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SLUG: 1-00897 On the Line - The U.S. and North Korea 11-04-2000 DATE: NOTE NUMBER:








Anncr:On the Line a discussion of United States policy and contemporary issues. This week, "The U.S. and North Korea." Here is your host, Robert Reilly.

Host:Hello and welcome to On the Line. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in Pyongyang recently for talks with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il. It was the highest level meeting ever held between U.S. and North Korean officials. It followed the summit last June between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il. Mrs. Albright said "the U.S. has a vital and longstanding interest in the stability of the Korean peninsula, which is central to the peace and security of the region." Key U.S. concerns include the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear programs. North Korea fired a multi-staged Taepo Dong missile over Japan in 1998.

Joining me today to discuss the U.S. and North Korea are three experts. James Lilley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and China. Robert Manning is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Nicholas Eberstadt is the author of the recent book, The End of North Korea.

Gentlemen, welcome to the program. James Lilley, how strategic a shift in Asia is this seeming rapprochement between North and South, and between North Korea and the United States?

Lilley: I don't think there are really any strategic implications you can measure yet. It is largely tactical and it's been concerned largely with high profile glitz, ceremonial rites that go with the renovating of a relationship. That's part of the deal with the Koreans. You've got to go through the rituals, the meetings, the symbols, the limousines, the police escorts, the banquets, the applause, the meaningless toasts.

Host: What does it all symbolize?

Lilley: It symbolizes that we are going to try to get along with these people in a more down-to-earth way. That's what it is supposed to symbolize. What you have not done is to get down to the short strokes yet, and that is happening in Kuala Lumpur. It's probably happening in various other places.

Host: Where the negotiations are taking place on the North Korean missiles?

Lilley: On the missiles and in other areas that we are talking about. So we have got the hard work still to go; the glitzy work is being done.

Host: Do you agree with that, Bob Manning, that they have decided to live with us in a different and in a more livable way?

Manning: I think that, at some point at the beginning of this year, they made some decisions to do things a lot differently. Up until he showed up in the Chinese embassy in March of this year, he [Kim Jong Il] had never gone anywhere in public. Suddenly, he is in Beijing, he is doing a North-South summit, and he is meeting with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and on and on. So there is at least a tactical shift. What we don't know is: is that all it is? Have they come up with a new set of tactics to milk more goodies from the international community because they thought they were running out of steam? Or is it a strategic shift where they acknowledge their plight, have decided they need to make some changes in order to revive a moribund economy, and so on, in which case many things might be possible? We don't know that yet. The only way we will find out is by testing them. And one of the useful things of this meeting in Kuala Lumpur on missiles is the question: are they for sale or not, or do they just want to rent them?

Host: Nick Eberstadt?

Eberstadt: I think Bob Manning has put his finger on it. There have been a lot of new tactics that we have seen coming out of Pyongyang in the year 2000. A lot more diplomatic activity, an attempt to start new relationships with a lot of international potential patrons. What we have not seen yet, however, is any fundamental departure from North Korea's longtime modus operandi, which is to say, military extortion, aid extraction through intimidation and wheedling from vital powers, and a rejection of what the outside world would call economic reform or outward oriented economic, pragmatic policy. We just have not seen any of that yet. We may, but we are still waiting for Godot.

Host: James Lilley, since you served as an ambassador both in China and South Korea, can you tell us what role you think China is playing in steering North Korea or encouraging it in one direction or another? For instance, the defense minister from China was in Pyongyang just as Madeleine Albright arrived for her visit there.

