Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kissinger on North Korea

Henry Kissinger is a very busy and influential man. His company - Kissinger Associates - has employed many of America's security top. And he himself occassionally writes about hot international issues. For example on North Korea (NK) he has written recently this and this.

The older piece (from 8 june) looks hopelessly outdated as it claims that the NK doesn't want to negotiate as it wants to look strong at a time of succession. Outdated because NK nowadays is prepared to negotiate. It makes one wonder why Kissinger made such a mistake. I think it was because he hadn't looked at the US side of the deal. NK didn't want to negotiate because the US had nothing to offer. The opening came after the US and South Korea had declared that they were working on a financial support package for NK.

Kissinger is more to the point when he states that the US needs to coordinate better with NK's neighbours, specially China. I like it that he writes that the US needs to agree with China on what should be done when the NK regime might fall. The Chinese are worried about that so there is a need for a good plan.

The newer piece (from 9 august) had blackmail in the title and as such it nicely connects the release of the journalists with the nuclear question - both of which are seen as NK blackmail. Kissinger describes the risk of Bill Clinton's trip as that it "will enable Kim Jong-il to convey to North Korea, and perhaps to other countries, that his country is being accepted into the international community — the precise opposite of what the U.S. secretary of state has defined as the goal of U.S. policy until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program."

Here I disagree with Kissinger. There is nothing wrong with showing NK and the world that the existence of the NK regime is accepted. It looks as if Kissinger has been stuck in the 1970s and has missed the recent "regime change" mania in the US. Telling NK that it is not accepted no longer means that they will be put in a similar position as South Africa before 1990. It means that they are ripe for a "regime change". Given this context it is not good to tell NK that it is not accepted as it will drive them towards nuclear armament.

Kissinger continues on the issue of the two (the US and NK) or six party (with China, Russia, South Korea and Japan) negotiations. NK wants two party negotiations. The US insists on six party negotiations. Kissinger finds that the only right position. I can only partially agree. I agree that the final agreement should involve all six parties. But negotiating with six parties is very cumbersome. And the US is likely to dictate the desired outcome on the nuclear and missile issues anyway. So I can't see anything wrong with two-party negotiations. But the US will need to put a lot of effort in coordinating with the other four countries.

That brings me to the last point. Kissinger is very negative on finding real solutions with NK. He writes: "North Korea may return to its well-established tactic of diverting us with the prospect of imminent breakthroughs. This is exactly what happened after the last Korean nuclear weapons test in 2006. Pyongyang undoubtedly will continue to seek to achieve de facto acceptance as a nuclear weapons state by endlessly protracted diplomacy.". Deep distrust.

What I am missing here is a long term view. It might run something like this: South Korea and the US will invest in NK and help to make the country prosporous. After 15 or 20 years the Kim clan will open the country to democracy. As a rich business clan they will stay influential, but they will no longer rule the country. It may be awkward at first to discuss such a scenario, but one of the reasons that the negotiations always go wrong is that the parties have different hopes for the long term: the NK regime hopes to rule forever and the US hopes that the regime will soon be toppled. This leads to distrust.

Also one has to take in account that relations may temporarily sour in the future. I think it was a mistake in 1994 to offer North Korea light water reactors. Such reactors would always be a source of suspicion. It is better to build dams and wind farms.

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