Saturday, June 10, 2006

More on the Seoul - Washington Forum

I have now summarised Session II. The Six-Party Talks: Moving Forward of the Seoul - Washington Forum held in Washington DC in early May. From the papers I am judging this was quite a corker of a session with speakers having polarised views on the six-party talks and what should be happening. This summary of papers also concludes day one of the two-day conference - half way!

Session II - The Six-Party Talks: Moving Forward

Chang Sun-Sup

Chairman of the Executive Board, Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization
The Unfinished Project: The Significance of the LWR Project

The title pretty much gives the argument away as the author outlines a history of the decline of the project and why it is important that it not be left to die. In the historical review, while not laying blame, he favours the perspective that North Korea, US and Japan were happy to let KEDO dwindle while South Korea fought valiantly for its survival. The trio of countries did not let it flounder without cause however, and he runs through events that prompted these countries to withdrawal their support. In the US, the lack of North Korean cooperation and announcement by North Korea of their HEU program was pretty much an end to their support, while for Japan the whole 1998 test missile and abductees issue curbed their enthusiasm.

He goes on to point out that good things have come from the LWR project despite its failure. The interaction between South and North Korean workers and North Korea's exposure to South Korean technology is viewed as a plus regardless of the projects ultimate lack of progress. And that given the work already done and the impasse in the current six-party talks there may yet be a way for the LWR project to be resuscitated.

The weakness of the paper is in the lack of footnotes or supporting information that would more directly show how South Korea struggled to keep KEDO alive as the US and Japan were withdrawing. Speaking as someone from KEDO who has direct involvement in the project, I think, does give him some freedom to explain events from his own view in the thick of things rather than relying on other sources, but not in explaining how fluctuations in the international political environment influenced, and was affected by, policy changes.

David Asher
Adjunct Research Staff Member, Institute for Defense Analyses
The Illicit Activities of the Kim Jong-Il Regime

This paper covers the illicit activities of counterfeit currency, drug smuggling, weapons trade, and smuggling of sanctioned items. There is quite a bit of interesting information about North Korea's (alleged) illicit activities in these different areas, especially the Royal Charm operation. To combat these threats, the US adopted the Illicit Activities Operation (IAI), which sounds like the policy to curb and intercept suspected DPRK trades/smuggling. The argument being that these efforts run parallel (and complement?) the six-party talks by showing the DPRK that US won't stand for such nonsense. The paper ends with some policy implications for the US: a) continue the IAI crackdown on DPRK's illicit activities; b) closer monitoring and interception where necessary of DPRK boats to prevent proliferation and weapons sales; c) strong law enforcement against DPRK should strangle their economy and make them more pliable; so incentives should not be aimed at propping at the existing dodgey economy; d) DPRK should shift direction toward a 'bold switchover' and e) US should be ready to provide full support to assist North Korea's new approach.

Although it is not very clear I think the argument is that the Six-party talks must work in within a broader framework of dealing with North Korea, which includes strict law enforcement of illicit activities. In the paper the six-party talks are not really mentioned which is disappointing given the topic of the session. I also think that policy implication (d) is not for the US and should not have been mentioned in that context. And the question remains: can a crack-down on illicit activities work in parallel with the six-party talks; is the impact negative, positive or neutral. This paper clearly saw it as positive.

Paik Haksoon
Director of Inter-Korean Relations Studies Program, The Sejong Institute; Executive Director, Seoul-Washington Forum
What is to be done for the North Korean Nuclear Resolution?

This is a rather provocative paper. The main assessment seems to be figuring out who is to blame for the current lack of progress. The blame rests squarely on the US while poor South Korea is seen as the one who clearly has the most to lose by a nuclear North Korea:
Other six-party talks participant states appear to have been disillusioned by now at the lack of United States' political will, ability, and leadership in achieving nonproliferation of North Korean nuclear weapons and weapons programs. They are questioning the assumption of the U.S. policy that joint pressure on North Korea will make North Korea give in and the validity of the U.S. judgment that the reason North Korea has not surrendered until now is just because there has not been enough pressure on North Korea in one coherent voice. South Korea and China demand that the United States exercise flexibility. They are asking where U.S. leadership is.
He sees that US inflexibility limits the options available to the parties to induce North Korea to freeze, or dismantle, their nuclear program.

He clearly sees the sanctions as being negative. In noting the joint statement in late 2005, the author blames sanctions (probably that whole IAI thing) as squandering any progress made on the diplomatic front. The way forward is to find incentives that will get North Korea to cooperate, not to wear them down. The idea of collectively putting pressure on North Korea is viewed as a bad one. He argues that while the US calls for more pressure and more time for the pressure to take effect on North Korea they have more time to build up their weapon’s programme.

In a bit of switch, the US is seen as being the country adopting a muddle-through policy and as being too burdened by ideological constraints:
[A] problem associated with the United States' muddling-through policy applied to the North Korean nuclear problem when it is pursued in the absence of any effective problem-solving means has to do with the fact that the neoconservatives and ultra rights in Washington, D.C. are disproportionately under the heavy influence of their ideological and philosophical thrust and impulse in dealing with the practical policy issues. This ideology-laden policy making does not help them fully grasp the fundamentals of how real politics and policy making are conducted in the North Korean political system. The U.S. policy toward North Korea in the North Korean nuclear problem is a case of an excess of ideology and ignorance combined.
He concludes by offering some policy recommendations: a) provide North Korea with security assurances and think more seriously about a policy that includes carrots instead of only sticks; b) US should engage in bi-lateral talks with DPRK either separate or within the six-party framework; c) North Korea should be offered a freeze option immediately; d) There should be more South-North Summits and US-North Summits; e) South Korea should seek to engage in bi-lateral talks with the North on the nuclear issue unless US can start to show more flexibility; f) South Korea and US should state clearly their policy goals vis-a-vis North Korea and if they are not a match, they should pursue their separate paths.

Just as an aside, in the article he describes James Kelly's visit to North Korea as POMPOUS. Its comments and words like that that makes reading these papers so worthwhile. I know what that word means but I have no idea its purpose in this context. If I was Kelly I’d be flattered.

Leon Sigal
Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project, Social Science Research Council
An Instinct for the Capillaries

This paper, also provocative, sees the US policy as misguided and useless. Like the previous paper he advocates bi-lateral discussions and views the sanctions are negative. He argues that the profits from illicit activities are exaggerated and that the increase in trade from South Korea and China is further diminishing its overall worth to the regime. Therefore, the main work of the IAI is to prevent any success through negotiations rather than to squeeze the North.

He also argues strongly against the US hardline policy advocating no bi-lateral interaction with North Korea.
For five years [the US] have huffed and puffed but failed to blow Kim Jong-il's house down. Instead, all their hot air has succeeded only in thawing North Korea's frozen plutonium program.
He blames hardliners in the US for taking options and, like the previous paper, recommend that the US first settle for a freeze before trying to make further progress.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui