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North Korea’s Nuclear Brinksmanship [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: Stephen W. Bosworth, Dean, Fletcher School, Tufts University; former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Gordon Chang, Author, Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the West, and Donald P. Gregg, Chairman of the Board, Korea Society; former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Presider: Evans J.R. Revere, Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
January 19, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY

 

EVANS REVERE: If I could have your attention. Thank you all very, very much for coming today. I think we have a very interesting program for you.

I'm Evans Revere. I am the Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies here at the Council.

If I might, just on a piece of operational business right at the outset, ask you to please turn off any electronic devices -- BlackBerries, cell phones, et cetera -- that you have, it will help us get through the session peaceably, if you will. Thank you for your cooperation.

The meeting today is on the record, and so you can make use of the comments and statements that are made and cite people by name. And we appreciate your attention today and your questions later on in the program.

I thought I would just begin with just a couple of sentences in terms of framing the issue, if you will, not that -- looking around the room -- it needs to be framed in any great detail. I see some very impressive talent and experts in the audience, in addition to the incredibly talented group that we have here to address this issue today with us,

This is, obviously, an important topic in terms of U.S. national security, in terms of regional peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and in terms of the viability of the international nonproliferation regime. The issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions has been a challenge over the years, and it's a challenge that rose to a new level of intensity in recent years with revelations about North Korea's pursuit of yet another path to the development of nuclear weapons development through uranium enrichment. But beyond that, the de facto end of the Agreed Framework of 1994, the North Korean statements about its development of nuclear weapons, that you will all recall from last year, et cetera, all make this a particularly difficult issue for us and for the international community.

As you know, the United States and others have engaged in the six-party talks attempting to resolve this issue. And on the 19th of September of last year, the six parties issued a statement of principles, a framework, if you will, for attempting to resolve this issue. That was followed almost immediately by some North Korean statements in which Pyongyang seemed to be distancing itself from the very principles that had just been agreed. Since then, the parties have been seeking to resume the six-party talks, and it is at this point unclear when those talks will resume.

To discuss these issues today we have an extremely distinguished panel that includes two former United States ambassadors to the Republic of Korea. You have the bios of the gentlemen here on the panel with me today, and I think you will all agree that we've got some tremendous expertise here among us.

To my right is Ambassador Steve Bosworth, the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. To my immediate left is Gordon Chang, a noted argument, including of two books, one of which is "The Coming Collapse of China," and more recently, just out, a book entitled "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World." And as you can see, I spent a lot of time looking through that book over the weekend. And of course, on the far left, certainly not necessarily politically -- (laughter) -- is Ambassador Don Gregg.

DONALD GREGG: Don't be too sure. (Laughter.)

REVERE: We'll see what sort of role Don is going to play for us today. But Don, a distinguished former diplomat, a career intelligence officer, and now, of course, chairman of the board of the Korea Society.

So I think without question, we have a very impressive array of talent, with yours truly being the exception, on the podium today.

And I wonder if I might begin by posing a question to all of our panelists today, and that is, let's try if we can right at the outset to try to put the issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions in some perspective, in some historical perspective.

Why did North Korea launch itself down this path of nuclear weapons development? And what does North Korea's decision to pursue its nuclear ambition say about the international community's ability to convince them to give up that program? And if I might make this a three-part question, has North Korea's calculation about its nuclear ambitions changed at all in recent years? And also, this is to all of the panelists, but maybe Gordon since you have just finished writing about this, let me ask you to take this one on first.

GORDON CHANG: I think it's pretty hard to figure out why North Korea wanted to build a nuclear weapon. I mean, there are many different ways of looking at this. But it certainly has been a militant regime. It has devoted a substantial amount of its gross national product to developing a first-class military, and so it's only natural that in a government of that sort they would want to develop a nuclear weapon.

I think more important, though, this is not just a North Korea issue. This is an issue about Iran and Algeria and Syria and all the other nations that want the nuclear weapons, because what we're seeing, of course, is an attack on the nuclear nonproliferation regime, the world's arms control rules. Essentially, we see third-world assertion where a number of countries don't believe in the two-tier system that exists, where you have five-declared nuclear powers and all the rest not supposing to have nuclear weapons. And essentially what North Korea and Iran and the rest of them are saying is that this system is unfair.

So I think that if we look at North Korea, we can try and look into the minds of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, but more important, I think we need to look at what they represent in terms of the development of the world.

REVERE: Thank you very much.

Don, what do you think?

GREGG: We've learned that -- from declassified documents out of the former Soviet Union and I think Hungary that actually the North Koreans have been pursuing the nuclear option for decades back to the early 1960s. And I think that grew out of their experience in the Korean War where they were absolutely flattened by our bombing, where they were aware that MacArthur wanted to drop a necklace of nuclear weapons across the top of the Korean peninsula to ensure that there were no more incursions from the Chinese. So it's probably been their longest-standing policy desire.

I think that you probably all saw the -- or many of you saw the "60 Minutes" piece with Dan Rather, and Ri Chan Bok said to him what he said to me on my first visit there in 2002, "We will fight you to the death if we are invaded by you, and you can tell the American people you've met the general, and we have nuclear weapons."

