The ICAS Lectures

No. 2004-0210-CxR

Diplomacy with Pyongyang:
quo vadis quo jure quo modo?

Claudia Rossett

ICAS Winter Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
February 10, 2004 12:00 NN - 5:30 PM.
Rome Auditorium
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Johns Hopkins University
1619 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289

Biographic Sketch & Links: Claudia Rossett

Diplomacy with Pyongyang: quo vadis quo jure quo modo?

Claudia Rossett

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
--U.S. President Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987
When President Reagan spoke these words 17 years ago, in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, he had on his side not only the military might of the United States but the considerable power of sound principle and straight speaking. Just over two years later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Would that President Bush, in approaching the current crisis with North Korea enlisted the same allies: right and truth. Instead, Mr. Bush's 2002 "axis of evil" speech notwithstanding, we are heading for a second round of six-way talks in Beijing. There, on Feb. 25, around one table will gather the envoys of the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea, plus the focus of all this fuss, the guest of honor: North Korea. And so will begin a new round of efforts to calm down, appease and buy off the nuclear-happy, missile-vending, death-camp-running North Korean despot, Kim Jong Il.

In keeping with America's North Korean diplomacy for most of the past decade, expectations are that Washington may offer some kind of security agreement and aid to Kim's regime in exchange for a Pyongyang promise to end a nuclear bomb program Kim already agreed to give up 10 years ago, but didn't. This sort of narrowly tuned discussion is what passes right now for U.S. diplomacy in dealing with North Korea. There has been a mighty forgetting that diplomacy's finest moments can sometimes sound most honestly undiplomatic. The great virtue of Mr. Reagan's Berlin Wall demand was that it served notice not only to Mr. Gorbachev but to the people living under Soviet sway--those who finally brought down not just the wall, but the empire--that we were on the side not only of our own freedom but of theirs. Mr. Reagan was, by the way, confronting a Soviet regime that most definitely had nuclear bombs and long-range missiles.

But today, for North Korea's 22 million people, there seems to be no such plan. Mr. Bush has spoken splendid words about the rights of all human beings to liberty and the need for democracy as the only real road to security. In Iraq, to his credit, he has followed up with deeds, expecting freedom will spread in the Middle East. When it comes to North Korea's killer regime, however, the script sounds less like "Tear down this wall" than "Let's make a deal." Last Sunday we had Mr. Bush telling us on "Meet the Press": "In Iraq--I mean, in North Korea, excuse me, the diplomacy is just beginning. We are making good progress in North Korea."

Apart from the salutary slip in which Mr. Bush confused North Korea with Iraq--and I hope Kim Jong Il quaked--what progress is he talking about? North Korea has been gaming our endlessly credulous system for years. Having admitted in 2002 to running a secret uranium-enrichment program, North Korea is now denying it ever had one. And although revelations about the marketing activities of Pakistan's nuclear godfather, Abdul Qadir Khan, suggest that North Korea was very much in the uranium game, the Washington diplomatic establishment is now gravely pondering whether the U.S. envoy, James Kelly, really heard what he thought he heard. Never mind that North Korea has since pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, fired up its old reactor, announced that it is making bomb fuel and--with all the courtesy of Tony Soprano fingering his gun--invited an unofficial delegation last month to come have a look.

By the accounts of that delegation, by the presumptions of our narrow negotiating concerns, by the lights of the same illogic that looks to despotic and self-interested China to help save our bacon in North Korea, we are for the umpteenth time invited to believe that North Korea's regime is striving to achieve serious internal reform and aching to abandon its nuclear program, if only the U.S. would help.

Well, here's how we can help. We could reframe the talks not on North Korea's terms, but on ours. That means asking not at what price we can pay off Kim & Co., but what we might with true integrity put on the table. Let's start with the problem that North Korea craves aid because it is poor; so poor that in recent years an estimated two million North Koreans have starved to death. There's no mystery about the cause. In this age of global trade and high technology, abysmal poverty is the result of one thing, and one thing only: atrocious government. We know how to fix that, and it is not by sending more food and fuel to be stolen by the same regime causing the poverty in the first place.

So how about making a generous offer to instruct North Koreans in the ways of serious prosperity, meaning genuine capitalism? Let's start by plunking down a copy of Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations," followed by the works of F.A. Hayek and, for easier reading, Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom"--plus a Sears catalog and a copy of the U.S. Constitution. We could offer translation into Korean. We could recruit tutors from Eastern Europe, versed in the pitfalls of transition. That would be aid, at last, in a form Kim could not steal.

