Changing Events on the Korean Peninsula

Report Asia

Changing Events on the Korean Peninsula

March 9, 2003 15 min read
The Honorable Richard Lugar
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society

THE HONORABLE BARBARA HACKMAN FRANKLIN: It is my great honor to introduce one of the most outstanding public servants I have had the privilege of knowing and working with, Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana.

I first heard about this man when I joined the Nixon White House in the early 1970s. He was President Richard Nixon's favorite mayor, a young mayor who had already drawn national attention for his efforts to revitalize downtown Indianapolis and promote new economic growth. Shortly thereafter, in 1976, Dick Lugar was elected to the U.S. Senate, and in 2000, he was re-elected to a fifth term.

Since Dick grew up on a farm, a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee seems to be a natural. He chaired that committee between 1995 and 2001. In 1996, he was instrumental in passing the federal farm program reforms, ending the production controls of the 1930s. He continues to work to cut agricultural subsidies, and we are grateful for his strong commitment to free trade.

Dick Lugar is probably best known to those of us in this room for his leadership on national security policy and foreign relations. He has twice served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and it's reassuring that he sits in that chair now in this crucial moment in our history.

Curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and other unconventional weapons has been a constant theme in his career. Well before many others, he understood the threat of proliferation. He was a chief architect of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Through that program, more than 6,000 of the old U.S.S.R.'s nuclear warheads have been deactivated, and a huge array of bombers, missiles, submarines, and other launch vehicles have been dismantled. Senator Lugar has also played a key role in Senate ratification of various other treaties: the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Senator is a staunch defender of liberty and has been proactive about promoting freedom around the world. When he first chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan asked him to head the American election observer team to the Philippines. He exposed the vote rigging orchestrated by the Marcos regime, recognized Corazon Aquino as the legitimate winner, and convinced President Reagan to recognize her government.

Chairman Lugar has taken a strong stance against terrorism. He has set forth five foreign policy objectives that he believes will be necessary to win the war against terrorism and has promised that the Foreign Relations Committee will explore them. They are:

  • Strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
  • Expand and globalize the Nunn-Lugar program.
  • Promote trade.
  • Strengthen and build alliances.
  • Reinvigorate our commitment to democracy, the environment, energy, and development.

Under his leadership, the Foreign Relations Committee has held five hearings on the dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula since January. No one on Capitol Hill has been more actively engaged in seeking solutions to this threat, which will be the focus of his remarks to us this evening.

This is a most complex and threatening moment in our history. Dick Lugar is the man on Capitol Hill for this moment. He is wise, and he is effective. His conservative philosophy, his intellect, his experience, his thoughtful approach, his integrity, and his calm and deliberate yet forceful style all add up to exemplary leadership. Our country is fortunate to have his service at this crucial time, and we are honored to have him with us this evening.

SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: I appreciate very, very much the spirit of this 20th anniversary of The Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center. It is so important to foreign policy deliberation in this country, to leadership that has come consistently from programs that have been inspired and enriched by the work that is going on here.

I know that our time frame this evening is somewhat governed by a meeting from which I've just come. I can assure you the President will speak at 8 o'clock, and he will talk for 14 minutes in a very somber but straightforward way. Most of you have heard news accounts, and I shall not preempt any surprise element of the President's remarks, but tonight will be what is called an ultimatum speech as opposed to a call to war or an announcement of military action.

The President will address the thought that 48 hours remain for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq and to make it possible for American and British forces, and anyone else involved in the coalition of the willing, to enter into Iraq peacefully to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and that, in the event that Saddam and his sons do not avail themselves of the 48 hours, then, at a time of our choosing, we will act. We've had a good meeting of congressional leadership with the President, the Vice President, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and others on the President's staff who have been most informative and forthcoming and with a promise that there are likely to be many more such meetings in the near future.

Let me talk about Asia, and very specifically the Korean Peninsula, because I believe that this topic centers much of our attention in foreign and security policy, and is amazingly complex in so many ways. I'm awed by the experience in this room today, having just seen [Assistant] Secretary [of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James A.] Kelly before the Foreign Relations Committee a short time ago, and many of you likewise have been in the leadership van.

I'm concerned by several things that have been occurring in the last few weeks. The North Korean government has decided to break out of a pattern in which there was international atomic energy inspection in the country: to break through seals on buildings and facilities that had stopped the further work in terms of development of plutonium as a material that could be weaponized into a nuclear weapon. In essence, to send at least some missile shots to indicate that their work continues on improving the efficacy of those missiles and then to indicate in very provocative rhetoric that they really will not be stopped in this course.

Our diplomats have indicated that this is a multifaceted, multinational problem. Neighbors of North Korea--principally South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia--are most often mentioned. In addition, the United States of America has a very considerable interest, with at least 37,000 members of our Armed Forces.

