When North Korea launched missiles into the Sea of Japan last month, Han Park woke with a start. The professor of international affairs and director of UGA’s Center for the Study of Global Issues was asleep in a South Korean hotel when a CNN producer phoned him for an expert analysis of the situation.
“What situation?” he asked.
“Turn on CNN,” the producer said.
One minute later, he watched as John King, CNN’s chief national correspondent, appeared on his television and spoke to him. Park gave his opinion on the matter as best he could (“it was 4:30 in the morning,” he said) and began to rethink his trip through Asia.
“I wasn’t going to stop in North Korea if I didn’t need to,” he said. But with the missile test would come a worldwide reaction and Park, an advocate for peaceably dealing with North Korea, wanted to monitor what was happening inside the country.
“It surprised me that the people knew what had happened. Their attitude was ‘No big deal.’ They saw it as a country making sure it could defend itself,” he said.
The second reason for his visit was to verify his belief that the current U.S. policy of avoiding direct talks with North Korea and relying on the six-party talks in Beijing would not work. Park maintains that the U.S. needs a new policy that directly engages the Kim Jong Il government, and the Bush administration has no legitimate reason to reject bilateral talks with North Korea.
Instead of being bent on terror, the nuclear threat is more a bargaining chip, said Park, who believes Kim’s motives are no different now than in 2000: The North Koreans want the half-century-old trade embargo lifted so that their economy can improve.
The country is in a position to negotiate away its weapons if “the price is right,” Park said.
If not, the North Koreans may be forced to start fighting. With the world’s fourth-largest army and enough bomb shelters for its entire population, they are prepared for a war of nuclear proportions, according to Park.
“They’re free at this very moment to do whatever they want because the U.S. is completely consumed by the Middle East,” he said. “If they wanted to build up their nuclear program and accumulate more weaponry, they would enjoy their inconspicuous position. So the fact that they launched the attack and wanted it to be noticed suggests to me that they prefer negotiated settlements to military confrontations.”
If no action is taken to engage Kim and negotiate disarmament, it could trigger a regional arms race, which could spell trouble. Because of North Korea’s economic slump, it would trail any race with its economically superior neighbors to build up weapons, leaving early attack as a viable option, according to Park.
“The reason North Korea wants direct talks with the U.S lies in the symbolism of America’s acceptance of North Korea as a bargaining partner,” he said.
“. . . To get out of a depression, it needs loans and the United States basically controls the world’s banks that provide these sort of loans to countries. And North Korea knows this.”