We could follow that up with a list of places where Kim Jong Il, his family and other top officials could reasonably expect asylum should they choose to depart North Korea. Hawaii worked pretty well for Ferdinand Marcos.

We could underscore the asylum offer, and provide a great big centerpiece for the six-way talks, with a list of prosecutions carried out since World War II for crimes against humanity. We could submit lists of questions about recent reports of chemical weapons experiments on North Korean political prisoners, about massive testimony of infanticide, torture, exposure and targeted starvation, as deliberate policy of Kim's state. We could ask for not only the names but also the addresses of the top 15 or so officials responsible for overseeing North Korea's death camps and state security apparatus--because our diplomats would like to send each of them a personalized dossier, in Korean of course, on the Nuremberg trials.

Finally, having put all this on the table, we could expand our own miserly $1.4 million annual budget for Radio Free Asia's North Korean service. Instead of broadcasting only four hours a day to North Koreans, who risk their lives to tune in, we could start broadcasting around the clock, including news of all these offers that belong on the table. (It's not that hard to modify even a North Korean radio to receive RFA. In a recent survey of 200 North Korean defectors, conducted by the Intermedia Survey Institute, almost half, before defecting, had tuned in to foreign broadcasts.)

Then--and it doesn't really matter if North Korea's envoy is still in the room, or has gone off to sulk near the national plutonium repository; he'll be listening, he's got plenty at stake--we could add to the stack on the table our complaints about Kim's nuclear program. If we must discuss this extortion racket, let's start from the premise that as the world's leading democracy and superpower, we are the makers of manners--and it's high time in our dealings with North Korea that we brought some Reagan etiquette to the negotiating table.

Ms. Rosett is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute. Her column appears here and in The Wall Street Journal Europe on alternate Wednesdays.

Q&A - Claudia Rosett

MODERATOR: Thank you, Claudia. Don, would you like to offer your comments?

DON KIRK: Thank you very much for your remarks, Ms. Rosett. I noticed that you've not commented about South Korean policy much at all. You hinted at it, but you didn't comment upon it. So I wonder if you could tell us what you think. I mean, I can guess what you think, but I wonder if you could tell us what you think about the Sunshine Policy, and how effective it is, and why it goes on, and what this says about the problems of dealing with North Korea, because this is actually something that in all that you said, you really didn't touch upon it, and it's very important in terms of your other remarks.

CLAUDIA ROSETT: Sure. Thank you. I think we did a certain amount to actually produce the Sunshine Policy which I think has been disastrous, and I think - I mean, there are many explanations that one can discuss: Has South Korea been infiltrated? Is it part way a reaction to the days of dictatorship? But I think among other things, we framed a situation in which we cut a deal with Pyongyang in 1994, and there followed the Sunshine Policy. You know, South Korea ended up in a very interesting spot. What exactly are they to do? And I actually think we're kind of seeing a reflection in the Sunshine Policy of our own policy in the '90s. You know, there are many - one can debate this from many different directions, but it's terrible; it has helped to smother voices about what's actually going on in North Korea. I think the idea that North Korea is just going to slowly come around, modify its behavior, and sort of merge with Seoul overlooks the fact that there are - there is a regime there that has an enormous vested interest in the system it runs.

You know, one thing about the idea that there will be gradual change - so the Sunshine Policy - everybody connects and does business, and China is cited as the example - is - I cannot think of a case - if you can, I would be interested in a counter example - where a tyrant on the scale of Kim Jong Il, who I think inherited from dad at this point - I think he has richly qualified in his own right - where a tyrant on that level reforms in office, basically they're either deposed or die. You know, China began to actually change after Mao died. Russia began to reform away from the serious Gulag era after Stalin died. Germany kind of improved after Hitler was - whatever - killed himself. But the idea that Kim Jong Il is going to change in office - I don't think so. So the Sunshine Policy is not a help.

KIRK: Well, you haven't mentioned the name of President Kim Dae Jung (?), the architect of the Sunshine Policy, and the support that he has in wide sectors of American government and intelligentsia and so forth, not to mention the support that he has from several former ambassadors, U.S. ambassadors to Korea, notably Donald Gregg, of course. I wonder if you could comment on that?

ROSETT: Yes. I could say there are different views of how diplomacy should be conducted, and I think there's certainly the same set of opinions that, back in 1987, argued "Be sophisticated. Don't irritate the Soviets. Don't mention the Wall" - is sort of the Don Gregg school, the Kim Dae Jung school, the Sunshine Policy school, and I guess I just say I personally disagree with that. I think it helped produce the crisis we've now got.

