Prospect and Weakness of the Lee Administration’s North Korea Policy

The crux of Lee Myung Bak administration’s North Korean policy could be found from his election pledges.

“Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness” can be summarized as “If North Korea gets rid of nuclear weapons and pursues market economy reform, South Korea would provide enough economic aid for the North to achieve 3000 USD per capita in 10 years.” This is a conditional sentence. It is not clear whether both conditions of “giving up nukes” and “reform” should be satisfied or not. The antecedence, or condition, is what South Korea desires.

At this point, we could call Lee’s policy on North Korea as “conditional North Korea policy,” because it is consisted of antecedence and consequence.

In contrast, the Sunshine Policy is exactly reversed. The policy says “If we give aid to the North (sunshine), North Korea will follow with reform.” Moreover, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations did not prepare what to do after North Korea actually commits itself to market economy.

As a result, pro-North Korean government in Seoul did not achieve reform in Pyongyang. The Sunshine Policy eventually turned to this statement: “Even if North Korea does not do reform, we will continue aid.”

We are not sure what consequence Lee Administration’s North Korea policy would bring. But the policy’s core depends on possibility of North Korea’s accepting new South Korean government’s “conditions.”

If President-elect Lee Myung Bak keeps other options than “Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness”, Kim Jong Il would not even consider the option of abolition of nukes and reform the country’s economy. Take a look at North Korea’s previous ten years:

1. Kim Jong Il pursues “Military-First Politics” and building a “Strong Nation” to keep its totalitarian regime. In other words, his military threat compels neighbors to give economic aid.

2. Therefore, North Korea’s nuclear warheads have two primary roles, first means of threat, and second, means of negotiation. As ‘he should not kill a hen giving birth to golden eggs,’ Kim cannot give up nukes, entirely.

3. North Korea’s reform and opening policy, as Kim Jong Il himself acknowledged, would inevitably result in collapse of totalitarian regime. So the policy will never take place unless the regime disintegrates. Nonetheless, North Korea pretends to do such policy in order to extract as much aid as possible from Seoul. The pretense is so-called “mosquito-net open policy.” Democracy and capitalist idea (mosquitoes) are blocked to enter the North while cash through Kaesung Industrial Complex, Mt. Geumgang and Mt. Baekdu tours, that is vital to keep the regime, is welcome.

The facts above depict what North Korea has been doing for a decade. Yet, some North Korean specialists, politicians, and media in Seoul and the world hope for the best. However, there is no room for hope in dealing with North Korea, but only rationality.
Thus, President Lee’s core of his North Korean policy must be “how to react if North Korea does neither denuclearize nor reform (democratic and market economy).”

As of now, there seems no clear-cut counter plan on Lee’s side. But pro-North Korean faction in Seoul and Kim Jong Il know well this.

So, this pro-North Korea alliance’s next step can be summarized into three:

4. The new government in South Korea suggests conditions of aid that North Korea can never accept. And, positive outcome of last decade’s inter-Korean cooperation would be swept away. Then the new government’s North Korean policy could not advance anymore unless the conditions are abandoned.

5. North Korea’s denuclearization can only be achieved when there are economic aids and security guarantee (for Pyongyang).

6. If South Korea does not sincerely follow with the aid package promised by the Roh Administration through the second Inter-Korean Summit, neither Pyongyang has obligation to keep denuclearization process.

The three points converge on one objective: to force South Korea keep giving aid to the North, even if North Korea does not follow with denuclearization and reform.

So, unless South Korean government works in accordance with the principle “no satisfaction of the conditions, no economic aid,’ the Lee administration’s North Korean policy would duplicate the failure of Sunshine Policy.

Then, the focus is on whether the new administration keeps the principle of “no reform/denuclearization, no aid.” Prospect is, however, not so optimistic.

First, for North Korea economic aid from Seoul is so vital that it has been conducting South Korean policy desperately and with do-or-die spirit. On the other hand, for South Korea, North Korean issue is not so important anymore, and it is easy to be compelled by sensitive messages.

Secondly, aid to North Korea can produce a lot of perceptible political events. And it is always easier to give somebody than to receive from him/her.

Thirdly, some of the new administration’s policy makers have problematic views. One of them is Professor Nam Sung Wook of Korea University. In a panel discussion on Jan. 1, he said “the new administration’s policy will be cooperation with North Korea to lead it denuclearized.”

However, Kim Jong Il never considers sincere denuclearization, let alone market-oriented reform.

What the new government needs right now is a simple, new paradigm “no denuclearization and market-oriented reform, no aid.” There is neither stick nor carrot needed. The other urgent jobs are letting South Korean public know about exact human rights situation of North Korea and helping North Korean human rights NGOs in dealing with this issue.

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