Washington has apparently been handling the North as part of its broader non-proliferation initiative while Seoul focuses on the denuclearization agenda. Some have raised concern that this could be a source of friction, particularly after the elections later this year in both the U.S. and the South.
“I think these problems can be worked out provided that we have a common agreement on where we want to be eventually. These are questions of sequence and implementation,” said Stephen Bosworth, the dean of Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, in a meeting with reporters in Seoul.
“Unfortunately, I think that the complete elimination of nuclear programs in North Korea is not going to happen in the near future. So we are going to have to deal with the concerns of proliferation as well as the underlying problem of denuclearization.”
Bosworth, who served as U.S. special representative on North Korea policy from 2009-2011 and ambassador to Seoul from 1997-2001, came here to deliver a lecture on the communist state on the invitation of the government-affiliated Korea Foundation.
Although the allies share the ultimate goal of denuclearization, subtle divergence in their approach has been detected.
Washington is seen focusing more on preventing the North from transferring its nuclear or radioactive material or technology to hostile non-state actors, namely terrorist organizations, or other unfriendly states such as Iran. Seoul has focused primarily on making its northern neighbor nuclear-free.
Underscoring the delicate balance between deterrence and engagement in dealing with the North, Bosworth said that deterrence should be a “constant element” fostered by close coordination between Seoul and Washington.
“I don’t think it is feasible or appropriate or useful to try to increase deterrence or decrease deterrence depending upon the general state of affairs in the short term,” he said.
“I think the most important element of deterrence is fundamental solidarity of purpose between the U.S. and South Korea. And that you can’t turn on and off. If we are confident about deterrence … our political leaders will have a little bit more flexibility to think about engagement.”
To improve the framework of the multilateral denuclearization talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, the former diplomat stressed that the sequencing of the process to achieve the denuclearization goal should be readjusted.
“My own view is, we have to readjust that sequence so that as we make progress in one area, we have the possibility of making progress in another. I don’t think CVID is any longer a feasible negotiating goal simply because of the nature of the North Korean regime and the nature of technology they are now developing,” he said.
CVID refers to “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement,” a term former U.S. President George W. Bush used as his denuclearization goal. Pyongyang called it a “humiliating term.”
He also pointed out that one of the difficulties the U.S. had faced over the last two decades is that it does not have a “durable consensus” on how best to deal with North Korea.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)