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The U.S. - North Korea conflict
The Korean Peninsula Entering the Year 2003
A Korea WebWeekly Feature Article
1/15/2003

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I. The root cause of the current US-DPRK tension and what lies beneath the surface

The "nuclear" crisis and the missile issue are the two primary flames that are engulfing the powder keg that lies between the United States and North Korea. The US policy of enmity toward North Korea and the US policy of preventing the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and missiles go together hand in hand. The US policy is to solve the problem of nuclear proliferation, missile technology spread, and the 'last' Stalinist state' in one swoop under "nuclear and missile problem" of North Korea.

However, this US policy has encountered strong counter-attacks by North Korea, which has turned the table around on the US 'nuclear and missile problems' and mounted a major campaign to smash the US policy of enmity toward North Korea. During his waning days at the White House, Bill Clinton was forced to choose: non-proliferation of WMD or continued hostility towards North Korea. The Clinton administration had to opt one or the other, but not both policies at the same time. In order to stop nuclear proliferation, Clinton had to choose to stop his hostile anti-DPRK policy, because continued hostility toward North Korea would lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Bush moved into the White House before Clinton had the chance to act on his 'revised' North Korea policy. Bush brought up the Red Herring of a "uranium enrichment equipment imported from Pakistan" in order to highlight the "North Korean nuclear issue." Although the Unites States is yet to present any convincing proof of this alleged transfer of uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan to North Korea, the anti-DPRK hawks got on the nuclear bandwagon and whipped up a frenzy of 'let's go get them gooks' mass hysteria.

Bush stopped the US delivery of heavy oil to North Korea, a material breach of the 1994 US-DPRK agreement. In response, North Korea announced that it would restart its nuclear facilities mothballed since 1994 and began to break the seals and disabled surveillance cameras placed by the IAEA. It should be noted that Bush was opposed to providing heavy oil to North Korea and used the 'nuclear problem' as a pretext to stop the oil delivery. Bush raised the nuclear problem in order to stop handing oil to North Korea. Contrary to Bush's claim, it was not the case of the US cutting off oil because of the 'nuclear' problem.

Is is possible that Bush had failed to predict that North Korea would crank up its nuclear facilities in response to his oil cutoff? No, the Bush administration had fully expected this North Korean move. Had Bush & Co. foreseen the collapse of the 1994 Agreed Framework because of the oil cutoff and the North Korean reaction? Of course, they had indeed anticipated the collapse.

Why did Bush force the collapse of the agreement and risk the dangers of a nuclear war or proliferation of WMD? The United States must choose either its policy of stopping the spread of WMD or amending its anti-DPRK policy, and it was leaning toward opting for the former option. Why did Bush opt to take his anti-DPRK policy to a higher level with the nuclear card? Does Bush want a war with North Korea? The fact that the United States cannot start a war in Korea has been well established during the Clinton administration and the situation has not changed. If it is not a war, then what does Bush expect to gain by abrogating the 1994 agreement?

On the surface, it appears that Bush is trying to stir up more hostility between the United States and North Korea, but the truth of the matter is Bush's true intention lies elsewhere. Bush is stoking the fire not to blow it into a wild forest fire but in order to achieve an ulterior motive. Bush's true intention is to replace Clinton's agreement with North Korea with his own agreement. The 1994 Agreement, even if fully it had been followed by both sides, offered little to Bush, and so, Bush made a meticulous plan to kill the Agreement. The so-called 'nuclear' problem was a ruse to cover his true intentions. Bush & Co have concluded that the 1994 Agreement would not guarantee nuclear-free Korea and a new agreement that will enforce nuclear-free Korea has to be negotiated.

On the other hand, North Korea was not happy with the 1994 Agreement, either. The agreement would do little for the peaceful unification of Korea. North Korea saw that Bush would not abide by the Agreement and was in agreement with Bush on the need to negotiate a new agreement. The collapse of the 1994 agreement was a necessary birth pain of a new agreement of 2003.