Lilley: I think the Chinese are very heavily involved. They say that we [the Chinese] have a long geographic border with North Korea and geography does not change. Other things change. Geography doesn't. We are here forever. The Americans come and go. You've got to deal with us first of all. Second is, they want a strategic position on the peninsula that matches ours or surpasses ours. That is why Chi Hoatian, their minister of defense, was there. He is there on the anniversary of the Korean War. It is celebrating the defeat of the American imperialists by the North Korean and Chinese forces. China had a huge display of this. And the Chinese, I understand, were very upset because he didn't get higher publicity. And the Chinese have made it quite clear that if our president goes there, their president is going to go there too. And they want a bigger show for him than for Clinton. Tactically, they agree with us on certain things, namely, no war on the peninsula. They would like to see weapons of mass destruction out of that peninsula. And they would like to see the North Koreans engage in some kind of reform. And they would like to see NorthSouth dialogue as the key. On the other hand, strategically they want their influence on the peninsula to match or be greater than ours. They want the major say, over Japan and the United States. The Koreans know this and the Koreans, of course, are trying to play us off the Chinese.

Host: Isn't the best way, Robert Manning, for the Chinese to be the paramount power in the region to foster reconciliation between the North and South, which would eventuate in the departure of U-S troops from South Korea?

Manning: I am not sure I would adhere to that premise. Even the North Koreans are still Koreans, and when they look at the world, they see China, they see Russia, and they see Japan. And they are all big and they are all close. That gives a certain appeal to a very strong American role in the peninsula. And I think we will have one even in a unified Korea. It's not going to be the same configuration of forces. It may not be permanently stationed forces at all. But there will be a strategic relationship, I think, with a unified Korea and the United States. I think the Chinese have a dicey game to play. If they push too hard, they are going to remind the Koreans that before the Japanese did a lot of things they didn't like, that the Chinese have done it several hundred years earlier. And that will make sure that we are there forever. They are playing a very nuanced game. I think the one thing that they and the Japanese have in common is that nobody is in a great rush to see Korea unified. I think you can extend that to Kim Dae Jung. He is the first Korean leader who has had an explicit policy of reunification, but not now.

Host: So Kim Jong Il may have been serious during the summit with Kim Dae Jung when he said that he wasn't making the condition of the departure of U-S troops a preliminary to any kind of reunification?

Eberstadt: There is an argument to that effect. I am not sure how far one can take that particular argument, though. Two points about China and Korea. Point number one, Beijing has got a better strategic position in the Korean peninsula today than it has had for a hundred and fifty years, at least. With a divided Korea, with two capitals, both attempting to curry favor in Beijing, a very nice trade relationship with the South, and a socialist buffer state in the north, this is very attractive. This is an attractive situation for China and from Beijing's standpoint, may it go on a long time. Point number two: From Pyongyang's standpoint, it is delightful to be able to arrange for a [U.S.] State Department visit and a Chinese ministry of defense visit on exactly the same day in Pyongyang because what North Korea wishes to accomplish is to recreate a wonderful competition it had during the Cold War - the Moscow and Beijing competition for North Korea's affection, where the two sides gave North Korea aid. North Korea attempted to play the two sides against each other without giving allegiance to either. You couldn't have better forensics for recreating that than North Korea got with the Albright visit at the same time as Chi's visit.

Lilley: I would just like to make a point here. The essential trade off that has been missing in our dealings with the North Koreans to date is that they must lower their military threat in return for economic assistance. They are getting economic assistance unconditionally, and they are using it to build up their military because their military has never been stronger and more threatening than it is today. You have to get that trade-off working between our economic inputs, which have been unconditional and their military posture, which is increasingly dangerous. You have to so something about that.

Host: I want to take a moment to remind our audience that this is "On the Line." And we are discussing the U.S. and North Korea today, with James Lilley from the American Enterprise Institute, Robert Manning from the Council on Foreign Relations, and Nicolas Eberstadt, author of the The End of North Korea. President Clinton, not too long ago, described the border between North and South Korea as the "scariest place on earth." Is it still?

Manning: Nothing has changed in a positive direction. In the last year, the North Koreans have done more active military exercises than in any time in the past decade. They moved more artillery tubes up to the front line. They moved more troops up to the front line. This is all in the midst of this peace offensive.

Host: But why do that at the same time you are having a summit on eventual reunification?

Manning: Far be it from me to read North Korean minds. I am just saying these are facts on the ground. So when everybody says that it's a new North Korea, that they are now a bunch of nice guys, and so on, as Jim pointed out, the whole point of this game is reducing the North Korea threat.

