Since last year's breakthrough September 19 Joint Statement, the North Korean nuclear issue has drawn considerable attention in the international community. With that development, which transpired during the Six-Party Talks in Beijing, progress toward finally resolving the nuclear issue and paving the way toward peace on the Korean peninsula seemed to be achievable.
Recently, however, high hopes have been diminished with the unexpected events involving financial measures against the Banco Delta Asia--a Macao bank suspected of aiding North Korea through money laundering. The Six-Party Talks, which is the principal forum for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, has been stalled since the last round in November 2005. While North Korea has suggested that it will return to the talks after the United States lifts its so-called "financial sanctions," concerns are emerging in the international community that the North Korean nuclear issue could be headed for a stalemate or even a full-blown crisis. Despite these discouraging events, I believe that the current pseudo-crisis presents us with an opportunity to examine the range of problems surrounding the Korean peninsula from a broader perspective. The present situation, while seemingly deadlocked, should instead be seen as a crucial juncture in Northeast Asia's movement toward peace.
The Cold War Legacy on the Korean Peninsula
The historical origin of the North Korean nuclear issue can be traced to both the immediate aftermath of World War II, which led to the division of the Korean peninsula, and the Cold War. From this perspective, one may argue that resolution of the nuclear issue should be part of a broader endeavor to dismantle the Cold War's residual structure on the Korean peninsula. This, in turn, would put an end to Korea's unfortunate status as a remnant of the Cold War. More than a half century has elapsed since the current armistice structure was established. To be sure, the past 50 years have not been without efforts to secure peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula. During the Cold War, the stability of the region was secured through mutual strategies of deterrence and containment. To a large extent, the South Korean-US alliance has been successful in preventing the recurrence of war and conflict on and around the Korean peninsula. Despite this success, however, permanent peace has yet to be established in the same manner that occurred in Europe after the Cold War. I believe that the time has come to begin transforming this antiquated structure into a lasting and peaceful regime. It is necessary for the nations involved to revisit the remaining issues through a new prism and a fresh paradigm. I believe that such a shift in the conceptual framework should be based on a strategy of engagement.
The September 19 Joint Statement
In any kind of engagement strategy, the first and only viable step is always dialogue. Indeed, the September 19 Joint Statement, itself a product of dialogue, has already provided all the parties in the region with the framework for engagement. Paragraph Four of the statement stipulates that "the Six Parties [are] committed to joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula at an appropriate separate forum." In this regard, it should be noted that the September 19 Joint Statement does not limit its objectives to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. In addition to overcoming that immediate challenge, the Joint Statement also presents a vision of eventually establishing a permanent peace regime in Northeast Asia by addressing other key issues such as economic cooperation and normalization of relations between the parties concerned. With the general framework of engagement established through the Joint Statement, the next task facing the participants of the Six-Party Talks is to draw up a concrete roadmap for implementing its broad ideas. …