Wednesday, December 08, 2004

EU losing chance to keep peace in Korea

In a sensible article, Glyn Ford, British Labour Member of the European Parliament - and one of the few British politicians to care or know much about East Asia - argues that the EU should spend the money required to keep the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) alive. This is part of the framework negotiated in 1994 under which North Korea suspended operations at its plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor at Yongbyon in return for two replacement light-water reactors and fuel oil to keep the country running in the meantime, plus diplomatic relations with the US and an end to the 50-year-old trade embargo.

The EU has been involved from the beginning, paying in a few million Euros each year. Since the US suspended the deal in 2002 the EU has paid the admin costs. Now there is apparently a threat that this money will be cut off and the deal will die completely, leaving the fearful North Korean administration isolated. I will not attempt to predict the consequences.


EU frittering away influence in Korea

BRUSSELS -- One of the last best hopes for securing a solution to the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula is being killed by U.S. politicking and EU penny- pinching. U.S. neoconservatives are determined to drive North Korea into a corner, while the European Union bickers over "small change"' rather than take the initiative in providing an alternative vision for Northeast Asia. ...

By the summer of 2002 the LWR project was already running nine years late [mainly because the US was waiting for North Korea to collapse, an outcome it preferred to keeping its side of the bargain, as argued here previously - Nick], while the projected costs had more than doubled to around $10 billion. Things were about to get worse.

The October 2002 nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula was triggered when the U.S. claimed that, during a meeting in Pyongyang, North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk Ju confessed that North Korea was breaking the 1994 Framework Agreement by clandestinely pursuing an alternative highly enriched uranium (HEU) route to nuclear weapons production.

The result was that the U.S. cut off HFO deliveries and LWR construction was suspended, thus leaving the North Koreans no alternative but to reopen their Yongbyon plant, particularly since none of America's other promises had been kept.

It now turns out that the U.S. was on shaky ground. There was neither a transcript of Kang's statement nor any record of the meeting. The North Koreans claim that the vice foreign minister was misinterpreted, and that what he really said was that North Korea had the right to an HEU program -- not that it had such a program.

In Korean the difference is subtle, but rather than ask for clarification the representative of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in the delegation to Pyongyang led an immediate walkout.

More important than what Kang said is the current status of Pyongyang's HEU program. Pakistan's foreign minister has never denied that A.Q. Khan, the head of Pakistan's nuclear program, provided North Korea with the blueprints for a HEU plant -- a prudent stance in view of the fact that Khan showered the plans on Iran, Libya and others. Khan may have added some sample gas centrifuges.

Yet some voices in the U.S. State Department have become increasingly skeptical of the program's existence. North Korea neither has obtained the aluminum to construct the thousands of gas centrifuges necessary to produce HEU nor -- most tellingly -- does it even have a reliable power station capable of providing enough electricity at constant current for a medium-size city.

However, as a result of the U.S. crying wolf, a cascade of events has threatened regional stability. The inevitable reopening of the Yongbyon plant enabled North Korea to reprocess fuel rods and, according to reports, extract enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce five or six nuclear weapons with the potential to produce another one every few months.

The knock-on effects of a nuclear North Korea threaten to destabilize the whole region. In the meantime, the U.S. has refused to engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang and, instead, has used China to convene "six-party talks" with North and South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The U.S. administration is tightening the screws with talk of fixing a deadline for concluding the six-party negotiations, even though North Korea would almost certainly accept a new freeze in exchange for a restoration of HFO deliveries. That would prevent the crisis from deteriorating while a comprehensive step-by-step solution is pursued.

As for KEDO, the U.S. seems determined to kill it. The executive board will formally endorse a further year's suspension, but the U.S. has already announced it will not provide any funding for the costs of administration let alone suspension. The U.S. will also make a unilateral declaration that as far as it's concerned the KEDO project is dead.

South Korea and Japan want it to continue, but Japan, under pressure from public opinion, has said it will only fund the suspension costs if someone other than South Korea also makes a contribution.

This leaves the EU. Since the original suspension, the EU has paid the administration costs. Although the European Commission was reluctant to contribute toward suspension costs, the Commission and Parliament during the summer proposed spending 4 million euros.

But self-interest and parsimony are about to put the final nail in KEDO's coffin. In the Council of Ministers, the German Finance Ministry, against the advice of its Foreign Ministry, is saying no to save money. The French have joined because the nuclear industry did not receive the orders it had expected from KEDO.

For the cost of half a dozen London semis, Europe may lose the chance to enhance its status in Northeast Asia while letting the American neocons run amok in global diplomacy.

North Korea is an unlovable regime, but it is changing. The introduction of a market economy two years ago and the recent liberation of industry from state control bode well for those who see North Korea following a Vietnamese-style evolution.

More recent rumors of North Korea wanting to follow Iraq and apply for observer status at the World Trade Organization as well as reports that the Kim Jung Il cult is tailing off with the removal of his portraits from some public buildings all suggest that it is time to augment engagement rather than abandon it. Here Europe should lead rather than follow.

A very informative article. One or two caveats: it would have been more honest to point out the main reason why KEDO was falling apart by 2002, and better still to remind the reader that the US almost started a war on the Korean peninsula in 1994, as I mentioned in my first ever post on this blog. Still, Ford is good on the current diplomatic situation. I wonder if the EU has been warned off supporting KEDO by the US administration, given that they are indeed "determined to kill it" and not without influence in European elites.

It is also far from clear that introduction of a market economy in any conventional sense or liberation of industry from state control are on the agenda. Rather, I would expect North Korea to follow the Japanese state capitalist model of development, partly with its own capital, and partly by continuing to encourage inward investment from South Korea and Japan. If and when North Koreans get rid of the current regime they stand a good chance of being shielded from the worst effects of the WTO and IMF by South Korea, much as West Germany would hardly stand by and allow the economists to push East Germany into the third world after reunification.

Glyn Ford's homepage is here.

No comments: