The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 60.0°F | A Few Clouds

N. Korean Nuclear Situation Precarious

Column by Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

Recent developments in the North Korean nuclear weapon controversy seem to have improved somewhat, but care must be taken in further negotiations to avoid catastrophe.

Earlier in the month, North Korea declared that implementation of economic sanctions, used to pressure the country to allow thorough inspections of nuclear weapons, would be considered to be a "declaration of war." On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations agency responsible for such inspections, met in Vienna to discuss the feasibility of such sanctions.

Apparently, the use of economic sanctions is dropping from the picture in the international policy regarding this issue. This comes as a relief to many. Earlier in the month, troops gathered on both sides of the demilitarized zone, increasing the possibility of armed conflict, whether or not nuclear weapons existed or became involved.

The United States plays a considerable role in this state of affairs. Japanese Defense Minister Kazuo Aichi said that the North Koreans "are using the nuclear issue quite well in this respect, demanding negotiations with the United States and only the United States, and creating the image that they are able to approach the number one power in the world on an equal footing," ["Korean Rift is widening, parties say," The Boston Globe, Feb. 8].

This symbolizes the potential negotiative power of North Korea, should it continue developments of nuclear weapons. Currently, the North Korean economy is weak and heavily dependent on China for goods. Therefore it is not surprising that Kim Il-Sung, president of North Korea since 1945, would be loathe to relinquish any potential nuclear arsenal. Also, having been in power for nearly 50 years, he has seen many leaders own nuclear weapons, and it is ridiculous to expect him to give up his chance to fabricate his own.

Another stake that the United States has in this affair is the 35,000 or so U.S. troops occupying South Korea. If North Korea were to make an attack, it would likely strike South Korea, attacking Americans in the process. Japan would probably be stuck as well, as North Korea reportedly developing medium-range weapons with which it could attack Japan. Such actions could lead to undesirable proportions, and must certainly be avoided.

Koreans hold several views of Americans. One is of America being the "historic helper," acting out of goodwill. Another is as the "careless colossus," having good intents, but bungling on many efforts. A third view is as a "ruthless hegemon," always intervening in a selfish manner, and not maintaining the same policy toward Korea.

America's foreign policy in Korea leaves something to be desired. Critics point to several events in which the United States either did not follow through on policy or have good policy - promising Korea to protect it from Japan, but failing to do so several decades later - and the hasty division of Korea at the 38th parallel at the end of World War II, which eventually led to the Korean War.

Therefore, the importance of the United States' involvement cannot be emphasized enough. Not only is world peace at stake in this delicate issue, but Koreans would certainly not appreciate any more misguided diplomacy on the part of the Americans.

Parallels have been drawn between the developments in the Balkans and their potential for occurring in North Korea. Uncertain shifts in policy by the United States certainly do not help matters. It is a tough position for such a "policeman nation" to be in. Tough words and actions can be used effectively at times, but extreme caution must be used when dealing with nuclear weapons and North Korea, perhaps the most Stalinist nation in existence today.

Progress made this week in issuing visas for the IAEA inspectors to visit the seven known nuclear sites has been deceptive. The U.N. agency wants to be able to investigate two other sites, which the North Koreans are alleged to be trying to keep secret. It will leave the issue of these alleged sites to the United States.

Whether or not North Korea should be allowed to have nuclear weapons is a debatable topic - the United States, Soviet Union, and many other nations have owned or still own them. Kim Il-Sung has led a nation for nearly 50 years, and the possession of nuclear arms could serve as an effective leverage device for strong-arm negotiation. Most leaders would not be willing to give potential like this up, especially under the circumstances that Kim Il-Sung and North Korea are under.

In the interests of safety and peace of East Asia, as well as the rest of the world, it would be best if North Korea were convinced to relinquish any nuclear weapon potential that it has. Many Asians (in Japan and South Korea, particularly) fear the prospect of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons.

It is up to the IAEA and United States to convince Kim Il-Sung of the pitfalls of a nuclear arsenal. North Korea represents too much of a threat to the world to own nuclear weapons and must be dealt with in a careful manner so as not to further complicate the state of affairs in Asia or the relations between the United States and Korea.