ICAS     Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc

The ICAS Lectures

No. 2000-1013-RAM

The U.S. Agenda in Asia:
Korean Peninsula Issues and Competing Priorities

Robert A. Manning

ICAS Fall Symposium
economic, international relations and security issues
Washington D. C.
October 13, 2000

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Biographic Sketch: Robert A. Manning


The U.S. Agenda in Asia:
Korean Peninsula Issues and Competing Priorities

Robert A. Manning
Senior Fellow, Director of Asian Studies


At the beginning of this century, a weak, internally divided Kingdom of Korea became the arena for fierce geopolitical rivalry among Imperial Japan, Russia, and China. This competition for Korean real estate led to the carving out of spheres of influence on the Peninsula. Ultimately, this resulted in the Japanese colonization of Korea following the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 and the earlier Sino-Japanese conflict. Korea's modern history, as again underscored by Korean War of 1950-53, testifies to the enduring reality of the Peninsula as the intersection of great power interests.

Ironically, as we enter the 21st century, we now are likely to see a reversal of such fortune: the reunification of Korea is likely to be a catalytic force reshaping major power relations both in regard to Korea and more broadly in Northeast Asia. The resolution of the Korea question will likely force a shift from respective hedging strategies seen across the region to new diplomatic patterns and political configurations that will shape the region into the mid-21st century. For the U.S. , the Korean Peninsula and the China-Taiwan issue are the two flashpoints which hold the potential to erupt into major conflict engulfing great powers. They both also hold the potential to transform the geopolitical landscape of East Asia.

That contextual backdrop is a good way to approach the remarkable series of mind-boggling events in Korea that have occurred since last June which have plunged diplomacy into uncharted territory. Most recently, the new reality of the Korean Peninsula was punctuated by ROK President Kim Dae Jung receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time as the Vice Marshall Jo Myong Rok, perhaps the No.2 in North Korea made an unprecedented trip to Washington turning a page in US-DPRK relations and meeting with President Clinton. The late October visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Albright and hints of a Clinton visit with Kim Jong Il to follow further add the political rollercoaster of diplomacy.

Yet for all the meetings, the historic June 2000 North-South summit, the high hopes and grand pledges of the June 2000 North-South Summit, and now, of the Joint Comunique on Oct.12 at the end of Gen.Jo's visit have yielded to the difficult task and tortoise-like pace of undoing five decades of distrust and confrontation. The new dynamic of North-South interaction is proceeding gradually -- and very unevenly -- in multiple spheres -- economic, social, political and military. Call it "creeping reconciliation." Radical change, be it economic opening and reform, people-to-people exchanges, arms reductions, or resolution of the weapons of mass destruction problem, appears unlikely in the near-term. But so to is reversion in the near future to the familiar mode of confrontation and provocation.

From the reality and tone of the Summit, the family exchanges, burgeoning economic activity, the beginnings of institutionalized new North-South mechanisms, this effort at national reconciliation is unprecedented and unlike previous aborted efforts of 1972 and again in 1991-92, appears to be the beginning of a new, albeit still fragile, stage in North-South relations. As this process unfolds over the remaining two years of Kim Dae Jung's tenure, the diplomacy of the Korea Question, indeed, of Northeast Asia may need to be revisited.

Indeed, the reality and promise of Korean reconciliation requires a rethinking of the entire approach to dealing with the North Korea problem pursued over the past decade from a diplomacy addressing the symptoms of the problem to one focused on addressing the root cause. Strategy and tactics of threat reduction measures should be conceptualized in this context. Since 1993, the centerpiece of diplomacy on the Korea question has been U.S.-North Korea bilateralism, focused initially on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and more recently extended to its delivery systems, ballistic missiles. As any substantial North-South dialogue was dormant until early 2000, only the symptoms of the North Korea problem could be addressed. Thus curbing -- or at least bounding -- nuclear and missile proliferation, reflected in the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 1999 missile test moratorium were the principal results of Korea-related diplomacy. This policy trajectory with North Korea, particularly Pyongyang's extracting maximum benefits for minimum concessions in playing out its "American card," culminated in the Perry review process, which required a price for continued cooperation. This, combined with the substantial good will and persistence of President Kim's "Sunshine policy" arguably helped create the circumstances leading to the North-South breakthrough. Now the U.S.-North Korea diplomacy appears to be playing catch-up with North-South diplomacy.

This paper argues that threat reduction should be viewed as integral to any genuine process of Korean reconciliation; is a key measure of Pyongyang's intentions; and must be organically connected to the larger political process as part of a loose roadmap. It then explores how Cold War experience with arms control may or may not be applicable or adapted to the particular circumstances of the Korean Peninsula in fashioning a strategy for arms control. Finally, it also explores the new challenges of integrating the North-South reconciliation agenda with larger regional security concerns among Northeast Asia actors, particularly the US-Korean alliance and to sustaining US-ROK-Japan trilateral policy coordination.

