Thursday, March 22, 2012

What can we Learn From Ireland: North Korea, South Korea and China.

My recent essay, “Denuclearization – Korea’s Red Herring,” stirred much discussion. Most reaction was favorable, but there was also some heated controversy. I had a chance to engage at depth with two ambassadors to Korea. Both diplomats were quite familiar, of course, with North and South Korea.

I will try to fairly represent both ambassadors’ perspectives since one man was skeptical and the other was encouraging of my ideas. Readers may draw their own conclusions.

The first ambassador is from Eastern Europe. He began his career under a socialist government and is therefore in a privileged position of viewing North Korea both from the perspective of a once sympathetic ally and from what may now be assumed to be a more balanced vantage point. This ambassador’s argument was that my recommended shift in diplomacy attacks the political ideology of North Korea. In any country, he maintained, “that is the last to go.” In other words, my approach would have to be a nonstarter.

And, in general terms, I’m sure he is right. But negotiators have been tiptoeing around Pyongyang’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of South Korea for some 60 years – roughly the time covered by two complete generations. The obvious question is: given the glacial pace of change in the North, shall we allow for three or four generations to pass before the matter is properly addressed? Meanwhile, be it a red herring or not, the North Korean nuclear program will continue to develop “defensive” weapons capable of wrecking global mayhem should matters get desperately out of hand.

Today’s enlightened perspective, held by many, is to recognize that North Korea is changing. The theory goes that constant exposures to the outside reality are needed to eventually cause internal reform. That approach comes across as entirely sensible. But, this same strategy has been tried for multiple decades, and the results have been and continue to be remarkably uninspiring. It is like different nations and organizations have been building bonfires in front, around and on top of a glacier. These fire builders are quick to point out the minor indentations that have melted away. Yet, when these efforts are viewed in their totality, one is likely to ask, “So what?”

Back in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, there was merit to the current approach. But, the current strategy, to put it kindly, is getting rather long in the tooth. At the same time, there has been little creativity other than to do the same strategy over and over again.

And, I would guess by now, the North Koreans may have caught on to what the West is really up to. The Germans recently closed their Pyongyang branch of the Goethe-Institut upon realizing that the North Korean authorities were intimidating its citizens from entering those facilities.

Some diplomats may declare: “Small sparks of light are better than none in the darkness!” Perhaps so, but I can’t help wondering who is actually fooling who when one party is controlling the entire game.

Before I move on to the second ambassador, I need to relate that other readers noted that the South has never made any public move to formally recognize the North. But, since the end of the military governments, particularly from the time of Kim Dae-jung, there has been open discussion in South Korea about a federation of two governments on the peninsula, which I assume would require mutual recognition. In earlier times, such discussion would have landed advocates in jail. Today, such ideas are openly aired. All of this suggests much greater flexibility on the part of the South Korea’s government.

I had a long discussion over lunch with another EU ambassador. It turns out he spent several years contributing to the successful Northern Ireland peace accord. While I was aware that the accord took several years of negotiations, I was surprised at how long it took to be fully implemented – almost a decade in fact. In other words, peace building is obviously a very difficult and tedious process, but only when an agreement is signed does the real work begin.

The diplomat cautioned about applying lessons from one conflict to another, but said that there were clear lessons learned from the Northern Ireland peace process. In essence, the Northern Ireland peace process was based on multiple, related negotiation tracks done in full concert with each other. All issues were put on the table and addressed. There were negotiations between Catholics and Protestants; Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland. The U.S. played a critical broker role as a friend to all parties. In any event, no one negotiation tracks could have ever been truly successful without the successful conclusions of the other two.

In all three tracks, the cornerstones were mutual respect and prolonged meetings leading to personal friendships and empathy, all of which led to mutual acceptance and understanding. But, without achieving these qualities, ancillary issues could not be effectively addressed.

If we may learn from the Irish example, what could be possible?

First, there needs to be an open discussion, such as in forums jointly sponsored by South Korea, the EU and the U.S. to discuss whether a similar approach may work with the North. Rather than focus on resulting issues such as human rights and nuclear proliferation at six-party talks, perhaps multitrack negotiations could be more effective. Confidence building measures would be needed, not least a verifiable freeze on the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

Specifically, there may be the following negotiations: South-North cooperation, which would include humanitarian and commercial matters, bilateral relations, which would address diplomatic and military matters, and Korean foreign relations, which would result in a comprehensive peace treaty involving all parties, including the U.S., the UN, the South and the North. But, it would need to be clear that all three negotiations would have to show substantial progress.

Upon the development and agreement among South Korea and its allies to something similar to the above, this approach would be brought to the UN for further discussion and introduction to North Korea.

To conclude with the obvious, we know what has not been working. Perhaps the powers that be could do better by emulating something that has proven to be successful.

