North Korea can be dealt with

Remember Helsinki: the history of the Cold War shows a better way of dealing with the North Korean regime.
No one seems to know what to do about North Korea and its nuclear program. When Kim Jong-il launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan during AmericaÆs Independence Day celebrations, the reaction from the other members of the six-party talks about North KoreaÆs nukes ranged from Japanese outrage to South Korean embarrassment to Chinese silent humiliation.

The United States has failed to rally everyone around a common platform, and these splits allow KimÆs regime to survive. If anything the missile tests illuminated the divisions among the US and its allies, with Japanese and South Korean patrol boats chasing each other around the Dokdu islands while their diplomats traded insults.

The biggest division continues to be within the US administration, which has never set out a coherent strategy to deal with North Korea. It has wavered between hardliners who espouse regime change and a minority position that prefers diplomacy. The result has been an ineffective six-party round of talks that resembles a deer caught in the headlights.

Now the administration is being pilloried from both the left and the right for this failure.

From the left, recent New York Times editorials observe President George W BushÆs tough-guy, axis-of-evil talk has given way to anemic reliance upon meaningless negotiations. In other words: the US now suffers from the inexorable bankruptcy of muscular unilateralism.

The neoconservative Weekly Standard, meanwhile, is running editorials about how the tough-guy, axis-of-evil talk has given way to anemic reliance upon meaningless negotiations. In other words: Uncle SamÆs laudably muscular unilateralism has given way to wasteful pinko jaw-jaw.

Lack of imagination is as much the problem as anything else, but potential solutions do exist. Does no one remember Helsinki? ItÆs time to dust off the history books.

In 1975, the US and its Nato allies signed a deal with the Soviet Union in Helsinki, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which the cold warriors agreed to respect one anotherÆs sovereignty, renounce the use of force, respect frontiers and the territorial integrity of states, settle disputes peacefully, not interfere in internal affairs, respect human rights and remain faithful to international obligations.

Those who would become todayÆs neoconservatives hated this deal, which epitomized the Nixonian strategic acceptance of the fact of the USSR and international communism. At the time, many anti-communists viewed Helsinki as a big win for the Soviet Union, which seemed to have wrested the geopolitical initiative, and which was not trusted to keep its end of the bargain.

Helsinki was the culmination of an era of accommodation that began in late 1969, when Willy Brandt became West GermanyÆs chancellor and inaugurated his policy of pursued Ostpolitik, meant to improve relations with East Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow. The policy outraged German and American conservatives but helped relax Cold War tensions.

By 1975, Brandt and Nixon were gone, but their legacy lived on in the Salt I (nuclear arms controls) and Helsinki treaties. Accommodation continued until Ronald Reagan decided to confront the Soviets and helped end the Cold War. The assertive model was what George Bush II used to face terrorism and rogue statesÆ nuclear programmes, epitomised by his 2002 State of the Union address labeling Iraq, Iran and North Korea an ôaxis of evilö.

Neocons viewed Bill ClintonÆs 1995 Agreed Framework with North Korea, in which the US was to supply light-water reactors in return for the suspension of North KoreaÆs nuclear weapons program, as a sham. The North Koreans were caught in October 2002 flagrantly violating the accord. From that point on for the Bush administration, diplomacy was out and regime change was in.

But unlike with Iraq, the military option against North Korea has never been credible, because Seoul is an effective hostage. An attack by either side would be too costly...a scaled-down version of the Cold WarÆs mutually assured destruction.

There is another echo from the Cold War: South KoreaÆs ôsunshine policyö, begun by president Kim Dae-Jung and continued today by Roh Moo-hyun, which evokes BrandtÆs Ostpolitik. Once more to the horror of conservatives, the US ally is pursuing a policy of engagement, one designed to cool tensions and draw the totalitarian other out of its shell of paranoia and militancy. KoreaÆs sunshine policy and ChinaÆs need to support its client have undercut US efforts at regime change in Pyongyang.

Although there is a good case for squeezing North Korea financially, which the US is doing to measurable effect, the notion that this kind of pressure will unseat Kim is fantastic. Regimes that donÆt care about the suffering of their populations seem to survive and even thrive in the face of such pressure û look at Cuba, Iran or Zimbabwe. Isolation makes it easier for tyrants to maintain control and to brainwash their people.

Sticks alone wonÆt crack North Korea. But neither will sunshine policies; give Kim a carrot and heÆs only going to demand another one. Combined, however, sticks and carrots can achieve the goals of disarming the North without causing a catastrophic political collapse that would destabilise China and the South.

The Helsinki accords were viewed by neocons as a defeat against Soviet duplicity but in the end they served a vital function in the eventual Western victory. Moscow craved non-interference, secure borders and the maintenance of the status quo. But the insertion of a clause on human rights was the USSRÆs Achilles Heel. The reduction of Cold War tensions, thanks in great part to Ostpolitik, allowed Moscow to relax controls on travel and trade, and helped the people of Eastern Europe and Russia realise just how badly they were governed.

Ostpolitik and Helsinki also laid the groundwork for the Reagan confrontation by showing leaders in the Warsaw Pact that they could negotiate with the West; that they had someone reasonable to speak to on the other line. Without Ostpolitik and Helsinki, there would not have been Mikhail Gorbachev or glasnost or perestroika; and without those things, the Russians would not have blinked when Reagan ratcheted up Cold War spending and rhetoric.

What is missing from the current six-party talks over North KoreaÆs nuclear programme is a Helsinki-like dialogue. And what is missing from the SouthÆs sunshine policy is a recognition of human rights. The younger generation in South Korea has largely chosen to ignore its neighbourÆs appalling human rights record, or the conditions that underpin Kim Jong-ilÆs gulag state û just as the hard left in Germany in the 1970s shamefully accepted the illusion of justice in Stalinist states.

America should be willing to give North Korea some of what it desires û a promise of respecting its borders û in return for a verifiable promise that it is not exporting nuclear technology, and a commitment to human rights. This is the ingredient lacking in South Korea and ChinaÆs strategy of engagement. Engagement can ease tensions and promote cross-border contact, which will eventually destroy KimÆs regime. Insisting on human rights in North Korea as part of a deal for its security can have the same corrosive impact on the regime as it did in the USSR, as well as expose the supine pipedreams of South KoreaÆs young, anti-American left.

Meanwhile, American proponents of regime change û who would no doubt abhor any whiff of accommodation to Kim Jong-il û must consider that the past four years of antagonism have not undermined KimÆs rule, but instead have allowed him to consolidate his position, amass nuclear weapons and test long-range missiles.
¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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