And so that's a fairly clear statement, wasn't any more saber rattling than he was to me. But I think they have it as a deterrent, and I feel that they still can be negotiated out of it, if we really get serious about it and give people like Christopher Hill a full head of steam to operate with.

BOSWORTH: Well, I think that the two -- my two co-conspirators here on the panel have outlined essentially all the reasons that they have embarked upon this program. It's one of the few instruments of national power that they have. It is, I think, in their view, the ultimate deterrent.

And if you're dealing with a regime such as this, which in the end is concerned only with its own survival, I think this regime has interpreted its nuclear program as being essential to its survival. I think they're also willing to use it as a bargaining tool. It is, I think, the thing that brings them attention on the world stage. And without it, they fear -- and I suspect they're correct -- they would simply be ignored and allowed to wither.

So I also believe that it's worth trying to negotiate it away. I'm not sure that we've made much of an effort so far. But I have no illusions. I don't think that we should hold out as a certainty that they will negotiate it away. Depends on whether or not they conclude that their objective of regime survival can be achieved without a nuclear weapons program.

REVERE: Thank you for that.

Much has been made by a number of analysts of a process of reform that may be under way in North Korea, in the DPRK. And actually, Gordon, in your book, you address this at some length. You talk about a process of uncontrollable change, I think, is the phrase that you used, that's under way in North Korea. And you cite some economic reforms. You cite a decentralization of power that may be taking place in the north. You talk about some rising expectations among some segments of North Korean society. And you also talk about a fraying of the system of rigid control in the north as evidence of this change.

And here's another question I'll pose to you but also our other panelists, and that is, is there something in this process of change or transformation in the north that could be taken advantage of in the six-party process in terms of new initiatives that might be taken to encourage such change, with the hope that it might help resolve the nuclear issue?

GORDON CHANG: My view, essentially, is that North Korea is changing, but it's not necessarily reforming. Kim Jong Il has implemented very important changes in July 2002, but to me they more or less look as an attempt to reassert control over a society that had actually sort of migrated beyond the repressive nature of the state. So essentially, in the last decade with the great famine, the state no longer provided for most North Koreans, and so North Koreans, to survive, had to think for themselves, and many of them had to think for themselves for the first time in their lives. And so what we have is a dynamic society underneath what we normally think of as North Korea's superstructure of a regime.

Now, I don't know if we can necessarily take advantage of that in terms of the six-party talks, but I think we have to understand the dynamics of what's going on in North Korean society from the bottom up. Essentially I believe Kim Jong Il's government is unstable, and not the sense that it would collapse, I'm not going to make that prediction, but I do believe, though, that we have to understand that the government doesn't feel secure, an so therefore it makes our job almost harder. It's not like something we can take advantage of, it's something that we have to take account of.

REVERE: Don, your thoughts?

GREGG: A lot is going on in North Korea, and I think there are ways of taking advantage of it. I think there is a lot of talk today about linkage and how complicated that is as various people sort of conflate human rights and counterfeiting and drug smuggling with nuclear weapons. I think that makes it much, much tougher to deal with.

I think there is something called transformational change. And the Korea Society, for example, is involved in supporting an information technology exchange program between Syracuse University and Kim Chaek University in Pyongyang. Kim Jong Il is on the Internet every day himself. He knows the power of the Internet. North Korea is building what will be the largest digital library in Asia. Syracuse has convinced them that they ought to adhere to international standards on information that they are storing. And Syracuse, which has run similar programs with the former Soviet Union and China, is more impressed with the North Koreans than they were with either the Russians or the Chinese. They are very good at it, as are their South Korean cousins. Kim Jong Il is fully aware of it. He's also aware of the power of the Internet. And the Syracuse experience -- and I fully support that -- is to say if you want to change the society, the quickest way to do it is to open up the windows and let information from the outside world flow in. And that is what we are trying to do.

Can the North Korean leadership cope with it? That's their problem. I am essentially disinterested in whether it is Kim Jong Il who survives or somebody else. But I am very interested in the fact that at some point North Korea has to join the family of nations, and if when they do join they are familiar with the IT procedures, I think it will be much easier to integrate them into the normal community of the world.

REVERE: I want to get back to this issue of illicit activities in just a moment, but let me ask Steve for --

BOSWORTH: I have a question. Are they going to digitize the entire works of Kim Il Sung? (Laughter.) Is that why they're going to have the largest collection in the world? I mean, I don't know what else they're going to put on the -- digitize. I mean -- and having stayed in one of their guest houses once several years ago, in my suite was wall to wall with the works of Kim Il Sung, volume after volume after volume.

REVERE: I think I stayed in that same room.

BOSWORTH: Yeah. Yeah.

GREGG: I was in the Robert Mugabe Suite -- (inaudible due to laughter).

BOSWORTH: I don't know if there's reform going on in North Korea or not. We know so little about what's really going on in that place that I think to speculate is just that, we're speculating.

But I very much agree with Don. I don't think we should assume that we know better than the North Korean regime what threatens their survival and what doesn't. And I think, you know, even assuming that we were able to negotiate some sort of a nuclear deal, which is going to be an imperfect deal at best because there is going to be a large degree of ambiguity contained in that, whether they're complying with it, et cetera.