Kim's Grand Bargain

The strategic thread that goes through all the diplomatic fora -nuclear talks, missile talks, Four Party talks, and North-South reconciliation is the goal of threat reduction. In his historic Berlin speech, Kim Dae Jung suggested a Grand Bargain. Seoul, he said, "is making three important promises to Pyongyang - to guarantee their national security, assist in their economic recovery and actively support them in the international arena." In return, President Kim is asking the North to abandon once and for all armed provocation against the South, comply with previous pledges not to develop nuclear weapons and give up ambitions to develop long-range missiles. This bargain is part of a larger agenda delineated in the 1991-92 Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression and Exchanges and Cooperation, which Seoul rightly says remains the framework for the reconciliation process. 1

Thus far, the process has been front-loaded (e.g. Hyundai Mt.Kumgang tourist deal, ROK investment, 300,000 tons of fertilizer, 20,000 TV sets, 600,000 tons of grain, 1000 computers) disproportionately benefiting North Korea. It is arguable that such unilateral gestures are reasonable "start up" costs to create a political atmosphere and comfort-level for a beleaguered Pyongyang to take difficult steps. The question is whether and when the enterprise of national reconciliation will turn a profit - or at least break even. As yet, it is not clear that Seoul even has a "business plan" for a profitable venture. No less troubling is the danger that Seoul's generosity may reinforce flaws in U.S. diplomacy over the past seven years of rewarding bad behavior. There is a danger that the new flurry of top-level U.S. -North Korean diplomacy may be based on a North Korean perception that the US values "process" and therefore meetings with only minimum action of the North's part can continue to yield significant benefits.

Upon returning from Pyongyang triumphantly President Kim declared , "The danger of war is over." Yet the Summit's Joint Declaration, while including grandiose language about reunification, has no mention at all of tension-reduction or confidence-building mentions, or even reference to the 1991-92 accords. It is difficult to envision the two Koreas proceeding very far down the path toward unification without major reductions in armaments. Certainly there is no reluctance on the part of President Kim to pursue concrete threat reduction measures, indeed, it is a central element in his public policy. According to Korean government officials, it was Kim Jong Il's hesitation to commit to practical steps, or even to formally embrace the 1991-92 accords that led to the omission of any such references. 2

But less clear is how such military-related steps can become part of the fabric of reconciliation, particularly, turning the armistice into a peace treaty, and burgeoning economic cooperation. To sustain the process, President Kim must decide how to operationally define his key principle of reciprocity and Kim Jong Il must respond with concrete actions that demonstrate or reveal his intentions. Is the remarkable revolution in Pyongyang's style and tactics of dealing with the outside world also a strategic shift, an acceptance of peaceful coexistence as its best case future, and abandonment of its fantasies of reunification on Pyongyang's terms? It is not possible to read Chairman Kim's mind, nor to fathom the dynamics of decision-making in the closed system that is North Korea. The only way to answer this question is to test Kim Jong Il's sincerity. Realizing enough concrete progress over the next two years to sustain a domestic political consensus for the reconciliation process into the next Korean administration is a key challenge.

Reducing the threat of conflict has long been viewed as an integral component of North-South reconciliation efforts and should be an important measure of progress in the current rapprochement. As Lim Dong Won, one of chief architects of the current North-South process has argued, "it will be imperative to actualize arms control in order to achieve peaceful unification of the peninsula." 3 Both Pyongyang and Seoul have tabled several arms reduction proposals over the past two decades. 4 There are two broad categories of arms control, operational and structural. Operational refers to agreements regulating the operations of military forces (e.g. hotline, pre-notification of military exercises or large troop movements, incidents at sea accord), while structural arms control involves limiting or reducing quantities of weapons systems such as the START 1 and START 2 nuclear weapons cuts. The 1991-92 Reconciliation accords set an ambitious agenda of arms control, both operational and structural clearly modeled on the type of confidence-building and arms control measures employed by the US and USSR during the Cold War. It is worth recalling Article 12 of the agreement, as it underscores that there is no dearth of ideas in regard to the necessary means to achieve tension reduction:

"To abide by and guarantee non-aggression, the two parties shall create a South-North Joint Military Commission with three months of the effective date of this agreement. The said commission shall discuss and carry out steps to build military confidence and realize arms reduction, including the mutual notification and control of major movements of military units and exercises, the peaceful utilization of the Demilitarized Zone, exchanges of military personnel and information, phased reductions in armaments including the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and surprise attack capabilities, and verification thereof." 5

Given the level of distrust and confrontation that has characterized Pyongyang-Seoul relations for most of the past five decades, it should not be a surprise that no North-South arms control proposals have been implemented. The 38th parallel remains the most heavily armed border on this planet. Indeed, even as confrontation has receded since the 1999 West Sea clash, in the past year, Pyongyang has conducted its largest military exercises in a decade. It should be recalled that North Korean arms control proposals in the past have been characterized by a one-sided effort to reduce US-ROK operations and accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces; South Korean proposals have tended to focus on reducing the risk of surprise attack. 6

