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2009/08/27 10:37 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 69 (August 27, 2009)


N. Korea's Recent Strategic Appeasement Offensive And Prospects

By Park Hyeong-jung, Senior Research Fellow of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, Korea

North Korea made an active gesture of reconciliation toward South Korea and the United States in August this year, after a series of measures touched off tensions in relations with them. Undoubtedly, North's offering of an olive branch is aimed at normalization of its relations with Seoul, Washington and Beijing, the latter its ally which joined U.N. sanctions against it. The major target of the North's policy seems to be South Korea.

   North Korea has suggested a new agenda it wants to discuss in meetings with foreign countries -- notably the U.S. -- after a series of drastic measures taken since last October, including its second nuclear test on May 25 this year followed by its test-firing of missiles in early July. On the agenda, among other items, are the international community's acceptance of its status as a nuclear power and its program to enrich uranium, the normalization of its relations with the U.S. while keeping its nuclear bombs intact, plus the holding of U.S.-North Korea negotiations, instead of the six-way talks aimed at dealing with its nuclear weapons development program. The North argues that the agenda in talks between the North and the U.S. should include the question of arms reduction, regarding the latter's nuclear weapons.

   This offensive by the North has faced objections voiced in unison by its concerned neighboring countries symbolized by Resolution No. 1874 of the United Nations Security Council adopted on June 13. North Korea has refrained from taking additional measures in that direction after July, while taking strategic steps aimed at forming an environment conducive to protecting its achievements, maintaining its initiative and winning in negotiations with foreign countries.
The meaning of those North's measures can be grasped in terms of a conception of the strategic appeasement offensive. The strategic appeasement offensive refers to a positive attempt to take the initiative in a situation through concessions of a benevolent and conciliatory nature while maintaining their fundamental position, in an effort to induce the counterpart to give in to their strategy.

   Let's review these developments in detail. North Korea in early August allowed the visit of former U.S. president William J. Clinton to the country, an active gesture of its wish for direct talks with the U.S. According to the joint announcement of Hyundai Group, a South Korean conglomerate, and the (North) Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which was also carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in a meeting with Hyundai Chairman Hyun Jung-eun on Aug. 16, "complied with all her requests." And the Choson Sinbo, organ of the pro-Pyongyang General Federation of Korean Residents in Japan, said the next day that the measure taken by Kim serves as a "breakthrough in the deadlocked inter-Korean relations."

   This North's strategic appeasement offensive is most likely to continue in the future -- for a long time.

   The goals North Korea intends to achieve through its strategic appeasement offense can be broken down into ones of a defensive nature and ones of a offensive nature. The defensive objectives are as follows:
First, to avoid the brunt of international sanctions against the country for its provocative measures, including the sanctions taken by the U.N. Security Council"s Resolution No. 1874;
Second, to bring about disagreement among the participants in six-way talks, namely, South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China, in a bid to prevent them from forming ranks against the North;
Third, to court China directly and indirectly, which plays a pivotal role in demonstrating the effect of sanctions against the North; and
Fourth, to prevent the South Korean government from actively participating in international sanctions against the North, promoting sympathetic South Korean public opinion to the North and criticism of their government's policy toward the North.

   The offensive objectives are as follows:
First, to sway international opinion to restructure international relationships and negotiations on the basis of its status as a nuclear power;
Second, to resume negotiations between the country and the U.S. on the preconditions imposed by the North, including U.S. acceptance of its status as a nuclear power;
Third, to change South Korea's North Korea policy and resume inter-Korean talks on the preconditions made by the North; and
Fourth, to resume multilateral talks on the preconditions imposed by the North.

   North Korea will likely adopt various ways and means in its strategic appeasement toward South Korea, viewing the South as the weak point of an alliance against it.

   Amidst strategic tensions between North Korea and the international community, the North will probably exerts best efforts on it's strategic appeasement toward South Korea and the U.S. And the South and the U.S. will likely respond to North's behavior in a similar way, namely, with a strategic appeasement offensive toward the country.

   While pushing ahead energetically with sanctions against North Korea for some time to come, the U.S. will likely maintain its objective to bring the North back to the multilateral talks where it expressed its will to dismantle its nuclear weapons development program, and to resume the talks for North's "complete, irrevocable disablement of its nuclear capability,"

   In response to that U.S. behavior, North Korea will most likely continue to refuse to participate in the six-nation negotiations for dismantling its nuclear program and weapons and maintain its objective to hold direct talks between the country and the U.S. on the preconditions of its possession of nuclear weapons.

   It will not be easy for both the U.S. and the North top accept each other's bids, or scheme. Undoubtedly, however, they will continue to express their willingness for talks, while suppressing and threatening each other continuously. In other words, the U.S. will likely continue to put pressure on the North and express its willingness for talks, while the North concentrates its efforts on a gesture of reconciliation with the U. S.
The strategic appeasement offensive of the U.S. and the North has brought about growing expectation of a positive turn in the tug-of-war between them. But it will be hard for them to begin solution-oriented talks, beyond the province of improving their relations. It will take a considerable time for them to make it. Time, however, is on the U.S.'s side. The U.S. will likely take a wait-and-see posture while concentrating its efforts on preventing North's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. North Korea will have to take measures aimed at forming an environment conducive to its survival, giving priority to its relations with South Korea and China on a short- and mid-term basis.

   North Korea's strategic appeasement offensive toward South Korea will most likely be intensive. North's objective is to normalize inter-Korean relations while maintaining the preconditions of its possession of nuclear weapons. Undoubtedly, it will continue to express its willingness to actively expand inter-Korean relations on both government and private bases, with the question of nuclear weapons disregarded.

   It is unlikely there will be a change in South Korea's posture, with its active participation in international sanctions against North Korea. The resumption of South's economic assistance to the North will require, among other things, substantial measures of the North to dismantle its nuclear capability. And a challenge to the South will concern the establishment of its posture in relation to North's appeasement offensive.

   In case South Korea does not change its position in a meaningful way, there is the possibility that the North will attempt to expand its relations with the private sector of the South, while emphasizing the need to implement the eight-point inter-Korean agreement reached on Oct. 4, 2007 in the second summit of the two Koreas. Undoubtedly, that North's behavior is aimed at touching off domestic disputes in the South and disputes between the South and the U.S.

   The South Korean government can respond to the North's strategic appeasement offensive also with a strategic appeasement offensive, while maintaining its strategic principle. For the success of its strategic appeasement offensive, the North needs to open its doors to some extent while refraining from engaging in provocative activities. North's behavior of this kind will provide the South with a chance to deal with internal and external situations in a stable way and give birth to a change in the status quo.

   In the event that these developments come about, a strategic confrontation between the two Koreas and their strategic appeasement can coexist for a some time to come. It is important to note that even under a confrontational situation, they can maintain their strategic appeasement toward each other -- albeit in an unstable way. The situation will be unstable because there will be limitations on the improvement of their relations and their perception on the risk will be exaggerated than other things. But they can safeguard their common interest if they can manage the limitations and the risk.