Even assuming we were able to negotiate one, that doesn't really solve the problem. The problem of North Korea is not really its nuclear program, although that is a very visible manifestation of the problem. The problem of North Korea is essentially a failing state. And it's going to remain a failing state, I think, forever. So the ultimate solution to the problem of North Korea is reunification with the South.

And I think that in the South, there is an understanding of that, but that understanding combines with a lessened threat of -- a sense of threat from the North, and a realization that reunification's going to come at some cost in the lives of the average South Korean citizen, and like all of us, they would rather push that off into the future if they possibly can.

But I think that if we're going to have a coherent policy toward North Korea, my view is we should align that policy as much as possible with the policy of South Korea, and that should be a policy aimed at an engagement across the board with North Korea, force them to make decisions, force them to make choices. And perhaps they will decide that they can't do this and still survive, but on the other hand, maybe they won't see that as a threat to them.

And, you know, at the moment, South Korea is providing enormous quantities of aid to North Korea. Some would argue that the process of unification is already under way. And I don't see that our policy toward this problem takes account of the fact -- adequately, at least -- that our view of the future is very different from the South Korean view of the future.

REVERE: Don, a moment ago you mentioned counterfeiting, other illicit activities on the part of the North. The North has recently begun to use American actions in this area, sanctions on Banco Delta Asia, for example, in Macau as a pretext or an excuse for not coming back to the table in the six-party talks. Is there a look around, in your view, on this issue, something that could allow the United States to continue to proceed, to prosecute things that need prosecution and yet not have it interfere with the six-party talks?

GREGG: I think it's very tough. I mean, it's ironic to me that when the Japanese became obsessed with the abduction issue, we kept saying to the Japanese "Now, don't bring the abduction issue into the six-party talks because that'll muddy the water." Now, we've known that North Korea has been counterfeiting for decades. We've known that they were doing other nefarious things.

And I think these things have been brought up at this point because there are still people in the Bush administration who really don't want a successful ending to the diplomatic process. They're after regime change, and I think they are hoping that bringing in these issues will make it more difficult for Kim Jong Il to sustain himself. But they're also making it almost impossible to make real progress on the central issue -- the thing that threatens the nonproliferation regime, the thing that threatens, theoretically, South Korea -- and that's the nuclear issue. So I think that the bringing in of these issues is a very, very complicating and difficult factor.

Some of that happened in our negotiations with the Soviet Union, and I think it delayed the final agreement with them on some of the major nuclear issues.

REVERE: Let me turn, if I could, to one of the other parties in the six-party talks and that is China which has played a role as convener and host for the various sessions that have taken place. I wonder if I could ask my colleagues here to assess the role of China in this ongoing effort.

And as you know, some people say that China's doing all it can and that we are often guilty of overestimating Beijing's influence on Pyongyang, while others suggest that perhaps China's desire to maintain the North as a buffer state is somehow outweighing its fear of the potential for instability that Pyongyang brings to the region by its pursuit of its nuclear ambitions.

I wonder if I could ask each of you to perhaps provide your assessment of the Chinese role in this and whether China needs to be doing more or whether it's doing enough in your view.

Starting on this end.

BOSWORTH: I think it's one -- you know, as I look at China's interests in this, I think they're doing just about what they should be doing. Their interest is to avoid a crisis, to avoid war and to do everything they can to prevent North Korea from becoming a belligerent nuclear weapons state, but above all not to have war or the collapse of North Korea. And in the meantime, they are doing very well diplomatically in that the United States has assigned to China central responsibility for dealing with a problem that we say -- I'm not sure we really believe it -- but we say is one of the major threats to peace and stability around the world. And China's in the driver's seat, and they are learning, I think, that pressure can be applied at all points of the compass. And my sense is that the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks has discovered that China's not loath to put the U.S. in a position where they are under pressure to make concessions.

REVERE: Well, I detected a slightly view in your book. I wish you could share that with us.

CHANG: Well, I think China certainly is promoting dialogue, and in a sense that's good. But I'm not sure that it's promoting any constructive solution because you have to remember that, you know, we've been talking with the North Koreans since June 1993. And since that time, North Korea has developed a nuclear weapon, and it's increased the range of its missiles. So there is a cost to all of this talking, which is not to say that talking is bad. It's just that it's important to realize that when we talk, we need to have a solution in mind, and that we need to see the talks as part of that solution. But unfortunately China has just been wanting to permit this process to go on and on really without resolution.

I mean, we have to look at China's position in the context, in that -- a sense that North Korea has received so much diplomatic support from the Chinese throughout the decades for not only their weapons program, but other things as well. If we look at Iran, which is the item that is getting our attention these days, certainly Tehran receives diplomatic support from Beijing.

If we look at China in a perspective, yes, their policies are much more constructive than they were during the Maoist era. But at this point I think it's important that we say to Chinese that now is the time when we expect you -- because we've been engaging China for decades. Now I think it's important that we expect China to be responsible and to come up with a solution, not just further dialogue, because further talking is not going to solve this problem. In fact, I think further talking along the lines of what we have seen so far is just making the problem worse.

