Once the war in Iraq is over, the possibility of a preemptive war in North Korea may become a reality, said Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy.
In a discussion titled “The North Korean Nuclear Crisis” held at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater yesterday, panel members discussed the United States’ role in exacerbating the ongoing nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.
Since the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, increased tensions have been escalating on the Korean peninsula. The South Korean government put its military on heightened alert. As a result, North Korea responded by postponing economic talks between the two countries that were supposed to start today.
“This is a very dangerous time, more dangerous than the nuclear crisis in 1994, which almost led to war,” Harrison said, referring to the the 1994 agreement under which North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear weapons program in return for fuel oil and two light water reactors. Harrison added the media has completely distorted the breakdown of this agreement.
Under the 1994 agreement, the United States also promised to normalize relations with North Korea, which would have ended sanctions on North Korea.
“Washington got what it most wanted with the 1994 agreement,” said Leon Sigal, Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council. “Washington did not meet its end of the bargain.”
Political science Prof. Meredith Woo-Cumings said while North Korea wants to enter the world market, it cannot due to existing U.S. sanctions.
By not meeting its promises of the agreement, Harrison said the U.S., along with North Korea, is to blame for the intensifying nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.
“We got upfront what we wanted – like freezing the uranium-enrichment program,” Harrison said, adding that the promises the United States made were partly unmet.
Sigal said the U.S. did little to ease the sanctions on North Korea until 2000. He added that the U.S. did not fulfill one of the goals of the agreement – to move toward full political and economic normalization with North Korea.
While the U.S. has largely presented North Korea as the violators of the agreement that has resorted to “blackmail,” Sigal argued that as the result of U.S.’s failure to meet its promises and President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech, North Korea had no choice but to continue its nuclear program. He added blackmail is not being used by the North Koreans.
“Why would North Korea give up its nuclear program if the U.S. sees (North Korea) as its foe?” Sigal said.
“Not negotiating with North Korea about its uranium-enrichment program literally makes no sense,” he added. “How do you get inspectors into North Korea without negotiations with Pyongyang?”
By refusing to negotiate with North Korea, the U.S. is further alienating its allies in Asia – Japan and South Korea – and antagonizing China, who along with Russia has economic ties with North Korea, Sigal said.
The North Korean nuclear crisis not only jeopardizes security on the Korean peninsula but also creates a “danger of a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia,” Harrison said.
“If North Korea goes nuclear, so will Japan,” he said. “There are forces in South Korea who wants nuclear weapons, and they will feel emboldened if Japan has them.”
Harrison said South Korea doesn’t want the U.S. to attack North Korea to start another Korean War and is hopeful that the Bush administration will not attack North Korea.
“We can get a settlement with North Korea if (the Bush administration) wants one,” he added. “We don’t know if (Bush) wants one.”