It is important to note that the very idea of engaging the DPRK uniformed military directly - in either inter-Korean diplomacy or in multilateral efforts -- appears particularly sensitive to Pyongyang. Throughout its expanding engagement with the outside world, it has carefully avoided allowing military participation in high-level policy dialogues since the 1991 accords. This has been conspicuous in the Four Party talks, where one might logically see a role for senior military participation in a discussion of the armistice and the negotiation of a peace treaty. This reticence to involve the DPRK military has also been a feature of U.S.-North Korean diplomacy, as well as of multilateral diplomacy. Against this background, the willingness of North Korea to begin Defense Minister level talks with Seoul appears a potentially important, if modest, step forward. Like the June Summit itself, the willingness to engage in policy-level Defense talks reflects at least a tactical shift if not a new confidence stemming from the consolidation of power on the part of Kim Jong il. A willingness to institutionalize defense talks by creating a joint military commission and to begin movement to adopt tension-reduction steps will be an initial measure of DPRK seriousness. The lack of results from the Cheju meeting beyond a vague commitment to cooperate and a willingness to continue meeting is less than inspiring. 7

Lessons from the Cold War Experience

Beyond the official proposals and counter-proposals (and agreements) for North-South tension reduction and arms control in recent years, there have been think tank and academic ideas ad nauseum. 8 Yet no significant North-South measures have been implemented in the face of sporadic and potentially destabilizing military events over the years - in the DMZ, captured North Korean spy subs, and most dramatically, the naval clash in the West Sea. These sorts of events would suggest a utility, if not an urgency, for operational measures to prevent escalation by miscalculation regardless of the political state of North-South relations. Even the reality of a half century of unyielding North-South confrontation does not fully explain the complete absence of any such measures. This North-South inertia also stands in contrast to the agreements - formal and informal resulting from U.S.-led diplomacy in regard to curbing the North Korean nuclear and missile threats over the past seven years.

Clearly, there are some circumstances in which Pyongyang has been willing to curb its threatening weapons acquisition policies and behaviors, if outside the framework of inter-Korean relations thus far. Does the breakthrough in inter-Korean diplomacy render the current situation ripe for tension reduction and arms control? To assess the possibilities it is useful to examine the experience and dynamics of Cold War arms control in Europe, particularly as previous arms reduction proposals by both sides and the agenda delineated in the 1991-92 accords follow the example of East-West mechanisms and formulas for confidence-building and arms control.

A detailed assessment of the European experience during the Cold War period is beyond the scope of this paper and has been exhaustively covered elsewhere. 9 But broadly, there are some important lessons to be drawn from a brief overview of the history of Cold War arms control and its offshoot, CSBMs (Confidence and Security-Building Measures). First, the basic purpose of arms control must be kept firmly in mind: to enhance stability, predictability and reduce the risk of war. Any steps to be considered must be measured against these fundamental objectives. During the Cold War, prior to 1987 the preponderance of operational and structural arms control accords were bilateral in nature, between the U.S. and USSR, the principal adversaries in a bipolar world. The initial Hot Line agreement, was reached in 1963. This was followed by a Nuclear Accident agreement, an Incidents at Sea Agreement, (which proved popular with both Navies, and the Helsinki Final Act in the early 1970s. At the same time during the 1970s the world saw the SALT I and SALT II nuclear treaties as well as the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Some of these agreements were realized during the short-lived period of d‚tente, where tensions were eased but the basic strategic competition, nuclear stand-off and rivalry remained. The salient features of the CSBM-type agreements were that at best, they offered a modicum of crisis stability, providing both sides some assurance against conflict by miscalculation or accident (hotline, Incidents at Sea). The arms control accords were essentially steps taken to set the parameters and rules of competition; to limit build-ups, not to build down. There were no nuclear reductions in this period. Nuclear arsenals grew to more than 30,000 warheads each, and strategic competition was manifested in the U.S. opening and entente with China, and proxy wars in the Third World. It should be recalled that for nearly two decades after their inception in the early 1970s the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks in Vienna staggered along with no results.

The nature of East-West arms control changed dramatically with the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev and the winding down of the Cold War. As the strategic competition ended, Germany reunified, the Warsaw Pact disbanded, and finally, as the Soviet Union itself disintegrated, the massive armaments that were artifacts of the Cold War lost their raison d'etre. Thus, the arms reductions that occurred from 1987-92 were qualitatively different than what was known as arms control previously. Suddenly, arms control meant radical cuts of both conventional and nuclear weapons, unprecedented intrusive verification regimes, and the elimination of entire categories of weapons. In 1991, then President Bush unilaterally removed tactical nuclear weapons on ships and in most theaters; Gorbachev then unilateral reciprocated absent any negotiations. These developments underscore Ronald Reagan's basic adage about arms control: we do not distrust each other because we are armed, we are armed because we distrust each other."

