US looks within, Pyongyang looks to war
By Eli Clifton
WASHINGTON - The administration of United States President Barack Obama should
implement more effective policies to prevent North Korea from proliferating its
weapons technologies and pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to
denuclearize, said a report released on Tuesday in Washington.
The influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report called on the White
House to back up its rhetoric of denouncing North Korea's weapons program with
actions to change Pyongyang's behavior and ensure stability in the region.
At the top of the authors' recommendations was a strong endorsement of the
six-party talks on the North's nuclear program - which include the United
States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and North Korea - and a call for the
administration to create a better understanding between the US and China about
shared interests in creating a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
The report acknowledges that fundamental issues of distrust between the US and
China, particularly China's suspicion about US strategic interests in the
region, must be overcome for the two countries to cooperate more effectively in
preventing North Korea from continuing its nuclear weapons program.
Distrust between Beijing and Washington emerged as a stumbling block after
North Korea's suspected involvement in the sinking in March of the Cheonan,
a South Korean warship, with the loss of 46 sailors.
While most countries accepted the findings of a South Korean investigation that
concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack, Beijing was careful
to avoid an explicit denunciation of its ally. Chinese Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao, however, did make a public statement that China "will not protect" the
perpetrators of the attack.
During a rare press conference on Tuesday in New York, North Korean ambassador
to the United Nations Sin Son-ho dismissed the investigation as "a complete
fabrication". He said any UN Security Council action over the sinking would
have a direct military response.
"A war may break out any time ... Our people and army will smash our aggressors
with merciless counter-reaction if they dare to provoke us despite our repeated
demands and warnings," he said.
Repeating an earlier demand, Sin said Pyongyang must be allowed to send its own
investigation crew to the site of the Cheonan sinking. His comments came
a day after North and South gave their versions of events to the UN in separate
hearings. The likely obstacles to any Security Council moves to censure
Pyongyang over the Cheonan would be China and Russia, though experts in
Washington say China's influence over North Korea might be overestimated.
"[China's influence over North Korea] has been an illusionary creature we've
manufactured here in Washington. [We're told] it has simultaneously an enormous
amount of influence in North Korea and is willing to follow up on that
influence at our suggestion," John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in
Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Inter Press Service.
"Such a creature doesn't exist," he said. "It would be nice from the point of
view of the Pentagon and the State Department, but it isn't true. China doesn't
have that degree of influence and where it does have influence it is reluctant
to use it to achieve US ends."
The CFR report emphasized that greater US-led, regional cooperation would be
necessary to deal with any host of scenarios which could occur on the Korean
To best address North Korea's continuing nuclear challenge,
the United States needs to provide political leadership in cooperation with
regional counterparts to roll back North Korea's nuclear development,
coordinate actions designed to contain the spillover effects of possible North
Korean instability while insisting that North Korea give up its destabilizing
course of action, and affirm that one prerequisite to a normal US-DPRK
[Democratic People's Republic of Korea] relationship is a denuclearized North
The task force that authored the report, chaired by
Charles "Jack" Pritchard, former ambassador and special envoy for negotiations
with North Korea, and retired four-star general John H Tilelli, put the highest
priority on the ongoing US role in limiting the proliferation of North Korean
Reports have suggested that North Korea has exported technology to Syria, Libya
and Myanmar but regime instability - a growing concern as Kim Jong-Il's health
remains uncertain - could lead to a situation where the leadership loses
control of its weapon technology or chooses to sell technology to the highest
bidder. (See Myanmar's
nuclear bombshell Asia Times Online, June 5, 2010.)
Working toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and curbing Pyongyang's
development of further weapons should also be at the top of the US agenda,
according to the authors.
Following these policy challenges, the CFR listed planning for contingencies of
regime instability, and promoting engagement and improving the situation for
North Korean people as important policy objectives.
"The task force finds that the efforts taken thus far by the United States and
its partners are insufficient to fully prevent North Korea's onward or vertical
proliferation or to roll back its nuclear program. The United States must seek
to resolve rather than simply manage the challenge posed by a nuclear North
Korea. Resolving these issues would also allow the implementation of an
effective US humanitarian and human-rights policy toward North Korea," the
report's authors concluded.
But an attempt by the Barack Obama administration to engage North Korea on a
wider range of issues than denuclearization or the sinking of the Cheonan
would have to be carefully orchestrated to protect the White House from attacks
by its Republican opponents.
"Obama doesn't want to expose himself to the ridicule of Republicans. But that
aside, if it is difficult for the administration to engage in direct
interactions with North Korea, then it can at least encourage other actors to
move forward," said Feffer.
"We have some humanitarian organizations involved in North Korea and we have
some other initiatives that could go forward at the cultural level. The Obama
administration could green-light those. It's at times like these that we need
these kinds of connections," he continued.
(Inter Press Service with additional editing by Asia Times Online.)