Host: Speaking of those measures, what about the ideas that are being broached both by the North Koreans and the United States regarding the missile reductions?

Eberstadt: We have already had a rather unhappy experience with our Loral company and with technology transfer to Beijing, inadvertent and advertent, in our relationship with China, launching satellites for China.

Host: Or China launching satellites for us?

Eberstadt: Yes, what is being proposed today is the converse of that. There would be an inescapable transfer of technology in that sort of arrangement.

Host: If other powers, including the United States, launch North Korean satellites?

Eberstadt: Yes.

Host: Do you agree with that, Bob Manning?

Manning: Not necessarily. It depends on what we are talking about. If we are talking about launching a third stage of their missiles for them, yes. If we are talking about launching a satellite for their use, that's a bit different. I think that is probably more defensible. It's not clear what we are talking about. The point I want to raise is that you can get rid of all the missiles tomorrow and you would still have the same threat of surprise attack with less than twenty-four hours' notice.

Host: From conventional forces?

Manning: From conventional forces. The way to think about it is: we had no arms control throughout the whole Cold War until the [Mikhail] Gorbachev period. And then it changed. Why? Because the Cold War ended. And if this is the new North Korea, if the strategic competition is truly over, then it seems to me they would have an interest in major reductions in military armaments. And the key for us is to get rid of the threat of surprise attack. That is what we did in Europe. What is stunning to me is we are not even talking about it. It's not even on the agenda. Why? Because we have a bureaucracy whose job it is to deal with missiles. It is beyond me.

Host: On the other hand, some people are speculating that one reason why the North Koreans are saying we will give up the missiles if you launch our satellites - though one cannot quite understand what those satellites are for is that this would deflate the drive for missile defense, which is China's primary objective in its relations with the United States that we not have either national missile defense or theater missile defense with Japan. And since the North Korean Taepo Dong is used as one of the primary justifications of a rogue state threat with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, if that is taken off the table, then there won't be any missile defense. What do you think of that?

Lilley: I don't think that it's true at all. I think that, yes, you are quite right. The Taepo Dong has been used as an excuse. The essential problem with missile defense is China, Chinese missile deployments along the Fukien coast. You are talking about hundreds of missiles now, short-range ballistic missiles, some intermediate-range ballistic missiles that threaten American forces in the Far East.

Host: That is not the way the United States has ever explained its rationale [for missile defense], nor has Japan.

Lilley: They can explain their rationale the way they want to explain it. They also explained the two light water reactors, one thousand megawatts each. North Korea could not even begin to use this electricity. It is way beyond anything they have.

Host: Because their grid system cannot absorb it?

Lilley: They cannot absorb it. They haven't got the transformers, the generators, or any of these kinds of things to handle this kind of power. So the idea of this situation where we are committed for this four billion dollars with South Korea and Japanese money, five-hundred thousand tons of American oil, which is going up towards a hundred million [dollars] a year. The time frame has dropped from 2002 to 2007 or 2010. That's a hundred million for ten years to complete the reactors and supply the oil. You have got to rethink some of these deals that we have had. I'm not saying you break the Agreed Framework, but I'm saying North Korea has money that they have got to use for economic reform. And they will only get the money if they use this the right way in terms of their infrastructure, in terms of their agriculture, and in terms of all the things they really need: coal-fired plants, gas plants. You can get them over there in two months to produce energy that would be actually applicable to what they need.

Host: Have we seen anything from the North Koreans yet that indicates that they might be willing to make any reforms?

Manning: Let me speak in defense of the administration here. This has been explored by the administration. My understanding is that there has been some indication of interest in substituting at least one of the light water reactors for a coal-fired or thermal reactor, a thermal power grid. I think this should be actively explored by the next administration because we are in a new period now. I think five years from now the Agreed Framework may really be viewed as a relic of a past era. It was the can-opener. It opened the can, now we are in a different ballgame.

