THE impending decision of the United Nations to make North and South Korea its newest members is yet another sign that the old reality of cold-war politics is giving way to the cold reality of economic hardship."Acceptance of dual representation by North Korea is the most recent but very important sign that North Korea is feeling the economic pressure," says William Taylor, director of political-military affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. North Korea has long insisted that separate UN seats for the two Koreas would seal the 46-year division of the Korean Peninsula, which the Pyongyang government has frequently threatened to unify by force. But - faced with mounting economic troubles and the urgent need for Western capital, technology, and management expertise - North Korean leaders have softened their hard line. As Pyongyang edges toward what may be a historic rapprochement with its southern neighbor, United States and South Korean officials are taking a hard, new look at the last remaining hot spot of the cold war. "The whole future of US policy toward North and South Korea is under review," says another Washington-based expert on Korean affairs. The UN General Assembly is expected to vote to accept the two Koreas as full UN members in the session that convenes on Sept. 17. US officials have welcomed the development as a spur to a serious North-South dialogue and eventual peaceful reunification of the peninsula.
Shift in Pyongyang The Pyongyang government's shift on the issue of UN membership is the latest of several developments that have brought a measure of cheer to Asia-watchers here and abroad. Earlier this year North Korea entered into ministerial-level talks with South Korea. The fourth round of talks, postponed because of events in the Soviet Union, is expected to begin in the fall when South Korea's prime minister, Chung Won Shik, travels to Pyongyang to meet with his North Korean counterpart, Yon Hyong Muk. In a gesture toward Washington, the Pyongyang government last month also turned over the remains of 11 US servicemen killed in action during the Korean War and agreed to investigate the whereabouts of 8,000 additional US servicemen classified as missing in action. "North Korea is looking for ways to negotiate the mutual reduction of North-South forces to free money for consumer goods," says the Korea expert. "That requires a new environment of relations with the US and Japan." North Korea also has indicated its willingness to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities, a development many diplomatic observers believe could eventually open the door to a genuine rapprochement in the peninsula. Jane's Intelligence Review reported in August that North Korea now has the material and technology to produce a small nuclear bomb. Last April, the Pyongyang government said inspections could begin as soon as North Korea was given the right to inspect US nuclear weapons which are said to be based in South Korea. The US rejected direct linkage between the two issues, saying no quid pro quo would be offered to induce Pyongyang to do what it is already obliged to do as a signer of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But many experts believe that if North Korea makes the first move a kind of indirect linkage could occur, opening the door to better relations with the South and perhaps even to the eventual removal of US nuclear weapons from South Korea. "After IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] acceptance is completed, South Korea would like to talk with North Korea on all matters, including arms and confidence-building measures," says Dr. Taylor. "The key is the North's willingness to accept IAEA inspections." The Pyongyang government is under strong pressure to comply from nations like the US and Japan that possess the capital and technology North Korea urgently needs for economic reconstruction. A delegation of senior US and South Korean officials met in Honolulu earlier this month to reevaluate policy toward the North and the status of American nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Reunification seen Under a "Northern Policy" initiative, South Korea is also seeking to lessen tensions and promote eventual reunification, which South Korean President Roh Tae Woo recently predicted could occur before the end of the decade. The policy calls for opening talks with the North while establishing diplomatic relations with Soviet-bloc nations that have been Pyongyang's principal backers. South Korea and the Soviet Union established ties last year after President Mikhail Gorbachev stunned North Korea by meeting with Mr. Roh in June in San Francisco. In April Mr. Gorbachev slighted North Korea again by paying a state visit to South Korea, the first ever by a Soviet leader. The Korean Peninsula has been divided since 1945. North Korea has a million active-duty soldiers deployed north of the demilitarized zone, more than two times the South's 650,000. The South is backed by 43,000 US soldiers, including several US tactical air support units. In an address to a joint session of Congress last month Roh warned that any cutback of US forces would have "tragic" consequences. But the first phase of a gradual draw-down of between 5,000 and 7,000 US troops has already begun as the US seeks to shift from a lead role to a subordinate role in the defense of the peninsula. Since the end of the Korean War the two Koreas have been represented at the UN by nonvoting observers. Bids for separate membership have been foiled by cold-war politics as China and the Soviet Union have regularly voted to block South Korea's application, while the US has vetoed the North's.