North Korea stirs up reactions at University

By Caroline Kim

For about 1,300 Korean international undergraduate and graduate students at the University, North Korea’s recent declaration that they have nuclear weapons hits closer to home than most. However, Korean students and University professors say they’re not worried the announcement will lead to war on the Korean Peninsula or a mushroom cloud in the United States.

North Korea publicly announced on Feb. 10 that it possessed nuclear weapons and withdrew from the six-nation disarmament talks with the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.

North Korea’s statement drew different reactions from students and faculty at the University.

Young Ma, senior in LAS, lived in South Korea during junior high, but he said North Korea was not a daily issue for him.

“You just know that North Korea was a problem,” Ma said. “Older people always say that the war (Korean War, 1950-1953) is not over yet.”

But Ma said he’s not worried much about his family in South Korea because the situation has been going on for a while.

“I think North Korea’s official statement is another strategy to have a better stance in the negotiation with the United States,” Ma said. “North Korea should also know that once they use its nuclear warhead, it will be the end of both Koreas.”

Linda Lee, senior in LAS, agreed that North Korea made the declaration to gain leverage in the negotiations, but she does not think it will go further than words.

“North Korea can’t risk any substantial military action, so I think at this point, diplomacy is key,” Lee said.

Todd Allee, an assistant political science professor who teaches an international relations class at the University, said that while Pyongyang’s declaration was dramatic in the way it was made, it does not represent a major change in dynamics in North Korea’s relation to the world.

Allee said the issues with North Korea and nuclear weapons have existed for years, but the Bush administration has neglected them over the past four years. He said the announcement makes it hard to ignore or neglect the situation now, and that North Korea’s already-isolated regime will be alienated further.

“What scares me less is the potential for North Korea to use the nuclear weapons against the United States,” Allee said. “It’s more North Korea’s willingness to sell the information to other parties like terrorist groups.”

Clifford Singer, director of the University Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, said the essential problem is that there is a disconnection between the United States administration and the nuclear program in North Korea.

“The U.S. administration wants to eliminate all nuclear weapons and North Korea might be induced to freeze this program,” Singer said. “The more you threaten to use force against them, the more (North Korea) thinks they need (nuclear arms).”

But Singer said North Korea cannot use nuclear weapons because they would get obliterated.

Allee added that the security implications of this issue are far more severe for South Korea and Japan than the United States, partly because of their proximity to North Korea.

He said for the past five to 10 years, much discussion has occurred about the ballistic missile defense system, and when President George W. Bush was elected, he moved forward with it to guard against threats like North Korea. But the two ballistic missile defense system tests in the past two months have failed, Allee said.

“The failures of the ballistic missile defense system tests also signal that we need to take the issue of North Korea’s possession and selling of nuclear weapons very seriously,” Allee said.

Lee said she would not be surprised if North Korea was buying more time to build more arsenal, “which will probably be at the expense of the people living there,” she added.

“It makes me more thankful that the United States is making an effort to push for human rights,” Lee said.

Singer said it is a much more realistic goal to freeze the program, but that it is going to be difficult to get talks restarted with other nations.

“It’s a nuisance that they have (nuclear weapons),” Singer said. “But the primary danger is that the technology will leak out like it did in Pakistan. And that’s why it’s really important to freeze the program.”

He said North Korea wants a peace treaty and some development aid. But the United States wants North Korea to get rid of the program before any negotiations.

“The United States needs to change its position, but there’s no guarantee that the North Koreans will respond,” Singer said. “There’s a political cost in being more accommodating and then being turned down.”

Allee said that North Korea is a more complex situation than Iraq.

“Despite the uncertainty in Iraq, policy makers, Bush and officials had a better idea of how to deal with the situation in a way that was more effective,” Allee said. “I think the Iraq situation has a lot of other elements, such as previous conflicts with Iraq, disarmament, personal dislike and personal ties.”

Allee said the Bush administration simply chose to focus on Iraq first and not on North Korea.

While there is no clear solution, Allee said the first step is to get a dialogue going once again.

“That’s a goal that most countries other than North Korea share,” Allee said. “What’s difficult, I think, is that it’s hard to know what exactly North Korea wants the United States and the rest of world to do and what their motive is.”

He also said that the rest of the world could use North Korea’s dependency on outside aid as a leverage tool to bring the nation back to the bargaining table.

Ma said he thinks China should influence North Korea by using various communication channels, such as making the amount of border trading with North Korea dependent on how willing it is to cooperate in the six-party talks.

“North Korea probably knows that China has much to lose if North Korea’s regime collapsed,” Lee said. “But at the same time, it’s a bit confusing because China is one of the fewest countries that has influence there.”

Ma said the United States should be more flexible in dealing with North Korea.

“With the ‘do this or else’ attitude, the situation may end up worse for both sides,” he said.