Once the strategic competition receded, it was possible in a relatively brief period to discard the massive amounts of military instruments that rivalry entailed. Beginning with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), and the Conventional Forces in Europe(CFE) and unprecedented transparency measures such as Open Skies and robust verification regime, a new post-confrontation European security system was created. If the START 1 and 2 treaties are implemented and the START 3 Treaty finalized and implemented, the U.S. and Russia will have reduced strategic nuclear arsenals by some 80%. It is important to note that the on-going destruction of nuclear warheads was not mandated by the treaty, but has occurred by mutual consent. The CFE agreement drastically reduced the number and deployments of five categories of military hardware: battle tanks, artillery armored combat vehicles, fixed-wing combat aircraft and helicopters. CFE required asymmetrical cuts to meet the goal of equal lower numbers of military equipment on both sides and stipulations where they could be deployed. The net result was the elimination of the possibility of surprise attack, providing several years warning time in the event of resurgent confrontation.

What lessons for Korea can be drawn from this European experience? Perhaps the most fundamental lesson is, with apologies to Clausewitz, arms control is politics by other means: it can not be considered outside the larger political context. Or to put it another way, it is the political/military situation that tends to determine the possibilities of arms control and not the converse: it is not cause, but effect. The possibilities of substantial arms reductions are most likely to exist in direct proportion to the degree that adversarial relations diminish. That is to say, no amount of "dialogue" or negotiated agreements can be expected to significantly reduce tensions if either party continues to doubt the intentions of the other. This was the case with Asia's one experience with multilateralism in the past century, the Washington Conference system in the 1920s and its ultimately futile efforts to curb a naval arms race. However, in an adversarial strategic environment, there still exists a rich menu of CBM's (if modest in substance) that can be useful to both sides to set limits on and rules of, competition, and to reduce the risk of miscalculation and/or accidental conflict.

Korea: Applying Cold War Lessons

More specifically, how can the lessons of East-West arms control be applied to Korea? Where do they fit into the broader canvas of reconciliation? Certainly, the sweeping arms reductions accompanying the burying of the Cold War and the prior measures devised to manage it offer examples of the mechanics of discarding as well as constraining the instruments of confrontation. If the current intentions embodied in the five-point June 15 joint statement accurately reflect a decision to end the strategic competition and gamesmanship, and embark on a course of cooperative relations, than the same logic that led to the sweeping arms cuts at the end of the Cold War would apply. But the Korean predicament is unique in several respects, not least the paucity of institutional arrangements to manage it. The asymmetry between South Korea, a successful, modern OECD state and North Korea, a failing, closed, militarized cult of personality, is stark by any measure. This asymmetry is heightened by the ROK alliance with the U.S., adding yet another complicating factor to any arms reduction strategy.

The Peninsula has gone overnight from a static confrontation to vague verbal commitments of peace and reconciliation with no reference to the military capacities of either side. Moreover, the pattern of North Korean behavior in regard to threat reduction over the past decade has been to conceive of arms control as either a device to gain unilateral advantage over the South, as evidenced in its 1988 and 1990 conventional force reduction proposals, or in the case of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, use them as bargaining chips to gain economic assistance - in a sense, additional reassurance -- that is key to its central objective of regime survival. 10 The previous DPRK proposals, for example, called for a three-phase reduction of troops with "corresponding reductions in weapons and paramilitary organizations") down to 400,000 in the first year, 250,000 the second, and to 100,000 two years later. In this scheme US troops would be withdrawn after the first phase. It also called for an end to "joint exercises" and for turning the DMZ into a peace zone. Pyongyang did call for on-site verification.

Discounting the transparently propagandistic character of the 1988 and 1990 proposals, it is worth noting the elements of Pyongyang's initiative that are consistent with a CFK arms reduction process. Indeed, it would not be unwise for the ROK to seek to build on the salient elements of the DPRK's own proposals as it seeks to fashion a contemporary arms control agenda. But based on the pattern of DPRK behavior over the past decade in regard to the nuclear and missile questions, assistance in stabilizing the regime (e.g. economic revival) will be an important motivating factor. Economic aid and investment is obviously a necessary component of any incentive structure designed to achieve substantive threat reduction.

There is a lack of strategic clarity about the sequencing of which aspects of the North Korean threat should be the priority targets of arms control. For the moment, the North Korean nuclear weapons program appears capped. While the focus of diplomacy has been on weapons of mass destruction, it must be kept in mind that Korea is one of the world's most explosive flashpoints mainly because of the enormous concentration of forward-based conventional military forces which could initiate conventional conflict with less than 24 hours warning time.

Official rhetoric from Seoul regularly emphasizes a linkage between progress on curbing the DPRK missile problem and North-South reconciliation. As ROK Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn stated recently, "without clearing the air of concerns that the U.S. has over North Korea's possible missile and other military threats, the process of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation cannot proceed." 11 Yet the focus of North-South tension reduction is likely to be in the conventional area, though U.S.-led missile diplomacy may continue. Any linkage would have to set the bar low enough (e.g. no missile tests) that lack of progress on the core problems of missile exports and developing new long-range missiles would not impede North-South diplomacy.