REVERE: Don?

GREGG: Two anecdotes. I was in Seoul when China recognized South Korea. And the Chinese ambassador came to see me shortly after his assignment there, having spent 15 years in Pyongyang, and he told me how happy he was to be in Seoul. (Laughter.)

He also had accompanied Kim Il Sung on his last visit to China in 1991, and this had followed the death of Ceausescu, who had been one of his -- Kim Il Sung's very few outside contacts. And Kim Il Sung was deeply shaken by this because he had seen his friend try to bring change to Romania, and within a month both he and his wife were dead as doornails. And so what Kim Il Sung said to the Chinese was: I know we need to change, how should we go about it? And the Chinese laid out their special economic zones theory, which the North Koreans have tried to emulate.

So I think it's very significant that Kim Jong Il has just completed a visit to China. At one of his visits he visited a Buick plant in Shanghai and was heard to excoriate some of his aides saying, "This is the kind of thing we need to do, we need to get American products being manufactured in our country."

In terms of do we have a foreign policy or do we not, I went to a track two version of the six-party talks in (Chengdu ?) a couple of years ago. And the Chinese person in charge was a woman Fu Ying. And she said, "Well here we are. We all agree, including North Korea, that we want to have a verifiably free nuclear Korean peninsula. That's a starting point. And the ending point is we want to have a verifiably free -- nuclear-free Korean peninsula with North Korea's security and economic interests having been taken care of. But how do we get there?"

And so she turned to the American and said, "Well, what's your answer to that? I don't seem to hear much from you in terms of a policy." And the man sort of fumbled around and said, "Well, all I can say is that North Korea doesn't have to do everything before we do anything." And the Chinese woman said, "Well, that really sounds more to me like an attitude than a policy."

And I'm not sure that we have a united view as to what we want to have happen in North Korea. If you ask Chris Hill what he wants to have happen, and Dick Cheney what he wants to have happen, I think you get very different answers.

REVERE: Let me shift slightly to picking up on something that you said a little bit earlier, Steve, about being at one with our South Korean ally in this process. We've heard a lot about purported differences of approach between Washington and Seoul on this thorny issue of North Korea. How do you assess these differences? Are they ones of nuance or are they ones of fundamental differences of perspective?

BOSWORTH: I think they're pretty fundamental. I don't think it's a question of nuance. I remember years ago we used to talk about the U.S.-Japan relationship as one involving -- as being in he same bed but with different dreams. And I think we very much are in that position vis-a-vis South Korea.

South Korea has changed. I don't know if North Korea has changed or not, but I know for sure that South Korea has changed even in the 15 years that I've been engaged. It is a much younger country in terms of history. It is a country which is much more accustomed to prosperity and therefore more sensitive of threats to that prosperity. And it is a country with much greater self-confidence than it had before and is demanding from the bottom up that it be taken seriously, that it be given, basically, the helm in deciding how we're all going to collectively deal with their North Korean cousins, as Don said.

So I think that the differences are pretty fundamental. I would hope that we could come back to a position in which we have a common approach, a common set of analyses, but frankly, at the government-to-government level, I'm not sure that's going to be possible until there have been new governments installed in both countries.

REVERE: A comment from you, and then from Don.

CHANG: Well, if you look at South Korean society, the last two presidents have certainly come from the younger members of the electorate. And so therefore, when we think of South Korea, we think of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun, but we've got to remember that South Korea, the electorate is fairly closely divided and it shifts very quickly. And if there is any trend these days as we look at the electoral patterns, it is a move back to the center.

So I agree with Ambassador Bosworth that we need to align our policies. And I especially think the United States can do that, because we could see a conservative government in 2007. And so I think it's important that we try to align the policies, but also to remember that South Korea is a country which is very dynamic and that we very well may end up on the same side of the fence, where we haven't been for quite some time.

GREGG: I love your use of the word "dynamic." I think that is absolutely true of South Korea. They have had regional problems. Where you were born is a tremendously divisive issue. And now they have a generational issue. And a lot of Korean friends my age think that I'm absolutely crazy to have anything to do with Roh Moo Hyun. I got a Christmas card from a very intelligent woman saying that Roh Moo Hyun is head of a secret pro-communist cabal, going to lead to the subordination of South Korea, that the economy is going to hell. Well, if you saw the New York Times a couple of days ago, you saw that LG was going to build a $5 billion plant about three miles south of the DMZ. And so the South Koreans are quite confidant that whatever happens in North Korea, they're not really going to be threatened by it.

I think that we are talking past each other, we and South Korean government at the moment. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon is going to visit Washington on the 19th, and there's going to be an attempt to start a new strategic dialogue. I think that's a very worthy project, and I wish them well.

REVERE: I want to open it up for questions, but let me throw one other question at our panelists before doing so while the folks with the microphones position themselves, and that is where do we go from here? Maybe Gordon -- let me start with you. In reading your book, you expressed some sympathy for Seoul's perspective on these issues and its approach to them, specifically engagement or the -- formally known as the Sunshine Policy and its efforts to seek gradual change in the North. But at the same time, your bottom line -- and I hope I haven't misread you here -- seems to be that barring our ability to get the negotiations back on track and moving in a serious direction, barring our ability to get China to take up more of the burden, that a military solution, distasteful and damaging as that might be, may be the only way out of this problem.

