On the morning of 30 January 2002, wire reports, television news, and internet chat rooms throughout Asia were abuzz with speculation about phase two of the United States war against terrorism coming to the Korean peninsula. The previous evening, President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address outlined the U.S. mission beyond Afghanistan to include not only the termination of terrorist threats beyond al Qaeda networks, but also the prevention of links between these threats and regimes in an "axis of evil" enumerated as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, that seek weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to threaten the United States and its allies. (1) Contrary to concerns expressed by many different media circles, the axis of evil speech did not signal imminent military action against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). The President calmed any such concerns during his summit meetings with Japanese, Chinese, and especially South Korean leaders shortly after the speech. (2) The axis of evil statement, however, did intimate a harder-line policy toward North Korea at odds with the engagement or "sunshine" policy of ally South Korea. Also, the speech made clear the priority placed by the Bush administration on countering WMD threats as an integral, if not central, component of the post-September 11 American security agenda.
These developments point to the renewal in coming months of an acerbic debate that took place at the end of the Clinton administration over the merits of engaging or containing the DPRK. Although the Bush administration's initial review of North Korea policy in June 2001 recommended unconditional engagement with Pyongyang on a broad range of issues including its suspected nuclear weapons program, ballistic missile production and export, and its conventional force posture on the peninsula, (3) this position is far from a conclusive one given the well-known skepticism of North Korean intentions expressed in the Bush's axis of evil speech as well as other statements by administration officials. A confluence of forces, moreover, adds to the likely reemergence of North Korea as a front-burner foreign policy issue after a period of calm and relative stasis in 2000-2001, following the unprecedented thaw created by the summit meeting between the South and North Korean leaders, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong II in June 20 00, and by the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in October 2000. The standing nonproliferation agreement between the United States and the DPRK, the 1994 nuclear Agreed Framework, soon reaches critical implementation stages that will test the intentions of both parties and raises debates about American revision or abandonment of the agreement. A presidential election in South Korea in December 2002 has already sparked a contentious debate over the current government's sunshine policy. Japan's normalization talks with North Korea remain stalled since winter 2000 with no sign of resolution. Finally, Kim Jong Il's self-imposed missile testing moratorium, which was contingent on continued progress in U.S.-DPRK dialogue, ends in December 20O2. (4)
Engagement with the...
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