However, a breakthrough in conventional cuts would recast the WMD and tend to make it more manageable. It is quite likely that Pyongyang views its missile and nuclear capacity as its ultimate insurance policy and key to mutual deterrence. This would suggest the last thing it is willing to surrender would be its WMD capacity. Extrapolating from the Korean track record of unrealized confidence-building steps and arms reduction proposals and pledges and the success seen in Europe, a number of elements and principles necessary to threat reduction process suggest themselves:
  • the process should put great emphasis on conventional military forces and be conceived as both graduated in ambition and phased in implementation;
  • The objective should be to reduce and reconfigure Korean forces to expand warning time from hours to months, if not years, to eliminate the threat of surprise attack;
  • transparency measures to decrease the vulnerability of Seoul to attack through Chorwon and Munsan corridors, declaring the existence of 20 odd tunnels would be a valuable step;
  • the process should proceed roughly in parallel with the quantity and quality of ROK, Japanese and Western economic involvement in the North Korean economy - is it prudent to construct a four lane highway through the DMZ absent either reconfiguration or reduction in North Korean armored assault?;
  • initial efforts should stress implementation of a package of operational arms control measures; CFE-type - call it CFK -- mutual reductions are a far more complex process to conceptualize, not least, just attaining ample transparency to initiate discussion of the status of DPRK forces.
  • in principle, U.S. forces in Korea would likely need to be factored into a force balance equation. Though in practice only after massive DPRK reductions to a defensive posture should significant US ground force withdrawals be considered, interim steps such as deploying further South and even withdrawing most ground troops while leaving a command headquarters, a command and control infrastructure and prepositioned equipment (as the UIS has done in Kuwait) may be a useful bargaining chip.

There should be no illusions about the difficulty, even under the best of circumstances of realizing CFK radical cuts that would tend to make reconciliation nearly irreversible. Merely obtaining adequate exchanges of information to begin negotiations from a common set of facts will likely be a tortuous process. Reaching agreement on the sort of intrusive verification regime that deep cuts and defensively reconfigured forces would require could easily become a diplomatic nightmare. On the positive side, there is a longstanding familiarity with each side's order of battle, and a previously agreed arms control agenda that features all the major elements. On the negative side is the question of trust and credibility. This argues for a well-conceived multi-stage process with an initial two-track agenda: an immediate focus on operational arms control measures the only obstacle to which is the political will of North Korea. The well-known - and previous agreed upon menu of CBMs - can yield rapid results that do not compromise DPRK capacity for surprise attack. At the same time, the arduous, protracted task of conceiving the trade-offs in light of the huge disparity in numbers of tanks, APCs, combat planes, etc, where Pyongyang enjoys a quantitative advantage versus the enormous qualitative advantage enjoyed by the ROK could be initiated. 12

One frequent assumption in discussions of threat reduction is that a pull back of the forward-based DPRK heavy forces and hardened artillery deployed within 100 km of the DMZ. This goal has been embodied in previous ROK proposals. But given the enormous cost and difficulty of dismantling and the rebuilding entrenched DPRK positions, it would seem that if we really are on a trajectory of national reconciliation, the CFE approach would be more applicable: the bulk of agreed upon reductions would best be dismantled, not relocated.

In the category of "don'ts" is an idea occasionally floated by North Korea in recent years, one that has of late occasionally been echoed among some South Korea intellectuals, of transforming the role of U.S. forces in Korea. There are variations on this theme, but the idea conveyed to some Western intellectuals by North Korean military officials is that the armistice agreement would be replaced by a US-ROK-DPRK trilateral commission and lead to the termination of the UN command. U.S. troops might remain in Korea, but not as alliance partners and security guarantors for the ROK, but rather as neutral peacekeepers. 13 It is possible that such a scenario is what Kim Jong Il had in mind when he reportedly told President Kim that it was desirable for U.S. troops to remain in Korea even after reunification. 14

But such a scenario would be inconsistent with Kim Dae Jung's rationale for wanting U.S. troops in Korea post-unification: to maintain the balance of power. This requires a credible combat force, not a peacekeeping force. The peacekeeper scenario also would sever the US-ROK alliance absent any deep cuts in North-South conventional forces. The removal of a deterrent rational for the U.S. presence in Korea, would increase the likelihood that Congressional doubt about the wisdom of maintaining U.S. forces in Korea might preclude such an option.

Arms Control and Korean Reconciliation: Toward a Roadmap

A critical question in the formulation of an arms control strategy is how it fits together with all the other moving parts in the North-South reconciliation process in order to create an incentive structure that provides maximum leverage. There appears some tension between the ROK goal of a "soft landing" which requires economic rehabilitation to achieve a state of "peaceful coexistence" and the urgency of threat reduction. Private enterprise tends to have its own dynamic, as we have seen in the case of China-Taiwan relations. It is not necessarily the case that all the elements of the reconciliation process need to be formally or informally linked or even that they need to advance together on parallel tracks. Small and medium size investment might be permitted independently. But there are some elements that appear organically connected, for example, economic aid and investment and threat reduction.

