Should Obama sign a peace treaty with North Korea?
It's too late to rid the country of nukes, but we can keep its program under control.
(Page 2 of 2)
Then George W. Bush put North Korea on the "axis of evil" list and took a hard-line approach, which also backfired. More sanctions will not affect the lives of North Korean rulers and will only cause more suffering for the common people. Heated rhetoric does not help solve the problem, either.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But that doesn't mean there's no way forward.
Kim Jong-il is now apparently picking his successor. Kim Jong-un, his youngest and favored son, has been rumored to be the next leader of North Korea. If this is true, there might be some hope for North Korea.
The younger Kim was educated in the International School of Berne in Switzerland. He is reported to have been introverted but friendly to his classmates. Unlike his father and grandfather, he has first-hand experience in a Western society.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility that Kim Jong-un may introduce political and economic reforms to North Korea after he consolidates his power.
Consider China: Mao Zedong, who only spent a few months in Moscow and never ventured to the West, kept China in isolation and constant conflict with foreign powers while Deng Xiaoping, who studied and lived in France as a teenager, brought sea changes to post-Mao China.
When Deng emerged as China's leader after the Cultural Revolution, the US and other Western countries welcomed him. President Jimmy Carter invited him to Washington and praised his bold economic reform initiatives.
Nearly two decades after Russia and China established diplomatic relations with South Korea, neither the US nor Japan has taken steps to recognize North Korea. Why doesn't President Obama reach out to Kim Jong-un and establish a working relationship with him as early as possible?
North Korea is predictably unpredictable, but one thing is clear now: It is determined to keep nuclear technology and strengthen its nuclear weapons. Yet, what North Korea needs most is not the two light water reactors promised to it under the collapsed 1994 Agreed Framework; it needs security guarantees and diplomatic recognition.
Acquiring nuclear technology does not make North Korea more dangerous; it is how the regime uses this technology that matters. Since North Korea is already nuclear-capable, the US should keep this traditional enemy close by signing a nuclear cooperation deal with it and co-managing its nuclear program. Both South Korea and China are also supportive of a less confrontational approach to North Korea.
Ultimately, the US-North Korea dialogue should aim at establishing diplomatic relations and signing a peace treaty, which may be the best way to keep North Korea's nuclear program and technology under control.
Zhiqun Zhu is an associate professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. He is also the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur chair in East Asian Politics at Bucknell.