CHANG: Well, I think that because the stakes are so high -- and we are talking about the future of the nonproliferation regime -- we're talking about the future of all us -- we can't take any option off the table. But before we take great risks for war, I think we also need to take great risks for peace. And since we were talking about South Korea, I think certainly the first order of business is for Washington to work with Seoul to sort of try to realign our policies. And I think that that is possible, even though it's more than just a question of nuance. I do believe that we can, and there is some room to get that together.

Of course I think we also need to start pressuring China. I know that that's not a popular concept in many quarters, but nonetheless, as I mentioned, China is the key. And very much what we need to do is to say to China: You know, as we said, we've been engaging you. Now's the time for you to be the stakeholder, as -- a word the State Department uses these days -- because there's no point in trying to engage China if it's going to destabilize the world order.

And finally, I think the most important thing we need to do -- and here's the greatest risk for peace -- is the United States needs to look at its own nuclear weapons doctrine, because in order to solve this issue peacefully, we're going to need the cooperation of our friends and our foes. We're going to need the cooperation of almost every nation, because if every nation said to Kim Jong Il, "You have to give up your nuclear weapons," then he would have no choice but to comply.

And I think that essentially the United States has some room here, because we have more nuclear weapons than we need. We have more than we need to defend ourselves, and we have more than we need to defend our non-nuclear allies. And we could actually reduce our stockpiles and try to use this as a way to further delegitimize the use of nuclear weapons, because the counterintuitive aspect of all of this is that we're really giving nothing up, because we do have more than we need.

And in a sense, if we are going to avoid the horror of war, we are going to have to look at our own policies and see how they are playing with not only the other five countries at the six-party talks, but with countries around the world that do have some influence.

So I think there are many things that we need to do, many things that we can do before we start looking at the more forceful options.

REVERE: Steve, your thoughts?

BOSWORTH: Well, this phrase "All options have to be on the table" has become kind of a mantra of people who want to deal with North Korea. I don't think all options have ever been on the table, and I don't think we are going to be able to keep all options on the table.

It seems to me there are three basic things that we could do about North Korea:

We could negotiate -- I mean, I'm -- and I've stipulated that I'm not confident that the negotiations will succeed -- we could negotiate the program away.

We could go to war and invade North Korea, occupy the place, incur hundreds of thousands of fatalities not only in South Korea but also in Japan, and that would have its own set of consequences.

Or -- and this is what I think our administration, in its heart of hearts, to the extent that there is a single heart, has decided is acceptable -- or we will learn to live with North Korea as a declared nuclear weapons state and trust that China's interests and our interests and others' will prevent North Korea from being too obstreperous.

If we did consider that North Korea's nuclear program was such an acute threat to our interest in world peace, it seems to me that the administration currently in Washington would have come to some decision as to what kind of approach it wishes to follow. But we are deeply -- we were deeply concerned about Iraq, we are now deeply concerned about Iran and bring to those two problems a sense of urgency that I have never seen brought to the problem of North Korea.

REVERE: Don?

GREGG: When I was ambassador, George Herbert Walker Bush had the wisdom to withdraw all of our nuclear weapons from South Korea, and everywhere else in the world. And I thought that that had been really the key to a lot of the progress that was made between North and South Korea in the next couple of years. I asked my friend, General Ri Chan Bok, about that in one of my trips to North Korea, and I said, "What did you think when you became aware that we were pulling all our nuclear weapons out of South Korea?" He said, "We knew that really didn't make any difference. We thought you were just playing a trick on us to get us to lower our guard."

So I think it's going to take more than say we'll cut back from 30,000 to 15,000 weapons to really make a dent in their thinking.

REVERE: Thank you.

I think the fact that we have filled the room today is a tribute to the importance of this issue. And I know there are plenty of questions that you will want to ask, so let's open it up right now. Just a reminder, we are on the record. Please wait, once I identify you, to have the microphone arrive, and when it does, please stand and identify yourself and your organization or affiliation. Please keep the questions as brief as possible and we'll try to get as many of them in as we can. And we are also doing a live audio link to our national membership as well, and so we'll have, I think, a question or two from national members as well.

Now the floor is yours. Right in the middle, Don. There's a microphone coming right behind you.

MR. : Watch your rear, Don!

QUESTIONER: I'm Don Zagoria, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Just picking up on Steve's last point, one of your three options that we may have to live with -- North Korea as a declared nuclear state -- I wonder if you could tell us what you think the impact of that would be on Japan and South Korea.

BOSWORTH: I don't think -- well, in the case of Japan, I think it would cause a somewhat increased sense of threat. Would it result in a revision of Japan's long-standing strategic position with regard to its own nuclear capabilities? No, I don't believe so, not as long as they continue to have confidence in the nuclear umbrella from the United States. Would it cause South Korea to re-assess its nuclear position? No, I do not believe so.

