- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

As the Bush administration nears the end of its review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, it is still struggling with the key dilemma: How best to deal with a secretive, highly militarized North Korea, the last outpost of the Cold War?

Just as it did so successfully vs. the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Washington needs to rely on a combination of containment and engagement. Engagement alone would emasculate U.S. diplomacy and strike many observers as naive given the serious military threat North Korea poses. Containment by itself would alienate our key allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and would actually do little to reduce the North's military threat.

What is needed is a "dual-track" strategy that seeks to limit, both diplomatically and militarily, Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction, including ballistic missiles. A comprehensive approach would integrate elements of diplomacy, deterrence, and the strategic promise of missile defenses. Properly implemented, each element would reinforce and support the other.

Although negotiating with the North is never easy, diplomacy helps promote Washington's interests in the region. The diplomatic track has been tried in the past, with mixed results. After his March summit meeting with President Kim Dae-jung, President Bush was criticized for voicing doubts about dealing with the North, but he was merely echoing the skepticism shared by the majority of South Koreans who see a meager return on their country's two-year investment in "sunshine" diplomacy.

There have been some important and tangible benefits to the United States and its allies from engaging the North Koreans, however. Most notably, the October 1994 Agreed Framework nuclear deal, while less than ideal in all respects, has prevented Pyongyang from today having an arsenal of 25-30 nuclear weapons.

Much of the recent debate in Washington has been over some unfinished diplomatic business from the last days of the Clinton administration. At this time, the North suggested it might be willing to halt production and export of its long-range ballistic missiles in return for a package of benefits from the United States. A host of questions still need to be answered. What price would Pyongyang demand? Would it agree to the highly intrusive verification measures needed to ensure no cheating? Secretary of State Colin Powell has already indicated interest in exploring whether such a deal could be concluded.

The best way for Washington to address this security problem is to probe the North aggressively and test its intentions. As distasteful as it might be to dine with dictators, the reality is that diplomatic engagement can be a useful tool for solving the missile problem. Deterrence and missile defense are also essential, but will they not prevent the North's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, from continuing to produce and sell these missiles around the world.

Engaging the North diplomatically would also make it easier to contain the North by enhancing deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. Last month, the commander of U.S. forces in Korea, Gen. Thomas Schwartz, testified before Congress that over the past year the North Korean armed forces had gotten "bigger, better, closer, deadlier" and that its military training was at a higher level than before. It was also announced last month that North Korea had signed a new defense deal with Russia, which will provide more lethal military equipment for Pyongyang's million-man army.

Given this North Korean build-up, the United States must ensure that deterrence on the Korean Peninsula remains robust. A Washington that is seen negotiating with the North will reassure Seoul and make it far easier to enhance the U.S. deterrent posture. But if Washington is perceived as the source of increased tensions on the peninsula by adopting solely a military approach, it will be difficult to win South Korean support.

And should ballistic missile negotiations result in the North eliminating its long and medium-range ballistic missile force, this would reduce the threat faced by U.S. forces in the region and make the job of deterrence on the Korean Peninsula far easier.

Engaging the North diplomatically would also help Washington sell the idea of ballistic missile defense to its Asian friends and allies. It is possible the international diplomatic aspects of missile defense could be at least as difficult to overcome as the technical hurdles. It is no secret that many countries in the region, including South Korea and Japan, have serious concerns that U.S. missile defense will increase tensions and instability throughout East Asia.

This perception would undermine U.S. interests in the region generally, and may even be interpreted by some South Koreans as an American attempt to oppose the historic reunification of the two Koreas. Washington needs to change this view by integrating missile defense into a larger U.S. strategy toward North Korea. Pursuing the diplomatic track at the same time as Washington moves forward with missile defenses would reassure our allies that the United States is not being militarily provocative, as well as test the North's intentions to eliminate its ballistic missiles.

Missile defense is not a bargaining chip to be bartered away; it is essential to help the United States cope with the new security threats it faces today and in the near future. Defenses would supplement deterrence, thereby giving Pyongyang no reason to think to could ever prevail in a military conflict. As President Bush declared on May 1 in his speech outlining a new U.S. military policy, "Defenses can strengthen deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation."

At the same time, a negotiated solution to the North Korean missile threat would enhance the effectiveness of missile defenses deployed in the region. A North Korean missile arsenal greatly circumscribed by mutual agreement would bound the size of the threat U.S. defenses would have to defeat. An agreement could also limit the technical sophistication of the threat if it prevented the North from testing advanced forms of its Taepo-dong 1 and 2 missile systems. Even if Pyongyang agreed to completely eliminate all its missiles, U.S. missile defenses would still be a useful hedge against cheating or breaking out of the agreement on short notice.

In turn, a missile defense program would help the United States reach a more favorable deal with North Korea by allowing Washington to negotiate from a position of strength. If the price of a deal was not right, the Bush administration could simply hang tough and wait for the North to compromise, or if it did not do so, then walk away.

The Bush administration will soon decide whether it should contain the North or move beyond containment and test the North Koreans by realistic, hardheaded engagement. Given the stakes for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, a comprehensive strategy that combines diplomacy, deterrence and missile defense promises to be a winning hand.

Mitchell B. Reiss is the dean of international affairs and professor of law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

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