II. What would be in the 2003 agreement?

Bush would want an iron-tight clause that will prevent nuclear proliferation. The US dominance in the world depends on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and nuclear proliferation in Korea will shake the very foundation of the US "super-power" status. Bush realizes that he has to pay a high price for North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korea would want the new agreement to include clauses that will be conducive to Korea's unification. The leaders of North and South Koreas had declared on June 15, 2000 that they would work for peaceful unification of Korea by the Korean people themselves with no interference by any foreign powers. North Korea would want the new agreement to eliminate potentials for military confrontations and all other hindrances to the peaceful reunification of Korea.

In order to eliminate potential military conflicts, North Korea would want a peace treaty with the United States to replace the Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. Once a peace treaty is signed, North Korea would want US troops to get out of Korea. The 50-year old Armistice Agreement became obsolete decades ago but the United States clings to it in order to justify its continued occupation of South Korea and maintain its bases to mount preemptive strikes on North Korea.

North and South have agreed on non-aggression in the June 15th Pyongyang Declaration and considerable advances have been made in North-South reconciliation and cooperation since then. Inter-Korea trade is on the rise and more and more Koreans want peace, not war. Today, the danger of a war comes from North Korea-US military confrontations - and not from North-South confrontation. It is the United States that threatens war in Korea.

The new agreement of 2003 must address the basic problems on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea must meet Bush's nuclear non-proliferation demands and Bush must stop interfering in the internal affairs of the Korean people.

III. Can the basic US-DPRK problems be resolved?

The only way to resolve the US-DPRK problems is for the two parties to talk directly. The new talk should lead to a non-aggression pact between the United States and North Korea, which would require participation by high-ranking officials. When Bush raised the issue of North Korea's nuclear problem, North Korea countered by proposing a high-level negotiation talk for a non-aggression pact.

At the October 2002 US-DPRK talk held in Pyongyang, North Korea's agenda included a non-aggression pact, peace treaty, lifting of economic embargo, and Bush's visit to Pyongyang for an US-DPRK summit. An US-DPRK non-aggression pact is the centerpiece in smoothing out the US-DPRK friction. Signing the pact will pave the path for Bush to travel to Pyongyang and kiss and make up with Kim Jong Il.

The Bush administration refuses to talk to North Korea unless it scraps its nuclear weapons first. Such a demand is logically and realistically contradictory. The primary purpose of negotiating with North Korea is to talk it into abandoning its nuclear program. If so, why would North Korea give up its nuclear program before the negotiation? North Korea's nuclear 'problem' can only be resolved at a negotiation table. It will be a grave miscalculation for Bush to believe that it can be solved by military force or economic sanctions. Bush is most likely well aware of this fact. Bush should stop wasting time yapping about North Korea's 'nuclear problem' and instead, try to solve the 'problem' by sitting down with the 'devils' face to face. Solving the 'problem' soon will benefit the United States.

It is important to note that the fundamental problems that divide the United States and North Korea are basically the problems that divide the United States and Korea in general. The peaceful unification of Korea by the Korean people themselves is the universal desire of the Korean people. On the other hand, maintaining nuclear non-proliferation is critical to Bush in sustaining Pax Americana. Kim Jong Il wants to resolve these two issues in a single stroke in a face-to-face meeting with Bush in Pyongyang.

Bush has no other choice but to accept Kim Jong Il's offer - if the United States is to remain the dominant power in the world affairs. Lifting the US hostility toward North Korea that has kept Korea divided for more than half a century is the price Bush has to pay for North Korea's nuclear program.