GREGG: South Korea made its own move toward nuclear weapons in the `70s and were stopped. I don't think they're about to try that again.

REVERE: Gordon, I think --

CHANG: I think we have to examine the basis of that question, though, because this is not just an issue of living with just North Korea. This is an issue of living with Iran and all the other countries that want the bomb. And I think the reason why the Iranians have been so defiant of the international community over the last couple weeks is that they've seen that the North Koreans were defiant in the past and got away with it.

And so I think that essentially what we're looking at is not just one or two countries that'll nuclearize but many, and the problem is that some of these are militant regimes and many of them are unstable. And I think that essentially what we're going to have to do is look at nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and criminals. There really is almost no end to the scenario that could down hill from this point. I'm not saying that it will happen, but as the possibility of the -- the possible magnitude of the threat increases, so should our sense of urgency and so should our resolution in terms of dealing with these problems.

QUESTIONER: Pete Mansoor, Council on Foreign Relations. I'd like to follow up on that point. What is the danger of North Korea releasing nuclear material to a terrorist organization?

REVERE: (Off mike) -- anyone -- to anyone in particular?

Gordon?

CHANG: I think that it's -- the answer to that is well, it could be anything -- certainly, the loss of an American city. But that's not what we're really talking about. I think what we're talking about is a change in the international system, because I don't think the American-led global order could survive the nuclearization of three or four hostile states.

So essentially, what we have today, in terms of all the things that we assume will be there -- liberal democracy and trade and all the rest of it -- I think could be severely disrupted and we could have a world order which would be completely unfamiliar with what we see today. so I don't see it in terms of the risk of a detonation. I just see it in the change in the international system. That's the real threat to us from North Korea.

QUESTIONER: Actually, I was referring to North Korea's willingness to use its nuclear capability as a chip by releasing it to a terrorist organization. Do you think that North Korea has that in its mind, or is that a possibility?

CHANG: Well, it certainly is a possibility, because in April 2003, a North Korean diplomat said that the North reserved the right to do that. We don't know whether Kim Jong Il would actually carry through, but we have to take the threat seriously. So it's not so much what they will do, it's really the threat that they pose by what they say, because what they say can have as much a deleterious impact on the world system as by what they might do.

GREGG: I think their actual intent to do that is practically zero. I think they feel that if they did it, it would be discovered and it would be a quick way for us to take very severe action against them.

REVERE: Please.

QUESTIONER: Jim Hoge from Foreign Affairs Magazine. There seems to be a consensus up here that the United States ought to risk more in terms of negotiations before thinking about our options. And if I am not over-interpreting you, Steve, you suggested that that's not likely until there's a change of government here. I'd be interested, do the other panelists think or see any signs to think that we will be negotiating more rigorously, putting more on the table, without a change of regime, if you will, in the United States? And secondly, how urgent do you think the time factor is? Can we continue to play this out over the next couple of years, or are we reaching some juncture points where the game itself changes?

BOSWORTH: I don't think that the current administration is inclined to do anything that would change, really, what we've seen over the last three years. So I'm not very optimistic.

In terms of whether it's a juncture point, you know, we never really know that until we look back 100 years. But certainly there are signs that there could a nuclear breakout, and so therefore -- you know, if we look at the nuclear nonproliferation regime, there is a nuclear taboo, and countries talk about how bad it would be if there were a nuclear war or whatever. But what's really concerning me these days is that countries no longer really talk so much about the taboo, they talk more about nuclear apartheid. In other words, that the nuclear nonproliferation regime is unfair.

When you have North Korea and Iran and who knows what other country being so openly defiant of the international system, and then you have other countries feeling that that system is unfair, then you can see the possibility that the nuclear nonproliferation regime would just melt away. And we could see that coming maybe next year or the year after, who knows? But certainly the signs are there to say that this could be a juncture, and what's on the other side of that juncture would be very unfamiliar to us today.

GREGG: I think there's very little chance of a change on the Bush foreign policy unless in this fall's House election there's a very strong political signal sent. I think the North Koreans feel quite secure in their own position. They are receiving a lot of support from South Korea. They're also receiving a lot of support in one way or another from China. I think they're perfectly prepared to outwait -- sit down and -- wait until the new regime in Washington.

I went to North Korea in August of 2004 and tried to get them back into the six-party talks before the elections. And it was clear they were hoping that President Bush would not be returning to office. I predicted that he would be, and said it would be a lot easier for you to deal with him if you return to the six-party talks before the election. That made zero impression on them.

Okay?

QUESTIONER: This is not why I put my hand up, but I agree with Gordon Chang that other countries' -- our attitudes towards other countries' nuclear weapon programs affects the North Koreans, and I think President Bush's offer last August to sanctify the Indian nukes certainly was read very carefully in Pyongyang and Tehran.

But my question -- for anybody, but particularly for Ambassador Bosworth because I know he will correct my thinking on this -- is that if you look at major diplomatic problems out there -- Arab-Israeli, Kashmir, Cyprus -- for seven years, the administration has displayed no appetite for that kind of diplomatic endeavor. And if you look at Libya, we outsourced it to the Brits; if you look at Iran, we outsourced it to the Europeans; and if you look at North Korea, we really would like the Chinese to do this.