Perhaps the most obvious is the question of replacing the armistice with a peace treaty. Kim Dae Jung has suggested this issue may be central to the return summit next Spring, and it is discussed in the US-NK Oct.12 Joint Communique, but as moving towards a "new peace mechanism " rather than a treaty. 15 In either case, it is of questionable virtue to negotiate a peace treaty while all the real world elements of confrontation remain in place. Such a move would be at best, a cynical or na‹ve act of political symbolism.

But what is the relationship between a peace agreement and threat reduction? It is not a question of demanding that swords be turned into plowshares. There is considerable room for flexibility, and no great urgency after five decades of successful deterrence to "declare a state of peace" if the conditions for renewed conflict have not been ameliorated. But there should be some actualization of confidence-building and a process of arms reduction at least under active discussion before transforming the armistice into a peace treaty. Such a move should codify real progress, not pretend to substitute for it.

The essence of the Grand Bargain is the trade-off of economic benefits for threat reduction. This encompasses two of the three basic tools of statecraft as summarized by Hans Morganthau: logic, bribes and threats. There is a rich menu of realistic economic and financial instruments that can be employed, such as: food and large-scale medical assistance (e.g. provision of large amounts of medicines, modernizing hospitals); direct investment in industrial production; floating Korean Reconstruction bonds to finance the refurbishing of the DPRK infrastructure; training North Koreans in legal, business and technical skills; establishing a Korean Reconstruction Fund at the World Bank or Asian Development Bank; active diplomacy to gain DPRK entry into the International Financial Institutions(IFIs) are a few notional examples. In addition, there is the prospect of coordinating the disbursal any Japanese reparation funds and/or investment that may be result from Tokyo-Pyongyang normalization with a threat reduction agenda that is no less in Tokyo's interest than Seoul's.

On a smaller scale, we have already seen - though officially denied -- the use of substantial U.S. food aid as a carrot to engage in Four party and missile talks. This "food for meetings" diplomacy, while hardly a model, does suggest a logic that is familiar to both sides. The challenge is how to deploy the economic assets. Low cost, low risk steps can be frontloaded to foster a more positive environment and building up good will. For example, supporting DPRK membership in the IFIs - a process that would take several years to complete, could begin immediately without any formal linkage. Similarly, humanitarian assistance and training and education programs need not be directly linked to progress elsewhere. It should be added that even in these areas, an absence of serious progress on issues of importance to the South - exchanges of separated families or reversion to provocative behavior should be considered cause for freezing all such programs.

However, the question of direct investment and large-scale infrastructure aid should not advance absent a judgment that substantial threat reduction steps are also being realized. At present, there appears no connection at all. The Kaesong industrial complex along with the highway and railway are potentially important initiatives laying the basis for economic reintegration. This, together with the $900 million Hyundai Mt. Kumgang tourist deal and one million tons of food is by any measure, a large gesture of unreciprocated political good will. In terms of South Korean policy, it raises the question of what Kim Dae Jung's principle of reciprocity means in practice. Perhaps of greater concern, however, is the danger that Pyongyang is recreating the diplomatic pattern established over the past seven years in its dealings with the U.S. of extracting something for the mere promise of cooperating.

Before other major industrial projects that are under consideration at Wonson and Nampo, for example, go forward, such a pattern needs to be broken. It is likely that private entrepreneurs will run into some of the many obstacles to doing business in North Korea before major industrial complexes are erected. But it is also true that once in motion, private business tends to establish its own momentum. It would be wise to for the ROK develop a clear understanding with Pyongyang that without Seoul's concerns being met, the pace and scope of economic involvement will not proceed unfettered. Such an understanding should also be coordinated with Japan, the U.S. and EU.

While it is satisfying to sketch a detailed schemata of various trade-offs, it is of questionable utility to policy-makers to do more than outline the general principles. This is because the very nature of the diplomatic exercise with Pyongyang should be designed to test their intentions. While in general terms it is clear that North Korea is desperately seeking economic benefits, what types of incentives in what sequence is unknowable and can best be established in the give and take of diplomatic intercourse. For this reason, I have avoided micro-details such as how many tanks, artillery, fixed wing aircraft should be reduced before a green light for certain economic activity is agreed upon. The fundamental premise of my argument, however, bears repeating: if the June 15 Summit did indeed mark the beginning of the end of Cold War competition and initiated a new course of genuine reconciliation, than an agenda of dismantling the military instruments of confrontation are an integral part of the reconciliation process and the realization of deep force conventional reductions are in essence, the bottom line in determining the seriousness of both sides about ending the era of confrontation.

