Monday, May 07, 2007

Does this record ever end?

As One Free Korea likes to point out - we are still waiting for North Korea to shut down its nuclear plant and invite the IAEA inspectors in. The longer this drags on we can expect to revert to the endless articles arguing between diplomacy versus hardliners. At what stage should the US declare the negotiations a failure and what policy should the US adopt in response. To answer such a big question would take more time than my lazy fingers could be bothered typing. So I'll just sum up some random ideas:

The core of the matter, as I see it, lies in the absence of any other feasible option. Talks are likely to stall, fail, be rejuvenated, breakthrough, progress, stall, fail in an seemingly endless cycle. I see that we are currently at 'stall' stage of the broken record of DPRK nuclear negotiations. Its not a good record, its not desirable for anyone, but it is really better than anything else.

The record, though broken, is familiar and somewhat stable. As long as both US and DPRK (and the other parties) are seen to be working toward an eventual change of circumstance then the chance of accidental or intended conflict is reduced. In this way, the agreement never actually has to reach its full potential. In fact, its main job is simply to prevent a worse situation rather than to herald in a better situation. The kind of change that is desired of DPRK cannot be achieved by resolving the nuclear crisis - it is resolved when the DPRK no longer exists.

The talks are a good option for both sides. The DPRK, while not wanting to give up its nuclear program, can still oil and food for promising to do so. Even though we are all fairly certain by now that the DPRK will not give up the nuclear program. In return the US is seen to be actively trying to engage and work with the DPRK to find a peaceful resolution. In addition to avoiding a rise in hostility it also helps the US look less jingoistic than it has in other notable foreign policy areas. Nobody really 'benefits' but nobody really 'loses' either - it just goes on and on and on.

So what happens? The record plays and we wait. We wait for something, outside the talks, that is actually going to disturb the status quo; hopefully for the better. I hope that somehow the regime will implode with minimal blood loss and ample warning to alert an appropriate policy response. Or that the North Korean people will get a clue and rise up against the regime, or that a power struggle in the top ranks will dispose of the Kim dynasty and enter a new period of reform/or questioning of the part of the people, or that China decides to allow North Korean asylum-seekers to be processed provoking a much needed channel of 'exit', etc, etc.

The nuclear crisis cannot be solved as long as DPRK exists but I don't see that the US has the ability (other than unacceptable military power) to affect the kind of change needed. It has to come from within. Especially given the very sensitive geo-political situation crowded by so many big powers wanting to make sure the end result suits their own national interest in that area. In the meantime, we are stuck listening to the record one more time.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui