EU seeks to pressure US on North Korea
John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)
Over the past several weeks, the European Commission has demonstrated a clear desire to play a part in resolving the North Korean crisis. Javier Solana's (the EC High Commissioner for a Common Foreign and Security Policy) visit to Japan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) last week was a step in this direction. During his trip, Solana discussed a possible EU role in conflict resolution with Japanese and South Korean leaders including Yoriko Kawaguchi (Japanese Foreign Minister) and Kim Suk-soo (ROK Prime Minister). A matter of primary interest revolved around an agreement reached last month by EU member states to send an envoy to North Korea. This mission, led by the Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreon (currently assuming the rotating EU presidency) and Javier Solana, was originally planned for 11-12 February, however, ended up being "postponed". Some sources claim that it was Pyongyang that refused the visit (EUActiv.com), however, senior EU officials maintain that the matter is simply on hold until the EU "finds an appropriate date" to go ahead with the visit (Pakistan News Service). Javier Solana continues to insist that a delegation to North Korea will be sent "sooner rather than later" (AP, Reuters, Korea Times).
However, further analysis of the motive behind the "postponement" indicates that a greater force may have prevented the mission from moving forward, namely the posture of the United States.
The EU perceives the path to conflict resolution in similar terms as Japan and South Korea. It is against sanctions, it supports the continuation of KEDO and it sees direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea as fundamental to a peaceful resolution. While Javier Solana made it clear that he "had nothing against" the multilateral approach that the US was pushing, he did insist that any multilateral process had to have "a built-in mechanism for bilateral dialogue" in order to be successful (Shim Jae-yun, Korea Times, 12 February).
The EU has repeatedly offered to facilitate multilateral discussions and has been keen to mediate bilateral talks between the US and North Korea. In return, North Korea has welcomed this stance and openly approached Britain on 12 February to request that it convince Washington to "sit down for face-to-face talks" (Dominic Evans, Reuters, 12 February). Whether Britain did or did not speak to the US is hard to say, however, the response given by Bill Rummel of the Foreign Office to the media was that now was not the time. In reference to Solana's visit he mentioned that it "wasn't out of the question" but insisted that "it shouldn't happen at the moment" (Dominic Evans, Reuters, 12 February).
The result is that North Korea remains a loose canon. As long as the US continues to refuse to talk with North Korea, the conflict will perpetuate and perhaps even escalate. The US is North Korea's primary threat. No matter what the EU, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea do, they will not resolve the crisis. That almost every move towards escalation on the part of North Korea has been preceded by a US declaration, made between one to five days earlier, is proof of this fact.
North Korea claimed publicly that it possessed nuclear weapons for the first time (19 November) five days after the Bush administration decided to end oil shipments to the North (14 November). One day after the US ordered the detention of a ship containing North Korean made Scud missiles (11 December), Pyongyang threatened to reactivate its nuclear facilities (12 December) and requested that the IAEA remove protective seals and surveillance equipment from its nuclear plant in Yongbyon (13 December). The day after Bush met with South Korean president-elect Roh Moo Hyun and reiterated his non-negotiating stance (21 December), North Korea started to remove monitoring equipment. This was followed by a threat issued by North Korea on 25 December, warning of an ''uncontrollable catastrophe'' unless the United States agreed to a negotiated solution. Pyongyang announced it would withdraw from the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (10 January) only four days after Bush said his country was withholding food aid to North Korea (6 January). One day after President Bush called North Korea "an oppressive regime [whose] people live in fear and starvation" and accused it of deception (28 January), North Korea heightened the threat level by stating that Bush's speech was an "undisguised declaration of aggression to topple the DPRK system" (29 January). When the United States announced it was considering new military deployments in the Pacific Ocean to back up its forces in South Korea (4 February), North Korea declared that it had reactivated its nuclear facilities (5 February). Then North Korea warned that any US decision to build up its troops in the region could lead to a North Korean pre-emptive attack on American forces (6 February). After Bush's mention of UN sanctions and the decision in favor of joint military exercises between the US-South Korea in March (17 February), the North sent a MiG-19 fighter plane across the South-North maritime border and threatened to abandon the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War (20 February).
North Korean sensitivity to the US is evident in the time-line provided above. While the conflict is by no means easy to resolve, it is clear that a breakthrough can only be made and escalation prevented when Washington agrees to sit down and negotiate with Pyongyang. Recent initiatives made by the EU to support such a process are evidence of this fact. In light of this, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia should join forces with the EU to pressure the US in favor of dialogue before it is too late.