ICAS Special Contribution

No. 2000-0317-DHP

Testimony to the Committee on International Relations

Douglas H. Paal

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992
Email: icas@icasinc.org

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution with written permission to ICAS, of the testimony to the Committee on International Relations of Douglas H. Paal: sjk]

Asia Pacific Policy Center
Washington, D.C.
Before the


March 17, 2000

  1. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the invitation to present my views on policy toward North Korea before the full committee. To save your time, I have reduced my statement to a series of points on the subject.

  2. Current U.S. policy toward North Korea remains a distasteful exercise in dealing with an obnoxious and threatening regime. With little to no consultation with the Congress, the Administration reached the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994. Since then the Congress has been forced to choose between overturning a U.S. international obligation, which in principle would be harmful to the United States, and voting taxpayer money for use by a despicable elite in Pyongyang.

  3. You and your colleagues have tried to steer a course between these alternatives, and have succeeded to a limited extent in conditioning and monitoring the flow of food and heavy fuel oil to North Korea. You have also succeeded in pressing the Administration to organize a more comprehensive effort, under the original direction of former Defense Secretary William Perry and now under Counselor Wendy Sherman.

  4. Prior to 1938, paying off adversaries to modify their behavior was a standard tool of diplomacy, known as "appeasement." After the vain effort to appease Hitler at Munich, the term fell into deep disrepute and became a loaded political charge when used. But one cannot escape the reality that today's U.S. policy toward North Korea is one of classic appeasement. The U.S. and other friendly nations are providing assistance to the North to modify its behavior.

  5. How successful has this approach been? In the short term, it appears to be a mixed result. The most likely source of full-scale plutonium production - the Yongbyon facility - has ceased operations, though not yet dismantled or intrusively inspected. The North has also momentarily ceased testing long range missiles, with a hint of willingness to enter a more formal moratorium.

  6. In the longer term, however, we will not know probably for at least four years whether the North has found another way to produce nuclear weapons at sites apart from Yongbyon. It stretches the mind to imagine that a key element of the Agreed Framework - satisfactory special inspections by the IAEA - will ever be intrusive enough in a secretive society like North Korea. Eighteen months to two years of inspections are likely to be required to meet a high standard of investigation. It will be an important question during that period whether the North will bend to the international community in order to get the critical components necessary for the light water reactors now under construction, or the international community will bend its standards to keep Pyongyang cooperative.

  7. Meanwhile, we have to assume that work on missile design and production continues apace in the North. The Rumsfeld Commission, initiated by the Congress over two years ago, showed that flight testing is much less critical to the development of a threatening missile capability in states like North Korea than was previously thought. Ground testing of components, computer modeling, and even flight testing in other countries are likely means for the North to continue to build its threat, whether or not it agrees to a moratorium. Based on the experiences of the past six years, one can well imagine the U.S. is organizing international assistance to the North to reward them for not testing what they may not really need to test.

  8. Before turning to the outlook for the future, I would like to note that I have great respect for the hard work and many frustrations of the civil servants who have had to work this set of problems with North Korea. They have labored under policy constraints that leave few options, all suboptimal. When the Agreed Framework was adopted the choices before the Administration were framed as either war or cooperation with Pyongyang. The absence of major conflict since then, despite repeated skirmishes, is of course an accomplishment for which the architects of the Agreed Framework claim credit. But war had been avoided on the Korean Peninsula since 1953, through effective deterrence. The cessation of long range missile tests and the arrest of the Yongbyon nuclear facility are two other outcomes of the Agreed Framework process, but as noted above, these are qualified if significant successes.

  9. The problem for the Congress and the next U.S. administration is that the Agreed Framework and Secretary Perry's efforts have effectively postponed the ultimate confrontations with North Korea over nuclear weapons and missiles, and they have yet to address the fundamentally more serious problem of conventional arms on the peninsula. As CINCPAC Admiral Dennis Blair noted in his testimony here two weeks ago, despite years of poor economic performance and large-scale international food aid, Pyongyang surprised observers with the largest winter military exercise in nearly a decade.

  10. Alliance requirements have also limited the room for the U.S. maneuver. The election of President Kim Dae Jong, with his strong commitment to win over or undermine North Korea through blandishments and economic assistance, has made it more difficult for any administration to take a hard line with the North. There may be some room, however, for a "good cop, bad cop" approach to Pyongyang, with the U.S. playing a heavier role. The preconditions already exist in the different emphasis Seoul and Washington give to weapons of mass destruction.

  11. Going forward, the next U.S. administration and Congress will need to rig for heavy weather. Sometime in the first year and a half of the next term, the IAEA will have to inspect at a level of intrusiveness that would be difficult in, say, Sweden, let alone North Korea. The Iraqi experience is a daunting premonition of the North Korean situation. The level of political support for President Kim Dae Jong's approach to the North also appears to be diminishing in South Korea, as the economy there returns to health and the dividends of his "sunshine policy" remain lean.

  12. The next administration should expect to be tested in a confrontation engineered by the North, as Presidents Clinton and Kim Young Sam were in 1993, with Pyongyang's threat to leave the Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA. I fully expect Pyongyang to try to sweeten the deal or reduce its costs by confronting the U.S. and Korean leaderships again with a choice between confrontation and cooperation, or classic appeasement. It will be up to the new team to fashion an alternative to these choices if we are to resolve our concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear, missile and conventional weapon threats. Thank you.

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