But if the reconciliation agenda revolves around conventional weapons, what the question of missiles and weapons of mass destruction? As ROK officials have said repeatedly, without the support and cooperation of the U.S., the process of inter-Korean reconciliation can not proceed. Imagine what the political climate would be like if North Korea suddenly launched a Taepo Dong 2. In terms of strategy, the missile issue is much lower on the ROK list of priorities than that of the U.S. and Japan. And even the U.S. Japan do not have identical concerns in regard to missiles.

There are three dimensions to the ballistic missile problem: current deployments; missile exports, missile development. The U.S. has stressed a maximum position of ending all three, though it has put little of value to Pyongyang on the table and proceeded on a bilateral basis. For Japan, halting development of longer-range missiles as well as either moving No Dongs out of range or dismantling them is a top priority.

A new element in the picture is Kim Jong Il's trial balloon floated during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to give up developing missiles in exchange for three satellite launches a year. This issue was discussed during Gen. Jo's Washington trip and will be further discussed during Albright's meeting with Kim Jong Il.. Some suspect that Pyongyang may be seeking an Agreed Framework-type agreement that would allow them to keep already deployed missiles in exchange for abandoning the more difficult to perfect Taepo Dong 2. 16 Moreover, the U.S. continues to seek an agreement to curb DPRK missile exports. But verification would pose difficult challenges both in the case of exports and in halting Taepo Dong development. Moreover, any missile deal that leaves No Dong deployments in place would create tension and disappointment with Japan.

It is often overlooked, however, that the missile problem is a very different order of issue than the nuclear problem. Unlike the nuclear issue, which involved a DPRK violation of an international treaty to which it freely became a party, the NPT, there is no legal basis for dealing with the missile issue. MTCR is not a norm as the non-proliferation regime is, but rather a suppliers cartel. Missiles are accepted instruments of war. MTCR creates arbitrary standards for types of missiles. This factor plus the likely North Korean belief that missiles are their ultimate deterrent, renders it very difficult. One possible approach would be to integrate the missile question into a North-South framework by calling for an MTCR-compliant Korean Peninsula, with the implication that the ROK would restrain its missile activity as well. Such an approach, perhaps combined with U.S. and Japanese incentives is an initiative worth exploring. Similarly the question of North Korean adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons has been conspicuously absent from the debate and convention should be explored.

Korean Reconciliation and Managing the US-ROK Alliance

The missile question begins to hint at a critical challenge to any ROK strategy towards the North: minimizing the divergence or decoupling of U.S. and ROK policies. Traditionally, this has been an objective of Pyongyang. While threat reduction is, of course, the central objective of U.S. policy, the priority of addressing nuclear and missile problems can easily create a disjuncture in US-ROK policy coordination. The challenge is made more complex because there are built-in structural factors, some legal and legislative, driving U.S. policy toward North Korea. One important step to ameliorate this would be for the next U.S. President to appoint a Special Envoy for Korea/Northeast Asia , someone with the level of stature of a Bill Perry to manage this Korea-related diplomacy on a full-time basis.

There is a cumulative bureaucratic and policy momentum resulting from a decade of U.S. policy centered on WMD issues. Perhaps most prominently, are looming challenges in the implementation of the Agreed Framework. Before sensitive nuclear technology can also be exported to North Korea for the LWRs, a license must be granted. Before a license can be granted, under US law, there must be a U.S.-North Korean Nuclear Cooperation Law. Before that can be achieved, the President must certify that the DPRK has not violated an IAEA safeguards agreement and does not have a covert nuclear weapons program. Such legislative strictures may well spark at least a mini-crisis over the Agreed Framework over the next 2-3 years. 17

Similarly, North Korea has thus far been unable to take adequate steps for the administration to remove it from the terrorist list. This is not only an impediment to US-DPRK normalization, but also precludes U.S. support for DPRK membership in the World Bank and IMF. Such structural impediments suggest at a minimum a potential gap in the level of engagement with North Korea between the US and ROK. The divergence in the pace and scope of bilateral engagement is not necessarily a problem. The potential problems may arise from diverging agendas, as North-South issues take precedence.It does not take great imagination to envision a scenario where there is a confrontation between the US and/or IAEA with North Korea over the implementation of the Agreed Framework even as North-South cooperation moves forward. This could be extemely difficult for both North-South and US-ROK relations. Of course, there is also the potential question of U.S. forces in Korea that may come to the fore during the timeframe of Kim Dae Jung's tenure, should conventional arms control talks become a reality. Already, the euphoria of the summit has generated a bit of anti-American sentiment. As discussed above, the American military presence is part of the security equation and can be managed. But the issue does suggest that if a bilateral Military Commission is established there is a need for some U.S. role in the negotiating process, ideally, a trilateral format, or two plus one observer. In any case, all this underscores the likelihood that US-North Korean normalization of relations is will almost certainly be a slow, protracted process.

The Four NE Asian Powers and Korean Arms Control

Given the substantial ramifications of North-South reconciliation for great power relations and Northeast Asian security, the role of the four major powers in Northeast Asia in an arms control and reconciliation strategy merits some discussion. Obviously, should a North-South peace agreement be reached, the Four Party process would come into play, as US and Chinese concurrence are necessary to transform the armistice into a peace treaty. Both Tokyo and Seoul have repeatedly proposed the creation of a six-party forum for Northeast Asia.

