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Can the North Korean "Peace Offensive" Drive a Wedge in the U.S.-ROK Alliance?

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
December 30, 2009


Following Ambassador Stephen Bosworth's December 8-10 visit to Pyongyang, he declared that the two sides had reached a "common understanding with the DPRK on the need to implement the six party joint statement and to resume the six party process." The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman affirmed Bosworth's statement, but mentioned the negotiation of a peace agreement, normalization of relations, and economic and energy assistance as the main items of the talks. During private meetings in November, the North Koreans described the need for a change in the U.S. "hostile policy" through the negotiation of a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice as a higher priority than denuclearization. Chosun Ilbo worries in a December 11th editorial following the Bosworth visit that North Korea's intent is to break the U.S.-ROK alliance and insist on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. If this is the North's motive, can such a strategy work?

Since the early 1990s and the establishment of separate but parallel dialogues between the United States and North Korea (over nuclear issues) and inter-Korean relations (over potential peninsular reconciliation), there have been worries that North Korea might attempt to exploit these channels by creating a wedge in U.S.-ROK alliance cooperation. But the alliance is the main factor in the emergence of U.S.-ROK-DPRK triangular relations that has limited North Korea's capacity to improve one relationship while neglecting the other. Effective U.S.-ROK alliance cooperation makes the two countries' relationships with North Korea parallel and interactive: progress in one is likely to require progress in the other while a failure to improve one relationship will act as a limiting factor constraining the development of the other. This dynamic has proven to be true during the past two decades.

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