Of course, the negotiation will take some time. A Bush-Kim summit will require lengthy negotiations with many ups and downs. Furthermore, Korea will not be reunited right away even if the US-DPRK peace pact is signed. As long as South Korea is dominated by anti-unification, pro-US Uncle Toms, Korea will remain divided, and these powers will do all they can to keep Korea divided. But the Korean people will overcome the anti-unification forces and Korea will be reunited sooner or later. During the presidential election of 2002, the Democratic Labor Party, representing the voters who desire unification and self-determination, received about 10% of the votes cast. It is expected that this new political party will grow rapidly in the coming years.

IV. What to expect from Roh Moo Hyun's government

The presidential election of 2002, with the 'nuclear crisis' and the 'candlelight marches', was quite unlike the previous elections in South Korea. First of all, the massive candlelight march around the US Embassy in Seoul is a clear sign of mounting anti-US sentiment in South Korea. The 2002 election was held amidst a mounting anti-US movement. The anti-US sentiment worked against Lee Hoe Chang, Roh's pro-US opponent. The voters deemed that Roh would be more nationalistic and much less subservient to the United States - the lesser of two evils.

Unfortunately, Roh's administration is expected to follow the same pro-US line of Kim Dae Jung's administration. It will be almost impossible for Roh to be free himself from pro-US toadyism so prevalent in South Korea. The anti-US sentiment in South Korea is not a transient phenomenon: it will persist and expand, and Roh will attempt to suppress it as all other governments before him have done. The anti-US and pro-Korea candlelight movement will continue in spite of Roh's efforts to suppress it, and will grow into pan-Korean torch movement. The US government will lean heavily on Roh to put down anti-US activities and the Korean people will see Roh's true color, a loyal servant of the United States.

Secondly, the 2002 election was held amidst North Korea's "nuclear crisis". But the election was not affected by the crisis at all. Neither the illegal US seizure of a North Korean freighter, the Sosan-ho, in international waters just before the election nor North Korea's announcement that it would restart its nuclear facilities mothballed since 1994 had helped Lee Hoe Chang, a conservative anti-North hawk. This indicates that the main danger of war in Korea comes from Bush's antagonism toward North Korea and not from North-South hostility. The voters in South Korea are well aware of this fact.

In order to lessen the danger of war in Korea, the US must change its anti-DPRK policy and the anti-DPRK forces led by the Grand National Party in South Korea must change their attitude toward North Korea. The South Korean people believed that Roh's Democratic Party would be more beneficial to Korea. Roh is likely to follow through with his campaign promise of meeting Kim Jong Il for the second North-South summit and implement his 'own' North Korea policy. However, Roh's North Korea policy will be dictated by the United States because Roh has neither the ability nor the will to stand up against the United States.

Thirdly, the 2002 election saw the emergence of a new political powers in South Korea. The people of South Korea want self-determination, democracy, and unification. Only the progressive Democratic Labor Party can deliver these three items to the Korean people. During the past 50 years, there have been attempts to form progressive political parties in South Korea but few have succeeded in getting massive grassroots support. The Democratic Labor Party received substantial votes in the 2002 election, in spite of the fact that the Party was still in its infancy.

Five years ago, the people of South Korea had great expectations of Kim Dae Jung's government. They expected Kim to implement reforms. But Kim Dae Jung let the people down and has accomplished precious little in the way of reforms. Roh has promised that he will implement the reforms promised by Kim Dae Jung, but the people of South Korea will learn that Roh's 'reforms' will fall short of their expectations and tangent from Korea's national interests. The people of South Korea was deceived by Kim Dae Jung for five years and, it is likely that, they will be deceived by Roh Moo Hyun for another five years. Such is the tragic fate of the South Korea people.

The people of South Korea will not remain idle and let pro-US politicos run their lives forever, but they will rally to new political leaders who put Korea above all else and truly represent the will of the Korean people. The Korean people will become free if and only if they elect their own man into the Blue House and fill the National Assembly with people who represent the Korean people, not any foreign power

* Korea WebWeekly is an independent and non-partisan website that focuses on Korean history, culture, economy, politics, and the military. Its views do not represent those of AFAR.

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