ICAS Special Contribution


The North Korean Nuclear Issue and A New Vision for the Korea-US Alliance

Geun Hye Park

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Geun Hye Park

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this paper
with written permission to ICAS of Geun Hye Park. sjk]

The North Korean Nuclear Issue and A New Vision for the Korea-US Alliance

Geun Hye Park

Mr. Peter Hickman, and distinguished members of the press, It is an honor for me to be here with you today at the National Press Club.

In Korea, and I'm sure also in the US, "courage" is regarded as one of the key virtues that politicians must have.

Among all the press clubs around the world, I know very well that yours is probably the toughest one out there, so I believe that I can say that my being here in itself is evidence that I at least have the virtue of "courage". ^^

May I ask if Ms. Helen Thomas of UPI is here today?

No? I was really looking forward to meet her, but maybe next time. Well… I'm actually quite relieved! I know that I would have faced some very tough questions if Ms. Thomas were here.

As journalists, you write on all the issues of the world, and have speedy access to the most accurate news sources in each field.

What I am going to talk about today is something that you all probably know about very well. But still, I hope that I can add a new dimension to your understanding of the circumstances surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue and Korea-US relations.

Basically, today, I would like to discuss the most serious issue that the Republic of Korea faces, which is the North Korean nuclear issue. And I would also like to present my vision for the future of the Korea-US Alliance.

The North Korean Nuclear Threat

Last October 9th, North Korea conducted a nuclear test. Now, the Korean Peninsula has always faced security threats of various degrees since the 1953 ceasefire, but none come close to this nuclear test.

It is not just South Korea that is at danger here. The security of Northeast Asia and the world at large is all adversely affected by North Korea's attempt to develop a nuclear program.

A nuclear North Korea would fundamentally disrupt the military balance on the Korean Peninsula. An arms race in Northeast Asia could easily follow. And this could possibly shatter the already fragile order that is currently being maintained in the region.

The global nuclear non-proliferation regime itself is at risk. In the terrible instance that North Korean nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorist groups, disaster could be just around the corner.

The threat is largest and most serious, of course, to the Korean people for if these weapons are used, they will most likely be used on the Korean Peninsula. So for the people of Korea, this issue must be resolved, or our dreams for peace and reunification will never be realized.

Resolving the Nuclear Issue

The way in which North Korea built its nuclear program during the past decade or so tells us that it's not going to be easy to completely resolve this issue. Now, with a nuclear test under North Korea's belt, some people doubt whether it's really going to be possible to get North Korea to totally give up its nuclear program, and say that maybe we should just recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

Our goal, however, remains crystal clear. North Korea must dismantle and abandon all nuclear weapons and its whole nuclear program. We do not want a "freeze". We want a "dismantling" of the program in all its dimensions. Any other goal is just not acceptable to us. Unless North Korea completely gives up its nuclear program, inter-Korean relations and North Korea's relations with the international community can never be normalized.

I was in DC about two years ago in March of 2005. At the time, I proposed that we take a "bold and comprehensive approach" in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, and very clearly describe all the sticks and carrots to the North.

I said that we needed to clearly draw a red line, together with consequences of crossing that red line. But at the same time, we also needed to clearly outline the benefits of giving up the nuclear program. I was basically saying that we needed to give North Korea a straightforward explanation on the penalties and rewards that would be triggered by their choice in behavior.

It is my belief that this strategy of applying pressure while simultaneously engaging in negotiations is still very valid, even after the North's nuclear test.

Pressure and negotiations can and should go hand in hand. What we need at this point is a solid foundation of international cooperation upon which we can maintain a levelheaded approach that involves both pressure and negotiation.

Negotiations with North Korea are most effective when the international community speaks together in a single voice. Above all, the parties to the 6-party talks must maintain a united front in engaging in negotiations with the North. As long as North Korea perceives a gap among the members of the international community, it will probably not give up its nuclear aspirations.

Korea and the US stand at the center international cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. It is therefore of utmost importance that Korea and the US closely work together on this issue. I believe that the first step in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is to solidify trust between Korea and the US. As long as we maintain our strong ties of cooperation as close allies, any challenge – including the North Korean nuclear issue – can be overcome.

It is a great relief that the recent 6-party talks in Beijing have set the path for the resolution of this issue. But we must remember that this is just the beginning. We still have many mountains to conquest before North Korea's nuclear program is completely dismantled.

