Long-distance conflict

Jessica Rothschuh

“The primary concern of the United States is not a direct attack from North Korea,” said Esook Yoon, assistant professor of political science from South Korea. “North Korea could be the nuclear weapons discount market.”


U.S. Foreign Policy

“Our policy is to treat North Korea as an outlaw regime that is denying its citizens fundamental human rights while threatening its neighbors with a nuclear program it promised to disband 10 years ago,” said Steven Hook, associate professor of political science and specialist in U.S. foreign policy.

The Bush administration has three principles for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Yoon said.

n To continue to discuss the issue with North Korea but not negotiate

n To demand “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement”

n To hold multilateral talks among the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea

Both Yoon and Hook agree it is unlikely the Unites States will use force or preemptive action against North Korea.

“I think this is one conflict the Bush administration wants to settle through diplomacy,” Hook said.


Economic and Social Climate

North Korea remains largely isolated from the rest of the world and therefore has a very unstable economy, as did most communist countries before it. It also is experiencing a natural energy crisis.

“China provides more than half of the energy supply to North Korea,” Yoon said. “The economic situation is really dreadful.”

International relief to North Korea started in the 1990s after the country’s economy collapsed and natural disasters led to widespread famine, Yoon said.

“A lot of North Korean people try to escape to China to find food or jobs or some money,” Yoon said. “It’s a really disastrous situation now.”

However, North Korea’s isolationist government has made it hard for its citizens to hear news from the Western world. Therefore part of the population is unaware of its hardships.

“It has one of the worst human rights records in the world,” Hook said. “The population is starving and has virtually no political freedoms.”

The North Korean regime has “brainwashed their people to believe North Korea was heaven when it’s actually hell,” Yoon said.

To try to correct this lack of information, President Bush wants to find a communication channel to penetrate North Korea’s information barrier and provide its citizens with world news, Yoon said.

This channel may take the form of a radio broadcast launched from ship.

“By doing that, [the United States] can probably induce some kind of social discontent,” Yoon said. “That’s actually the long term, but probably better, plan.

“It’s a hideous regime and should be replaced.”

To further this aim, President Bush signed the North Korea Human Rights Act into law Oct. 18, 2004, according to a White House press release. Its goal is to improve the human rights situation in North Korea and aid refugees fleeing the country.


An Axis of Evil?

In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush named North Korea part of the “axis of evil,” in addition to Iraq and Iran.

“He used that term because North Korea has a very repressive government,” Hook said. “It’s a government that has basically denied its citizens political freedom.

“The problem with this is that the notion of an ‘axis of evil’ is sort of an illusion because that implies that these countries are closely connected to each other. But Iraq, Iran and North Korea are not in any way a cohesive block or alliance.

“They have minimal contact with each other outside of their shared animosity toward the United States.”

Yoon agrees this term is problematic and said the United States should try to help the people of North Korea “rather than just pushing North Korea aside as an evil empire.”



North Korea became a communist dictatorship under founder Kim Il Sung at the end of the Korean War in 1953, after Korea split into North and South Korea. It is now controlled by Kim’s son, Kim Jong Il.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States expected North Korea to collapse because it was not receiving any international aid, and its economy was failing.

“North Korea decided to develop nuclear weapons in 1993 as a survival strategy,” Yoon said.

The Clinton administration held negotiations but failed to disarm North Korea.

“Clinton really expected that North Korea would collapse soon, like the Soviet Union [did],” Yoon said.

For this reason, the United States promised to provide economic and energy support it didn’t intend on delivering.

Neither side kept its part of the deal, Yoon said.

In 2002, the Bush administration sent James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to confront North Korea with evidence of another nuclear weapons program.

“So now this is what we call the second nuclear crisis,” Yoon said.


E-mail student politics reporter Jessica Rothschuh at [email protected].