Today's date:
Winter 2007

President Bush: Talk to Kim Jong Il

Kim Dae Jung is the former president of South Korea. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “sunshine policy”—the effort to reconcile with North Korea peacefully. This exclusive comment for NPQ’s weekly column, Global Viewpoint, was Kim Dae Jung’s first detailed public statement since the North Korean nuclear test in October.

Seoul — North Korea has finally moved ahead with its nuclear test. A huge dark shadow of fear and danger lingers over the Korean Peninsula. We in the South are adamantly opposed to North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. This act especially goes against the “Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” jointly agreed to by the two Koreas in 1992.

As our due right, we strongly demand that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program. However, because North Korea seems unlikely to abandon its nuclear weapons easily, we must figure out the appropriate measures to resolve this issue firmly.

There are three options to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. The first option is using military measures to retaliate against North Korea. However, neighboring countries will oppose this, and the resistance from North Korea when faced with such measures could result in catastrophe on the peninsula. It could lead to the peninsula being reduced to ashes and the demise of the 70 million Korean people. Japan also will not remain unaffected. Therefore, we the Korean people are firmly against using military measures as a means to resolve this issue.

Second is using economic sanctions. Economic sanctions, of course, will inflict considerable suffering on North Korea. However, the North Korean people are already accustomed to economic deprivation. North Korea could also receive assistance from China and other allies. In the past, North Korea has earned as much as $1 billion a year from exporting missiles. If it adds nuclear weapons to its list of exports, it can make even greater amounts of money. So, there are limits to the effects economic sanctions can bring.

The third option, which I would like to propose, is to resolve the issue through dialogue between the United States and North Korea. North Korea has declared that it would give up its nuclear weapons if the US agrees to direct dialogue and guarantees the security and unbridled economic activities of North Korea. North Korea has even said that it would receive the direct inspection from the US. North Korea is saying, “Why would we need nuclear weapons if our security is assured? We will fully cooperate in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Of course, some say that we cannot trust North Korea. But I believe it is necessary to give North Korea a chance. If North Korea keeps its promise, then that would obviously be best. But if it does not keep its promise, the remaining countries in the six-party talks, along with other countries in the world, can put comprehensive countermeasures against North Korea. We dearly hope that the US makes a bold decision to change its present position and pursue dialogue with North Korea.

South Korea is the country most seriously affected by the North Korean nuclear issue. Therefore, we are dearly committed to preventing this crisis from unraveling into catastrophe and wish to resolve this issue peacefully. The US should fully respect the opinion of South Korea, a close ally, when dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. The dearest wish of the Korean people is to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program peacefully through dialogue.

I told President Bush in 2002, when I was president of the Republic of Korea, that dialogue, when necessary for a country’s national interest, can be pursued even with the evil. President Eisenhower had dialogue with North Korea in 1953 during the Korean War and reached an armistice agreement, enabling peace to take root on the Korean Peninsula over the past 50 years. President Nixon went to China, which had previously been condemned for committing war crimes for its massive engagement in the Korean War, and had dialogue with Mao Zedong. He played a decisive role in laying the groundwork for China to pursue reform and open up. President Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” but still engaged in dialogue with its leaders.

Pressure and containment have never succeeded in changing communism in the course of history. Even Cuba, a small island on the coast of the US, could not be changed through 50 years of containment.

However, there is not one case where encouragement toward openness and reform has not worked. The Soviet Union, the Eastern bloc, China have changed. The US even went to war with Vietnam, but now has good relations with Vietnam through dialogue. The US must learn through the successes and failures that history teaches us. I hope that President Bush can make the right decision.