LARRY A NIKSCH: You basically were saying, I think, junk the nuclear aspect of negotiations. You stated, "We can't verify an agreement. North Korea can't be trusted. Regime change is the only solution." So what you seem to be proposing is to completely re-orient our diplomacy towards a pro-human rights - very strong agenda, and forget the nuclear and other military issues in our diplomacy. You also said North Korea is likely to say, "No." But isn't there a danger that you will get from your approach a more explicit "No" from China, from Russia, from South Korea, and from other countries? And also that North Korea's response may be more than just saying "No"; that there may be a military response, very possibly, it seems to me, an open demonstration of nuclear capabilities, or possibly something even more brazen in the area of proliferation? So, if this is going to be the response to your approach - that we're going to lose, at least for some period of time, diplomatic support from the other key actors in the region, and that North Korea's response may include some military elements, then if we're in what I think then would be a kind of position where we would have really no choice but some sort of unilateral policy or action besides this pro-human rights diplomacy, what should it be? Where would we go at that point?

ROSETT: Okay. First, I'm not sure we'd be all alone. I think Japan is more in our camp, and they're big.

NIKSCH: Yeah. Japan probably would still be with us.

ROSETT: Yeah. Second, I think the basic question here is - does an agreement on paper - does a diplomatic deal reached at that six-way table in which North Korea promises to behave better - does it provide any protection? In other words, there's the reality of whatever they're actually doing, and then there's whatever deal we're going to make. And when those two are very different, it may feel better for a while, but problem not solved at all. In fact, you have once again not just created trouble down the road; you've sent a message to other countries, "We can be rolled," which is exactly the problem I think we've got with North Korea. They have this prior experience with us now. They'd like it again. And I wouldn't say forget the - I may have put it too strongly. I wouldn't say forget the nuclear aspect. The only answer on that with this regime is - if they come to us eager to demonstrate that they have really disarmed, I mean, we can't go in there and inspect enough and know enough. This amazing ..... uranium program has just been fascinating to watch. You know, while - again, I need to give credit where it's due. Chuck Downs pointed out to me recently, even as North Korea has been saying - Jim Kelly goes there, comes back; "North Korea said yes it has a uranium enrichment program," and now North Korea is saying, "We never said that." And with some consternation the diplomatic establishment here is sort of gravely pondering, you know, what did Jim Kelly - what did he really hear, and what did the North Korean scribes really write down as the subject discussed at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And my God, you'd think of the North Korean scribes - this in the great tradition of the airbrushed vanishing photos where they wrote down - anything that they were wanted to have written down later is what they wrote down. So you can't forget it, but the question is how in truth are you going to do something about it? Can you contain it with a paper agreement? You know, we were so eager to reach a deal last time that we let them keep the spent fuel rods from the Yangb...... reactor. That was .... We went there and put them in cans for North Korea and left them in ponds in North Korea. You know, where was the deal that said, "Okay, we're prepared to do business, but everything out!" And - but what I'm saying is - don't deal on their terms.

NIKSCH: What you're saying - and I detect this is an attitude in the Bush Administration -

ROSETT: I'm an independent operator here!

NIKSCH: -- is that if we really get into substantive negotiation over these issues with North Korea, the North Koreans are going to out-negotiate us. That's going to happen.

ROSETT: It's happened before.

NIKSCH: I know it's happened before, but it seems to me what has happened within the Administration and among some other people is that there is such a fear of this now, there is such a fear of inevitability that they're smarter than us, that they're going to out-maneuver us, that they're going to out-manipulate us. And I agree that there is evidence in the past where this has happened, but I really am bothered by this attitude of inevitability of this, that we aren't smart enough, that we can't devise a negotiating strategy that would get our agenda into a dominant position in talks, and that we could move talks in the direction that we wanted. I just don't accept that we're so stupid, frankly, and they're so smart that we can't achieve this. But there is this fear, and I recognize it - that they're going to out-smart, they're going to out-negotiate us, and I'm afraid Chuck's book and Scott Snyder's (?) book probably has contributed to that fear.

ROSETT: I have to say that's some of the best news I've heard in a while -

NIKSCH: Even though they're good books.