North Korea violated the 1994 Geneva Agreement and secretly developed a nuclear program. We cannot afford to go down that same path.

The North has repeatedly demanded a US pledge on non-aggression as a prerequisite to resolving the nuclear issue. But the North Korean regime has to realize that pieces of paper just aren't as important as building genuine conditions for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Peace on the Korean Peninsula is not something that can be achieved by holding a showcase summit meeting an agreeing on some words in a joint declaration. Nor can it be achieved through an arrangement between the North and the US that excludes the South.

Peace on the Korean Peninsula requires, first and foremost, that we resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. And in my view, the following three conditions must also be met if we are to achieve genuine peace on the Korean Peninsula.

First, agreement and trust must be built between the two Koreas to form a substantial basis of significant openness and exchange. Peace on the Korean peninsula is not a bilateral issue between North Korea and the US. The South Korean government must take part in any discussions on a peace regime.

Second, the international community must support and safeguard this inter-Korean agreement for peace. Normalization of North Korea's diplomatic relations with the US and Japan would further ensure peace on the Peninsula. To solidify the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, the leaders of the 6-parties could meet in a summit meeting to lend further support to an inter-Korean peace agreement.

The 6-party talks could also be developed into a regional security cooperation body, which could then deal substantially with the issue of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Third, the Korea-US alliance must continuously be preserved and developed. This alliance has more than proved its worth over the past 50 years in terms of peace on the Korean Peninsula and throughout Northeast Asia. Just as NATO contributes greatly to stability and prosperity in Europe, the positive functions of the Korea-US alliance should not be compromised.

I believe that North Korea, too, can benefit from the Korea-US alliance. If it wanted to, North Korea could directly receive concrete support from the Korea-US alliance. As seen in Europe, Russia and NATO, which were once bitter enemies, have agreed to cooperate, and a unified Germany has joined NATO. As such, the Korea-US alliance could serve to "expand peace" in the region.

North Korea's leaders should not lose this opportunity to join the global current toward development and prosperity. If North Korea would only be truthful and genuine in all relations, I would be more than willing to reach out to the governments of all our friends and allies to assist North Korea on its path of transformation. But unless North Korea is willing, there is nothing that anybody can do.

The countries of the world are all busily developing their economies, creating new knowledge and enhancing universal values. China's northeast is growing at a rate of more than 10% every year. Continental countries including Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia are focused on the task of national development. Vietnam has become a model of economic growth.

It is heartbreaking that North Korea alone stands apart from such trends, isolated in its self-imposed destitution. Why it does so, I cannot fathom.

When I met with North Korea's KIM Jong-Il, I told him very clearly that North Korea could not survive unless it came out into the international society. I truly hope that Chairman Kim remembers my words.

A New Vision for the Korea-US Alliance

Ladies and gentlemen,

Paradoxically, North Korea's nuclear test served as a reminder to the Korean people of just how important the Korea-US alliance is. In the face of the serious threat posed by the North's nuclear program, nothing could be more important than the Korea-US alliance.

As long as the alliance stands firm, we know that we will be able to withstand any type of threat or provocation from the North.

It is also true, however, that our views of the Korea-US alliance have changed in the past few years.

In Korea, the voice of the minority that the Korea-US alliance is not the cornerstone of our security, but is, rather, an obstacle to inter-Korean reconciliation, has been gaining clout. And in the US, with the Cold War now replaced by the war against terror, strategic priorities have shifted.

During the Cold War, the Korean peninsula was the frontline of the free. But now, in this new strategic environment, it is not that clear as to where Korea stands.

Still, I am very confident that the Korea-US alliance will continue to be indispensable in the process of establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula and stability throughout Northeast Asia, and that this Alliance is just as important for US interests as well.

From Korea's viewpoint, the Korea-US alliance is the most useful and trustworthy framework through which we can achieve peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula and continued prosperity within Northeast Asia. For the US, this alliance provides a means to maintain stability and balance the powers in Northeast Asia, which is witnessing the rapid rise of China.

During the Korean War, the blood of US soldiers was shed to preserve liberal democracy in Korea. Our soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder in Vietnam, and once again, to do our part in building world peace, Korea has now sent its troops to Iraq.

