Rumsfeld Is Right on the Money

After a winter in which he distinguished himself, perhaps more on the battlefield than in the world’s diplomatic halls, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has just uttered a very constructive and convincing political statement:North Korea needs a market economy, not only to solve our security problems, but to improve the lot of its own people.

Now, the Bush administration needs a strategy for accomplishing this objective. Such an approach could also have the benefit of bridging the gap dividing South Korea from the United States, a gap evidenced in recent conversations between President Bush and President Roh.

The Bush administration has been correct in its assertion to date that the United States must adopt a tough policy towards North Korea. But it is wrong in its apparent assumptions that a tough policy requires a specific type of diplomatic forum for negotiations and that a tough policy precludes offering Pyongyang concrete incentives to change.The right incentives are not bribes; they are catalysts to reform.

In early 2001, the Bush administration stated that North Korea would need to reduce its threatening conventional force posture if it wished more aid and diplomatic relations with the United States.But he has given no concrete elaboration of the character of this proposed approach.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs constitute the most immediate threat to the interests of the United States.But they are hardly the only issue. North Korea’s conventional forces are unacceptably large and dangerous.They may pose the greatest threat to South Korea of any weapons in the DPRK inventory.They could produce tens of thousands of casualties in Seoul through artillery attack alone. Because keeping the North Korean conventional forces funded requires approximately 20-25 percent of the country’s feeble gross domestic product, any policy leaving them intact will preclude hope for gradual economic reform in the North—and make future crises almost inevitable, as Pyongyang seeks more ways to bilk the international community for desperately needed funds.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington should propose a grand diplomatic bargain—or at least a broad, long-term road map for future relations—to Pyongyang. It would make a number of demands on North Korea:

1. Verifiably end all of its nuclear programs. This would require on-site inspections anywhere, and with little notice, of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities, as well as any suspicious sites.It would also restore continuous monitoring equipment at North Korea’s plutonium facilities 2. Reaffirm and accelerate its commitment to allow its spent fuel rods to be taken out of the country, and again commit to eliminate whatever nuclear weapons it now has 3. Stop selling missiles abroad and ban all flight testing and further production of medium-range and longer-range missiles (including the No Dong and Taepo Dong systems) 4. Let all Japanese kidnapping victims and their families leave North Korea—not just the five victims allowed to visit Japan to date or the 13 acknowledged as having been seized by Pyongyang. More broadly, begin a human rights dialogue with the outside world akin to what China has tolerated in recent years, without specific initial demands, but with the clear expectation of gradual reforms in internal human rights practices 5. Verifiably eliminate its chemical weapons 6. Make large (though not unilateral) cuts in conventional forces, as well as reductions in forward-deployed military capabilities near the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

As negotiations began, South Korea, Japan and the United States, as well as other interested parties such as China, would keep food aid flowing and resume fuel oil shipments.North Korea would freeze all nuclear activities immediately as well.Washington would promise not to attack Pyongyang as long as its nuclear activities remained frozen and talks continued.

If the North Koreans accepted the above package, the United States would simultaneously offer a non-aggression pledge, sign a peace treaty and open up diplomatic relations.The allies would also begin to provide large amounts of economic aid. Japan is eventually expected to provide up to $10 billion as a form of compensation for its colonization of North Korea in the first half of the twentieth century. But other countries, including the United States, would have to increase assistance as well, and China would have to provide much of the technical assistance given its experience in building enterprise zones within a command economy.

An additional advantage of trying this broad road map for future relations with North Korea is that it could help the United States implement a hardline policy if truly necessary.Regional support for such an option, especially critical in regard to South Korea and China, might be more obtainable if Seoul and Beijing recognized that other options had been tried and failed.But it is premature to fall back on that undesirable approach today.