So isn't it really that we have a consistent policy on the part of the administration to look at economic actions, embargoes, military actions, keeping all of our options open on the security side, and avoiding genuine negotiation, which is a very important component of the lack of movement with the North Koreans?

BOSWORTH: Probably. (Laughter.)

REVERE: Would you like to make that two words?

BOSWORTH: So. (More laughter.)

REVERE: Let's jump to the back of the room. All the way in the back, the young lady all the way back there.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Rubin. I'd like you to address the military preparedness border issue between North-South Korea. There's conversation from the Pentagon that we are creating something called "spider mines," a new genre of mines. It's the one area of the world that we keep saying must have land mines. Could somebody address why specifically there? Is there anything new going on that is demanding a new genre of mines?

REVERE: I'll toss that one out --

BOSWORTH: Well, my sense is that there are now fewer mines along the DMZ than there were five years ago, if only because we've created more safe passage points through the DMZ. And frankly, if South-North engagement continues, economic engagement, I am quite confident that there will be fewer mines five years from now than there are now.

The traditional justification given by the U.S. and South Korea was that because of the numerical superiority of North Korea's troops and tanks, that land mines were essential to the maintenance of deterrence. And as deterrence becomes somewhat less of a priority -- seemingly, at least -- I would assume we will probably find we need fewer mines.

GREGG: My friend, Ri Chan Bok, the general who was very hostile to me in my first visit, in the third time I saw him he said, "I'm cutting down 50-year-old trees in the DMZ and I'm building roads through the DMZ. It will be very convenient for you Americans to use if you decide to invade us." (Laughter.)

My last trip to Pyongyang was with Ted Turner, who had become interested in creating a peace park in the DMZ. And he was fascinating to watch in action. I met Jane Fonda's replacement. (Laughter.) And it was -- he got the North Koreans' attention. He said, "This DMZ has become an ecological wonderland, and it's something that you and South Korea can work to preserve." And the North Koreans said, "That's a wonderful idea, Mr. Turner. We'd love to talk about that, but we have a nuclear problem with the south and with the United States. And let us solve that, and then we'll talk about your peace park."

But that would be another way that would reduce the number of mines in the DMZ.

REVERE: Please. Right over here.

QUESTIONER: Jon Hartzell, KWR International. I'm always struck by these discussions -- that it doesn't seem to be necessary to say much about the sixth party to the six-party talks. And is that because the Russians don't -- do we know anything about their concrete objective, strategic or otherwise? Do they have influence on any or all of the parties in a way that will help them do something constructive here? Or are they not interested in doing something constructive? Are they swinging any weight in all this, or not?

GREGG: My impression is that they have a great deal of interest in seeing rapprochement. They have all kinds of gas pipelines and so forth they hope to see built. They hope to -- they see a sort of a -- putting the missing hole in the doughnut back into the map as the key to opening up their natural resources in the eastern provinces.

They're very enthusiastic about rapprochement, but I don't see them throwing much weight around or exerting much influence.

CHANG: No, they certainly don't. I mean, if you look at them, they just are not a factor -- I mean, almost inert.

The other factor is Japan, which, in a sense, is also there and on the sidelines of the talks. But the Japanese are a real irritant, for reasons Ambassador Gregg mentioned before, with the abduction issue.

GREGG: Right.

CHANG: But I think that certainly the Russians are not a factor, which is a little bit surprising, because they're much more involved, for instance, in Iran, which is the other big proliferation issue these days.

BOSWORTH: I think also the problem that the Russians have is that they have no natural instrument of national power that they can exercise with regard to North Korea. In fact, some would argue their only remaining instrument of national power globally other than their nuclear arsenal is their energy resource, and they, for that reason, are a player, I believe, in Northeast Asia if for no other reason then playing the Chinese and the Japanese off against one another. But they don't have anything that they can bring to bear on the question of what's going to happen in North Korea.

REVERE: We have some questions from our national members as well. This one is from Harry G. Barnes Jr. of the Asia Society in Peacham, Vermont.

Speculation has already begun about possible successors to Kim Jong Il. How would you weigh Kim's own vision for his country as a major motivating factor in the development of a nuclear weapons capability? Is it part of his legacy?

I'll set it out there for anyone who wants it.

BOSWORTH: I'm not sure that he has come to grips with his own mortality. (Laughter.) But certainly, I think his first preference would be to do one of his sons what his father did to him and that is to install him on the throne. And I think to that end, he believes or has a reason to be confident that a nuclear weapons capability is an important instrument of bringing that about.

REVERE: Why don't we go back to our questions here.

Right in the middle. Right -- right there.

QUESTIONER: Bill Potter with the Monterey Institute, Center for Nonproliferation Studies. One step that the North Koreans might take -- although there hasn't been an indication that they would -- would be to actually detonate a nuclear explosion. But I wonder the extent to which any of the participants believe that this would constitute a red line which might dramatically alter the approach taken either by the Chinese or the United States.

CHANG: When you really think about it, a detonation really is, is a non-event in a sense, especially because everyone has known that North Korea has had a nuclear weapons capability for so long, and whether they prove it or not, in one sense, is not that important.

