The most promising route to resolve the worsening nuclear crisis in Northeast Asia is for Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing to pursue a
grand bargain with Pyongyang. These governments need to recognize that
North Korean economic atrophy, caused largely by North Korea’s excessive
conventional military force as well as its failed command-economy system, is
at the core of the nuclear crisis and that curing the latter can only be done
by recognizing the underlying disease. This grand bargain should be big and
bold in scope, addressing the underlying problem while providing bigger and
better carrots with the actual potential to entice, together with tough demands
on North Korea that go well beyond the nuclear issue. In this comprehensive
way, policymakers would provide a road map for the vital and
ultimate goal of denuclearizing North Korea. Through the stages of implementation,
each side would retain leverage over the other as aid would be
provided gradually to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
while the DPRK would cut or eliminate its weapons and reform its economy
over time, thus reassuring each side that it was not being hoodwinked.
The Benefits of Thinking Big
North Korea is likely to find a broad plan tough and demanding. Such a plan
would result in major changes in DPRK security policy as well as its economy
and even, to some extent, aspects of domestic policy such as human rights.
Yet, such broad road maps are often useful. If the parties lay them out clearly and commit to them early in the process—even if implementation occurs over
time—they can help countries on both sides focus on the potentially substantial
benefits of a fruitful diplomatic process, thus reducing the odds that negotiations
get bogged down in pursuit of marginal advantages on specific issues.
Specific pledges can also help countries verify each other’s commitment to actual
results and thus enhance confidence.
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