to even
hint at doubt about an event of such epic proportions as the June
12-14 inter-Korean summit. Nonetheless, does the promise of a
historic North-South Summit mean we are on the brink of a new era
of detente on the Korean Peninsula? Or are we merely entering a
new phase in pursuit of dubious policies keeping North Korea on
life-support? In short, the big question is what's behind Kim
Jong Il's unexpected historic decision to agree to a North-South
summit? During his Berlin speech, Kim Dae Jung suggested a grand

Seoul is making three important promises to Pyongyang--to
guarantee their national security, assist in their economic
recovery and actively support them in the international arena.

In return, President Kim is asking the North to abandon once and
for all armed provocation against the South, comply with previous
pledges not to develop nuclear weapons and give up ambitions to
develop long-range missiles.

The Summit is the crucible in which this bargain will play out.
To supporters, the summit is a dramatic breakthrough, a seizing
of Korean diplomatic initiative after seven years of US-centered
diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, a political coup, and
vindication for Kim Dae Jung's sunshine policy. To critics, the
summit announcement was a cynical pre-election political
maneuver, or worse, a dangerous give-away.

The honest answer is that the unprecedented summit was a surprise
and North Korean logic remains rather puzzling. For most of the
past decade, Pyongyang has fixated on the United States and
sought to marginalize the ROK with remarkable success. One
possible reason for the North Korean shift may be an
acknowledgment that Kim Dae Jung had taken large political risks
in pushing his sunshine policy and hence, Kim Jong Il sought to
bolster the Kim administration in the face of difficult
Parliamentary elections, lest South Korean generosity come to a

On one level, the North Korean agreement to hold the summit
appears part of a larger North Korean "peace offensive" in recent
months. Pyongyang has begun to establish widespread diplomatic
ties to Australia, the Philippines, Italy, Japan and others.
This makes particularly intriguing the question of why North
Korea has essentially stalled its bilateral diplomacy towards the
United States. Though the Clinton administration has tried to
argue that the Perry policy review made the North-South summit
possible, in fact, the more likely explanation is that the summit
reflects an alternative or rejection of the policy Perry's effort
seeks to initiate.

It is tempting to view North Korea's new diplomacy as reflecting
a realization by Pyongyang that it has gotten most of what it can
get from the U.S. without paying a price. Six months of meetings
to arrange a high-level political North Korean U.S. visit to
initiate the policy course recommended by U.S. Presidential envoy
William Perry have come to a halt, perhaps because starting on
the path that Perry has offered would require Pyongyang to make
concessions, to reduce its military threat, and particularly, its
ballistic missile program. Rather than taking difficult steps
Pyongyang may view as losing face or compromising its interests,
Pyongyang may have decided to look elsewhere for support. Such a
move would not only hold the promise of obtaining additional free
food and other economic assistance, but might also provide North
Korean leverage on the U.S. -- or a cushion if a more
conservative U.S. administration emerges after the November
Presidential elections.

The problem for Kim Dae Jung is the dark side of North Korean
behavior. North Korea recently conducted one of its largest
military exercises in a decade amid continued reports of
starvation. Those skeptical of unmonitored food aid and the
provision of hard currency to Pyongyang wonder where it got the
food, fuel and other resources to conduct such exercises. And
there are no signs that Pyongyang is slowing its effort to
develop new long-range ballistic missiles. North Korean ties
with Pakistan and possibly Libya and Iraq (through the Sudan)
also hint darkly of nuclear and missile cooperation. Nor are
there any evident signs that Pyongyang has changed its stripes
and has decided to open its failing economy by accelerating
market reforms as was the case in China.

This absence of any new indications that Pyongyang has decided to
move beyond experimenting at the margins with economic opening
makes its diplomatic offensive still more confusing. If
Pyongyang is not prepared to live with the political risk that
more seriously opening the most closed economic (and socio-
political) system in the world would bring, it can never hope to
revive its failing economy. Is North Korea simply trying to
compensate for the departure of leading Western NGOs? That, plus
goodies from countries like Italy and Australia might be viewed
by Pyongyang as adequate to muddle through -- if combined with
economic benefits that Seoul might offer during a summit.

This raises one of the central challenges to Seoul posed by the
summit. There is an oft told story that Willie Sutton, a famous
American bank-robber, was asked, "why do you rob banks?" His
answer: "because that's where the money is!" There is a danger
that Pyongyang may feel that it can get more deals like the
Hyundai Mt. Kumgang tourist arrangement, where the North gets
$150 million annually for merely allowing carefully limited

And what other government other than South Korea can Pyongyang
turn to for such amounts of capital with few strings attached?
In his important Berlin speech Kim Dae Jung spoke of "economic
collaboration including the social infrastructure, including
highways, harbors, railroads and electric and communications

To be fair, Seoul is seeking to engineer a "soft landing," by
initiating what President Kim has bravely called a period of
"peaceful coexistence." As a Korean strategy, gradually
rehabilitating the North and avoiding a crisis-induced overnight
reunification that South Korea can ill-afford obviously makes
eminent sense. Kim's initiative also has the virtue of moving
diplomacy out of Washington and holds the hope of putting Korea's
fate back in its own hands.

The challenge is to one of Kim Dae Jung's core principles--that
of reciprocity. In this sense the Summit is a test of both Kims.
It is possible, as President Kim said in Berlin, that "Through
open interaction with the global economy, North Korea will emerge
as a responsible member of the international community." But it
is also possible that North Korea will merely pocket concessions
and pursue its agenda. Seoul has little margin for error. To
borrow from Ronald Reagan's view of the Soviet Union, "mistrust,
but verify," is the safest way to deal with North Korea.

Until Kim Jong Il actually walks into the room, the Summit will
not be a certainty. If the June 12 Summit does take place, it
will signal a remarkable shift in the political machinations of
North Korea, a new public role for the reclusive Kim Jong Il and
a historic achievement for Kim Dae Jung.

But building energy grids, roads, railways and communications
infrastructure--all of which could be used in military actions
against the South--should be linked to progress in threat
reduction--missiles, nuclear, and no less urgent, conventional
force reductions. Not just the Economic Commission of the North-
South framework should be implemented, but the Joint Military
Commission as well.

The inter-Korean Summit offers a rare opportunity to restart the
process of national reconciliation. But key to that process is
seizing the opportunity to change the patterns of diplomacy not
only from one centered in Washington to one based in Seoul, but
most importantly, from rewarding bad behavior to President Kim's
principle of reciprocity.

Robert A. Manning, a former State Dept. Advisor for Policy (1989-
93) is Senior Fellow and Director of Asian Studies at the Council
on Foreign Relations and author of the forthcoming book, "The
Asian Energy Factor (Revisited): Myths and Dilemmas of Energy,
Security and the Pacific Future" (St. Martin's, forthcoming,