I believe that our two countries need to use the North Korean nuclear crisis as an opportunity to establish blueprints for the peaceful co-existence of the two Koreas, multilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia and for the future of the Korea-US alliance. Korea and the US must work to design a new Korea-US alliance that contributes to peaceful reunification on the Korean Peninsula, and prosperity and democracy in Northeast Asia.

53 years ago when we first established our alliance, we hardly new each other and had almost nothing in common besides our determination to protect freedom and democracy from communism. We now have a 53-year long history of growing together as allies, that has led to political, economic, social and cultural ties.

Now is the time for us to establish a new vision for the Korea-US alliance.

This new alliance would not just expand our political and military ties, but would focus even more on the economic aspects of our cooperation, including the KORUS FTA. Terrorism, narcotics, environmental issues and other new security threats should also be comprehensively dealt with within this new alliance that would also contribute to more active regional multilateral cooperation. Above all, this new alliance has to be built upon mutual trust. It must be a new and true 21st century "alliance of values".

For this to actually happen, we need to deal with a few issues first. Let's first look at the issues of dismantling the Korea-US Combined Forces Command, and transferring wartime operational control to South Korea.

With more extensive globalization, security is no longer something that an individual nation can hope to maintain. Alliances, multilateral security arrangements and other means of joint defense have become increasingly important.

Now, the Korea-US Combined Forces Command is one of the world's most efficient security schemes in the world. To have this dismantled in today's globalized environment would just not be right. And neither would the transfer of wartime operational control.

With the reduction and redeployment of US troops, and the discord surrounding wartime operational control, many Koreans have been left wondering just where our alliance is headed.

I have steadfastly demanded that talks on the dismantlement of the Korea-US Combined Forces Command be stopped. And public opinion in Korea, I do believe, is on my side.

Should the Combined Forces Command actually be dismantled, even the strongest supporters of the Korea-US alliance will be forced to ponder upon US intentions.

For our friendship to mature further, I believe that this issue should be reviewed afresh, and that a "New Korea-US Security Arrangement" should be established.

I also believe that the successful KORUS FTA negotiations would provide impetus for the further development of our relationship.

This FTA needs to bring greater benefits to both our peoples. In this sense, this FTA must not cause irreversible damage or lasting wounds to either party. The Korean rice market is one example, for demands to open the rice market that stem from purely commercial considerations, may cause irreparable pain to Korean farmers.

I just sincerely hope that the KORUS FTA can play a major role in upgrading the Korea-US alliance.

This December, Korea will hold presidential elections that will determine not only the future of the Republic of Korea, but also the fate of the Korea-US alliance.

If given the opportunity, I will engage in frank and open discussions with the US to blueprint the future of our alliance and to use this framework as the basis for transforming our alliance to befit the times.

During the past ten years, NATO and the US-Japan Alliance have both undergone efficient changes in response to the changing environment. Now it is time for Korea and the US to build a framework upon which our alliance can stand strong throughout the next fifty years.

I will set forth this new vision for our alliance, persuade the Korean people, and demonstrate leadership in this task. It will not be easy, but I believe that this is a task that I can deal with better than any other person.

Whenever I'm in DC, I always visit the Korean War memorial. The words "Freedom is not free" that are etched into the memorial so concisely yet so intensely describe the determination, courage and sacrifice of Korea and the US to safeguard freedom and democracy.

Peace is not free, either. We must always remember that our shared commitment and joint deterrence, based upon a solid alliance, is the only way to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula.


Distinguished guests,

Of all the countries adjacent to the Soviet Union or China during the Cold War, the Republic of Korea was the only country that managed to ward off communism and achieve amazing growth.

I can think of 4 key factors to Korea's miraculous development. First, the diligent Korean people; second, good leaders; third, liberal democracy and the market economy; and last but not least, the Korea-US alliance.

Our alliance, throughout the past 50 years, has been the most exemplary alliance in history. As long as we have our shared values, shared interests and shared memories, our alliance will never falter.

It is now time, though, to boost this alliance that we are so proud of to a new dimension that is more responsive to the changing world.

In establishing this new 21st century "alliance of values" upon the foundation of mutual trust, we cannot just entertain our own selfish interests, but need to show the world that Korea and the US are ready to work with courage and wisdom to make our alliance stronger than ever.

I sincerely hope that, Korea and the US will go down in history as the wonderful partners who opened a new horizon of peace and prosperity in the global village of the 21st century.

Thank you for your attention.

This page last updated 2/25/2007 jdb

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