HELEN-LOUISE HUNTER: I would like to use your speech and also Dennis' talk this morning to make a couple of comments about the committee I serve on which is the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. It was mentioned in Dennis' talk that is you now push human rights in North Korea - the issue - you're considered a neo- conservative, whereas it used to be that of course human rights would be considered a liberal issue. I just want to make a point about that and our committee. Our committee is indeed the committee that commissioned David Hawk (?) to write this very well accepted new report on the prison system, and this is a bipartisan committee, and it's fascinating to me - when I talk to the members of the committee - how different - what different opinions we have on negotiations with Pyongyang when it comes to the nuclear issue. So I don't think it's fair for anyone here to think that to promote the issue of human rights in North Korea necessarily labels you one way or the other on these other issues. I think it's an issue that we definitely need to emphasize all the time not only in negotiations, but at the U.N. at the upcoming meeting in Prague on the human rights. And we are doing - our committee is doing more in the way of research. We're doing a book - the next research project is going to be on refugees and I'd like to underscore the second point you make on China and refugees. The refugee situation is a major issue that should be addressed, not only in terms of human rights violations in North Korea but to highlight the Chinese role in the whole North Korean scene. I agree with you very much that the Chinese are not highly supportive of the U.S. in our negotiations with Pyongyang. It may be great that they offer their city for our negotiations, but in fact, I believe they're promoting negotiations because that's what the North Koreans, and in so doing, they're helping the Chinese. They aren't helping in the refugee situation. They're promoting the North Korean demand for U.S. aid to North Korea because to whatever extent we give aid, it simplifies life for the Chinese who in fact need to keep North Korea alive economically, and they're not just standing by on the North Korean nuclear issue. There's good evidence that they've certainly helped them in the missile scene. So I would underscore very much the thought that the Chinese are not our close friends in these negotiations.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Helen-Louise. Bill, do you have comments?

WILLIAM B BROWN: Yeah, just a couple. I'm an economist and have followed North Korea and Chinese economies for 25 years or so, and I must say I can't agree with you more on almost everything you've said. I wrote an article three or four years ago on almost exactly what you just said - up to a point, and that point is really - and my friend Helen Louise also - the point is China, to me. If we want to change North Korea, and we desperately need to change North Korea, my view is - we've got to work - we don't have to, but the easiest route is through China. And in a way, I've been looking at the market - sort of these funny price changes in North Korea in the last year or so, and more and more I've been looking at it, the more I'm looking at - I mean, I lived in South Korea a long time - I think as Americans we look at the DMZ as the front door to North Korea. But the more I've been reading these defector reports, the refugee reports, things going on in China along the border there, the more I'm looking at the back door to North Korea as being that very long, very weakly defended - a little river really is all it is - border with China. And more and more people - basically what you've had is the creation of markets on the northern side, the Chinese side, for 20 years now. Of course, before that, you didn't have any markets on either side and there was no commerce, nobody moved back and forth. Twenty years ago you started having markets on the northern side. Recently, in the last few years you've had markets developing on the southern side also. And markets on both sides - both sides using Chinese money or U.S. dollars. North Korean money is worthless. You - and you have Korean nationals working both sides - ethnic Koreans living in China going back and forth, back and forth. To me that's really now the gateway to North Korea - through those Chinese provinces. And to the degree that we can - I'm not saying the Chinese are on our side with it, but I don't think the Chinese can stop it. In my mind, the best way here is to promote radical economic change in North Korea through the border with China, and I just - in your speech talking about East Germany - it is useful to remember that East Germany had a lot of interactions. I think it was through Köln, wasn't it? Maybe not through West Germany, but a lot of the refugees came from Central Europe in East Germany. They're the ones that really changed East Germany. And my thinking now is if we can put the pressure on China to stop giving aid - aid ruins the markets. No question. This idea of giving aid to North Korea is very repulsive, I think. But to let commerce develop through that border, to me, is a good way to push change. So I guess I would differ with you on the Chinese role there. I would treat China as a huge thing there, but live with it. It's going to be there a long time. The South Koreans have to live with China so we can't just sort of ignore them. Anyway - I didn't mean to make a speech, but that was kind of -

ROSETT: Actually, it was very interesting. Could I just say - I think what you're saying about the border traffic, I think we actually agree. That's great. And - but I'm not sure that that's a function of China and North Korea policy. That's what happens along the fringes of China just about everywhere, and if anything, I guess I would draw a conclusion that there's all the more reason for us to define for China as well as North Korea - what are the values we actually stand by here. In other words, I think the commerce will continue, but what are the rules that we would like to see at the top? And so I'm not sure we're actually at odds over this. I just think there's every reason to keep saying to China - which, you know, .... a whole other forum you can do ........ - has its own miserable problems with ........ - but it's just better than North Korea - but to tell them, "Here's what it is we want. Here are our terms."

MODERATOR: Very good. With this, Claudia, why don't you take a rest here, and our next speaker - Don Oberdorfer is here.


This page last updated 3/16/2004 jdb

ICAS Fellow
ICAS Speakers
& Discussants
Winter 2004