Of course, what we've been talking about, though, is North Korea not just as a militant regime on its own in North Asia, is really its affect on the proliferation regime, and I think there it would certainly have a very big affect, because it would say to everyone "Well, you know, the world's strongest, greatest powers cannot protect their international order against one of the weakest members." And so therefore, I think the act of defiance would in a sense shred the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the arms control rules.

GREGG: I think it'd be an incredibly stupid thing for the North Koreans to do, and I don't think they're that stupid.

REVERE: (Off mike) -- please, right there.

QUESTIONER: My name is Charles Ganoe. I remember sitting in this room about 10 years ago and listening to a State Department official who was responsible for implementing the accords, moaning the fact that the Americans were nagging on accords, primarily because the Republicans in Congress were not giving the appropriations for the electrical utilities that we agreed to and related factors. I wondered if you feel that this is still an issue in the sense they don't trust us, and any agreement they might enter into, that we might renege.

REVERE: I wonder if I can toss that one to the former head of the KEDO, seated to my right.

BOSWORTH: I think it's very much an issue. I was not involved in negotiating the original agreement with North Korea, but I was very much involved in trying to implement the agreement. And it became quite apparent to me early on that it was a classic case of our having one view of what we'd agreed to and the North Koreans having another. For the United States, for a variety of reasons, it was essentially a nuclear agreement, that is the agreed framework. And we wanted to freeze and eventually dismantle their nuclear program, in return for which we were prepared to do some things.

For the North Koreans, however, it was never really about the nuclear program. The nuclear program was the tip of -- the instrument that they were using. For them it was a political agreement, and they wanted some sense that they were going to be able over time to normalize their relationship with the United States, which I thought then, and probably still believe now, is seen by that regime as being a surer way to assure its survival than would a nuclear program. And I think that it is our reluctance traditionally -- and this doesn't just extend to the current administration, it was a factor in the previous administration -- our reluctance to accept North Korea as a legitimate participant in the world system -- that is when you pick through all the rest of it, that's the issue that's really involved.

CHANG: But at the same time, though, I think that essentially -- and I agree with all that you said. But on the other hand, if you look at North Korea, they had many opportunities to open their society, many opportunities to reach out to other nations, and they have turned many of those initiatives down.

So in a sense, I think Kim Jong Il sees what's happening in China and sees the instability, in a sense, in Chinese society, and he just doesn't want to end up in a compound like the Chinese leaders.

So to a certain extent, yes, I think we should make the offer to -- the political initiatives, because I think that essentially they will be turned down because that is not in Kim Jong Il's nature to fundamentally change North Korea. It's -- as you mentioned, it's important for him to maintain his family's grip on the country.

REVERE: I think I saw another question. Why don't we come up here? I'm sorry. Please, go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Harold Montgomery, council member from Dallas. Ambassador Gregg, would you clarify your earlier statement that you thought -- and I'm paraphrasing now -- that you thought we could talk the North Koreans out of their nuclear weapons? I believe that leaves open the possibility of a non-nuclear North Korea. But the elements I'm hearing from the other two speakers would indicate that that's really a practical impossibility.

GREGG: Well, I think Ambassador Bosworth just said he thinks that the North Koreans -- there are those in North Korea who still feel that a peaceful relationship with us, signed and sealed by treaties, is a better deterrent than having nuclear weapons, and I very much -- I very much agree with that. I think the more full-blown their weapons capacity comes, the more entrenched it becomes, the more people have a vested interest in keeping it, the higher the price goes.

But my talks with them leave me to feel that if we signed a peace treaty with them, if we had an embassy in North Korea, if we took them off the terrorist list, if we removed the sanctions -- all the things that we were supposed to have done under the part of the 1994 agreement -- I think that we could get them to sign away their nuclear weapons.

Now, there's zero trust between the two countries. We've accused them of a highly enriched uranium program. We don't know where it is. And it would be extremely difficult for us to pin down the fact that they didn't have such a thing. So there are no easy solutions to dealing with North Korea because of the deep, deep lack of trust between our two countries.

REVERE: We have --

BOSWORTH: I'd like just to add one point.

REVERE: Okay.

BOSWORTH: That's a very important point.

In effect where we are now, it strikes me, is that the classic negotiating offer that we've made previously -- which was "We relieve you of your sense of threat from the United States by normalizing our relationship with you, and that unlocks this great strongbox of economic benefits which begin to flow" -- that that negotiating position is no longer there as a viable position, largely because they don't believe that we are prepared to normalize relationships with them ever. But equally importantly is they're getting now from South Korea as much economic benefit as they would get, in all likelihood, if they were to sign an agreement. South Korea is preparing to give them in 2006 some $2 billion worth of benefit.

And this comes back to our earlier discussion, our earlier point that the great weak spot in the U.S. position and within the six-party process is the lack of any fundamental agreement between the United States and South Korea as to what we want to see happen and how we want to try to bring that about.

REVERE: Ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the witching hour. And in keeping with our tradition here at the council, we'd like to end on time. Thank you very much for your participation, and I wonder if you'll join me in thanking our panelists. (Applause.)

 

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