Eberstadt: And I think there really might be some potential in revisiting this because the North Korean government admits it is in a severe power shortage at the moment. It has been broadcasting this, not blaming it only on the U-S and South Korea and KEDO. It has been saying that its hydropower is coming in too low. Its coal power is coming in too low. North Korean officials have asked American officials - this is on the record - to see if they could put pressure on South Korea to provide power across the border. With this sort of need in the North, the prospect of revisiting this Agreed Framework document seems possible.

Host: What about the offer that was first made, it appeared, by Kim Jong Il to President Vladimir Putin of Russia that we [the North Koreans] will halt the missile program if someone else will launch our missiles. Then he said, I'm just kidding.

Manning: No, he never said, I was just kidding. It was a trial balloon. I know it was a trail balloon, and that is why they have been pursuing it. The U-S position has been getting rid of all missiles beyond the three hundred-kilometer range, which is the Missile Technology Control Regime limit. That is much more reasonable because even if you get rid of the Taepo Dongs, they have deployed about twenty No Dong missiles which can hit Japan, which can hit our forces in Japan. I'm afraid that what Kim Jong Il has in mind is replicating an Agreed Framework type deal where he freezes the missiles he's got deployed and gives up the ones he doesn't have, which are the Taepo Dongs, which are still under development, and gets paid for them. And I think we ought to think long and hard before we go down that route.

Lilley: I think it's an unfortunate use of your greatest resource, money, to influence this guy's behavior. He gives you a sort of jerry-rigged answer that you can take back and sell, but you haven't come to grips with the essential problem, which is that he does have an awful lot of missiles up there. And I don't think he is going to give them up because the military threat is essential to his survival. What he has got to do is to give the Americans enough evidence so they can go back and say to the Congress, he is cooperating and, if you don't give him that money, he could make war. And that seems to be the issue that has worked so well for him. So he is not about to change his tactics, fundamentally, but you have got to keep trying to get him to do it. And that is why I say, engage him, talk to him, drag him out, but keep it not at the heady level yet, that goes too high.

Host: So no presidential visit?

Lilley: Not until you get some real signs that something is happening.

Host: Nick Eberstadt, the title of your book is so provocative, The End Of North Korea. When the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Perry, was sent to North Korea by President Clinton to survey the situation, he apparently came to the conclusion that Kim Jong Il and his regime are here to stay.

Eberstadt: Yes, he did.

Host: Do you disagree with that?

Eberstadt: One of the important factors that has been keeping the regime alive has been foreign aid. And since foreign aid from the Soviet Union is no longer possible since there is no Soviet Union, the new source of aid that has been keeping North Korea on life support on a day-to-day basis has been aid from the United States, from South Korea, from Japan, and from a little bit of the rest of the Western community. North Korea I don't think is that far from economic collapse - if you define economic collapse as a breakdown in the national food system that causes all sorts of other things to happen.

Host: There are two million dead from famine?

Manning: Nobody knows that.

Eberstadt: Nobody knows exactly, but that is certainly a number that's bandied about. But a breakdown in the national food system is economic collapse, and what's preventing that is outside aid.

Host: Which should or should not be continued as a result?

Eberstadt: Outside aid should be applied in a humanitarian way, if it is to go in. We are cutting checks to the Pyongyang government rather than feeding the most distressed. It is not a good way that we are doing it.

Host: Do you think President Clinton ought to go if there is an agreement on missiles?

Manning: If they get the agreement I just mentioned getting rid of all missiles beyond three hundred kilometers, No Dongs and Taepo Dongs, that's serious, and if it is verifiable. That is a key point and not easy to do. If they can get that, then I think that is a substantial breakthrough. I'm still not sure why the president needs to go. We are the single superpower. Why don't we invite him here?

Host:I'm afraid that's all the time we have and I would like to thank our guests - James Lilley from the American Enterprise Institute; Robert Manning from the Council on Foreign Relations; and Nicholas Eberstadt, author of the recent book, The End of North Korea - for joining me to discuss the U.S. and North Korea. This is Robert Reilly for On the Line.

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