The article appeared in the Korean Joonang Daily and can be found at:  What Can Korea Learn From Ireland?

Monday, March 5, 2012

North Korea, China and South Korea by IPG's Senior Advisor Tom Coyner

During the past couple of weeks the North Koreans have once again pulled the red herring across the trail in an attempt to distract the rest of the world from the fundamental Korean issue. Dutifully, commentators and government officials have editorialized and issued statements about terms and conditions for yet another possible round of negotiations.

Please, would someone give us a break? Could someone in any concerned government service come out and state what’s really going on?

Allow me to call out the emperors are not wearing any clothes. The problem that is at the core of the six party talks is not North Korea’s atomic weapons. The real issue is that the North cannot bring itself to recognize the legitimacy of another government on the Korean Peninsula.

Everything else has been cascading down from this sticking point since the end of World War II, up to and including the North Korea-related issues of this week. Meanwhile, remarkable time and effort have been devoted to secondary issues with totally unrealistic expectations that by solving these lesser issues, the overall tensions on the Korean Peninsula may somehow be resolved.

Beyond any controversy, the smartest thing Pyongyang has done has been to develop an atomic weapons program as a way to repeatedly get the world’s (read: America’s) attention and to distract diplomatic focus from the core issue, which is the North’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Korea as a legitimate government.

Within the North’s ideology, there is but one government, which in turn necessitated the Korean War. Given the absence of victory, the North has had no choice but to continue to find schemes to bring the U.S. back to the negotiating table on one pretext or another. The masterpiece alibi has been the nuclear weapons issue. With the ongoing turnover of “Korea hands” in Washington, it has been relatively easy for Pyongyang to force American-Korea desk officers to focus on the pending and immediate nuclear threat from North Korea.

In the process of one North Korean-manufactured mini crisis after another, Pyongyang has been able to achieve three objectives. First, the North Koreans have made sure that North Korea matters in spite of its political, diplomatic and economic bankruptcy. Second, by playing Washington and its allies like a yo-yo of promises and provocations, the North has been able to extract foreign aid from its sworn enemies. Third, by achieving the first two goals, the key issue of Pyongyang’s refusal to recognize Seoul is never adequately addressed.

When one looks at Seoul’s repeated demands for Pyongyang to apologize for last year’s military episodes that resulted in the needless deaths of islanders and sailors, it is readily apparent why North Korea refuses to do so - when viewed from the North’s perspective. To apologize would in effect recognize the legitimacy of the Seoul government having intrinsic rights and responsibilities as a sovereign state - as opposed to being a puppet government that can be cajoled into coughing up cash and aid whenever it suits Pyongyang’s purposes.

At the risk of making too fine a point, just what in blazes does the U.S. have to offer in negotiating a “denuclearization of Korea?” Decades ago, the U.S. withdrew tactical atomic weapons from Korea. What’s more to be demanded from Pyongyang? Is the North suggesting the removal of the U.S. Navy from Yokosuka with its potential nuclear capacity? A no-go zone for American submarines in the east Pacific? America’s removal of ICBMs from North Dakota? Or, does anyone genuinely expect the U.S. to build nuclear reactors in North Korea?

It’s all nonsense. The North knows it, and many American government officials know it. And yet there is a good deal of resources being expended towards a possible next round of denuclearization talks. It may be cynically said that all another round of talks may produce are opportunities for American government officials to upgrade their CVs as having represented or supported American diplomacy “to reduce nuclear tensions in NE Asia.”

So, given all of this, what may be the alternative?

As an American business professional, here is my suggestion from my years of negotiating business deals with Koreans and others. First, change the game. Inform North Korea that the U.S. is no longer interested in a continued discussion on a dead topic. We will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power for two reasons: One, to do so would be a bad precedence for other dictatorships; and two, to do so would to recognize the overriding legitimacy of the issue. In other words, denuclearization is a non-negotiable issue as it is not a matter of possible discussion with the United States.

At the same time, what is the first and foremost concern to the United States and its allies is the formal recognition of South Korea by the North. If this cannot be achieved, after all these decades, there is essentially nothing more to be expected from the United States and the rest of the world. All other matters are off the negotiating table until Pyongyang formally recognizes the legitimacy of Seoul as the government. Only after that has been achieved to the mutual satisfaction of Seoul and Pyongyang will Washington enter into serious peace talks with Pyongyang.

After a half a century and more, with South Korea achieving its political, economic and diplomatic overwhelming dominance, the North must be forced to come to grips with reality. Otherwise, it is total nonsense for Washington to play along with Pyongyang’s fantasies, which includes providing humanitarian and other assistance, as unintended tribute to a delusional regime.

Tom Coyner is a Senior Advisor to IPG and the President of Softlanding Korea.
The article appeared in the Korea Joonang Daily in August of 2011.