To the extent that North-South reconciliation advances, this idea may loom more significant. At a minimum, there is a role for Japan and Russia in guaranteeing a peace treaty and endorsing a nuclear-free Korea.. The outside powers may also play a role in managing the transition on the Korean Peninsula If the reconnection for the trans-Korean railway is completed along with other projects, there may be new possibilities for Northeast Asian economic cooperation. There is a potential agenda including energy cooperation on gas pipelines, Tumen River development, and cooperation in civil nuclear energy, to cite just a few examples. Such cooperation may be an added source of leverage for Seoul in its threat reduction efforts. But the larger point is that in both the security and economic realms the role of the major powers in Northeast Asia will increasingly need to be factored into a strategy for achieving North-South reconciliation.


Deng Tsiao-peng once described China's approach to reform as "crossing the river by feeling for stones." Four months after the historic June North-South summit, there appears a large amount of ad hocery in the fledgling reconciliation process that suggests a similar approach is being applied to North-South relations. For example, the unrealized December 1991 Reconciliation and Non-Aggression accords provide an overarching framework for moving forward. But Pyongyang has yet to acknowledge this as the working agenda. Yet even if both sides accept the accords as the basis for reconciliation, Pyongyang and Seoul have very different priorities and agendas for how and when to implement the broad framework.

Given the consequences of either a collapse or conflict with the North, South Korea has little margin for error. So as divided families look to reuniting, businesses in the South look across the 38th parallel, and many Koreans begin to see peace and a soft landing on the horizon, it is imperative to find a means to measure Pyongyang's sincerity. This paper has sought to outline ways and means to set and pursue a balanced agenda for North-South reconciliation with the contention that threat reduction is an integral element in the process. The challenge now is for Seoul to devise a roadmap of realistic steps to guide its actions by defining how to apply President Kim's principle of reciprocity in the process of reconciliation.

1. According to South Korean diplomatic sources, at the June Summit, the North neither accepted nor rejected the contention that the 1991-92 accords should be the basic framework for the renewed reconciliation process.
2. Interviews with author in Washington, July 2000.
3. See Lim Dong Won, "An Urgent Need for Arms Control on the Korean Peninsula: A Framework for Implementation", Korean Journal of Defense Analysis Summer 1991.
4. See, Ahn Byung-joon, "The Disarmament Plan of North Korea, Vantage Point, February 1991, for Kim Il Sung's 1988 plan and a proposal based on it in 1990. See James E. Goodby , "Confidence Building Ten Years On," in Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Summer 1999 for a summary of the south Korean arms cut plan in 1990.
5. ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agreement on Non-Aggression and Reconciliation, January 1992.
6. See James E. Goodby, previously cited.
7. See Sah Dong-Seok, "2nd Defense Talks Due in NK in Mid-November, Korea Times, September 26, 2000 Internet edition
7a. See James E. Goodby, previously cited.
8. See for example, Pedro Almeida and Michael O'Hanlon, "Impasse in Korea: A Conventional Arms-Accord Solution, Survival, Spring, 1999. Pp58-72 Also see O'Hanlon, "Stopping a North Korean Invasion, International Security, Spring, 1998 pp135-170. Among the many previous suggestions, see James Goodby, "Operational Arms Control in Europe: Implications for r Negotiations in Korea," Journal of Defense Analysis, Summer, 1990.
9. See for example, Richard E. Darilek, "Confidence Building and Arms Control in the East-West Context: Lessons from the Cold War Experience in Europe, Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Summer 1993; Also Jonathan Dean, "Arms Control on the Korean Peninsula: How is the European Experience Applicable," Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 1992.
10. See Ahn Byung-joon, Vantage Point, previously cited on conventional proposals. See Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas," Addison-Wesley, 1997 and Leon V. Sigal, Disarming Strangers, Princeton University Press, 1998 for discussion of the nuclear diplomacy.
11. Lee Joung-binn speech to the Asia Society, San Francisco, September 15, 2000.
12. See Almeida and O'Hanlon, previously cited for technical details and a proposal to shrink conventional forces by 50%. This, however, would result in a scaling down of the confrontation rather than ending it.
13. See Selig S.Harrison, "The Future of U.S. Forces in Korea," unpublished paper September 2000 for the most articulate argument for such changes.
14. See Doug Struck, "South Korean Says North Hints U.S. Troops to Stay, Washington Post, August 20, 2000.
15. See U.S.-North Korea Joint Communique, Staste Dept. October 12, 2000.
16. Senior U.S. officials, background interview with author, Washington, September 2000.
17. See Henry Sokolski, "Implementing the Korean Nuclear Deal: What US Law Require," paper presented to the Instituto Diplomatico, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rome, June 2000.
This page last updated 11/21/2000 jdb

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