Beyond that, we've been advised in testimony that there are as many as 100,000 Americans on any one day, perhaps in the Seoul area, quite apart from other parts of Korea. So a good number of our countrymen are in harm's way, either armed or civilian. Many are just doing business and working in humanitarian projects.

A good number of us have learned a lot more about the Peninsula since the crisis commenced. I suspect many of us have not followed the South Korean election as closely as we might have throughout the past year. Now all of us are regularly reading articles about a new group of people that the South Korean press calls the 386 Club.

As I understand it, the "three" refers to people in their 30s who have suffered arrest under military regimes in the past, have frequently been dispossessed of their small fortunes or prospects before they made comebacks, and have had a fairly rocky time. The "eight" comes from a period of time during which they began to come into their own, and the "six" comes from the decade in which they were born.

They are an interesting group of people who have been very effective politically in South Korea to the point that people, say under 40, voted for President Roh by at least 2 to 1, whereas the people over 55 were clearly about 3 to 1 the other way. This is a fairly sharp demarcation.

The 386 group--who some have categorized as people who would be very happy in reform movements of Ralph Nader--have an agenda. Much of it centers upon what they believe are corrupt South Korean business personnel. One is the chaebols, but there are other situations like this, and they want to clean it up. They see the hooks of business into politics in a way that seems almost inexplicable, but they are not discouraged that in this regime they might make a substantial difference.

I dwell on these individuals because many have noted they are among the most vigorous of anti-American types. Not in a vicious sense, terrorists or people blowing up property or causing harm to individuals, but rather in a sense that they may see us as provocateurs--hopefully, not on a par with North Korea, but almost that way, with innocent South Koreans caught between these forces, the U.S. and North Korea.

We have a very strong agenda in our country that precedes September 11 of 2001 with regard to nuclear proliferation. We feel very strongly that if there is to be any peace for our loved ones down the trail, there really has to be control of weapons of mass destruction and the fissile material that could be weaponized and the facilities that might bring all this about.

Many of us have worked very arduously with Russia, for example. Russia and the United States have, arguably, over 95 percent of all the weapons of mass destruction, whether it be nuclear, chemical, or biological. So to the extent that there is security, guards, fences, some way of making certain these materials and weapons do not proliferate, the world is a lot safer.

To the extent that we rationalize our positions, we are destroying these weapons. This is what the chemical weapons convention is all about: absolute destruction, over a 10-year period, of all of it. The biological is more difficult because some countries are still in denial that they ever thought of such weapons, but we're pursuing that equally avidly.

On the nuclear side, with the new Moscow treaty that the United States Senate ratified a couple of weeks ago, we hope the Duma will follow, and there is some indication from reports in the last three or four days that they are going to. Even though it's a more loosely structured arms control agreement, this would take the United States and Russia down to a range of 1,800 to 2,100 nuclear warheads and take these warheads off of missiles and bring both Russia and the United States to a 6,000 parity, more or less. This is a substantial reduction.

In the midst of all of this, it is disconcerting that other nations want to build nuclear weapons. For a while, it appeared that, with the Agreed Framework, North Korea might stop that course of action. It appears now that they are back onto it.

This has led to a vigorous debate as to what we should do about it. The President said immediately that military action is not an option. Why? Because it appeared, at least to our President, that there might be retaliation first of all against the South Koreans. There are those of you who have traveled more extensively in the DMZ area than I have, but I've seen enough to convince me that up in the rocks there are at least 1,000 fairly heavy weapons, and probably more, but that would be a big start in terms of a shelling that would be fatal to thousands of people in the Seoul area.

Leaving that aside, the number of North Korean ground troops in a position to invade the South has been a fact of life for quite a while, and this doesn't take into consideration intelligence reports that the North Koreans actually developed at least one or two weapons before they stopped in 1994. I remember descriptions in the past dealing with other countries in which, if you have very crude weapons, you almost might take a small plane and roll it off a platform, and if you deliver it, it kills a lot of people--an unthinkable incident in heavily populated South Korea.

Given the fact that the President ruled out military action, diplomatic action comes to the fore. The diplomatic action that has been the preference of the Administration is a five-member situation, with the United States as one of the five. The testimony not only of Secretary Kelly, but of others has been that each of the countries involved has large interests here, and for the United States to be trying to find an agreement bilaterally is to ignore those interests, and that we really need all the parties if this agreement is to be enforceable.

The dilemma is obvious. Without tracing through an analysis of why China finds it difficult to be forthcoming, we find from the World Food Program that 3 million North Koreans are being fed, and the Chinese are doing much of the feeding. Their fuel oil contribution to North Korea is often estimated at about 70 percent.

Some would say that with that kind of leverage, both food and fuel, surely the Chinese could bring about some agreement. Perhaps, but the Chinese--at least we are told--are very reluctant to destabilize the North Korean government and to see a pouring of North Koreans across the Chinese boundaries. As a matter of fact, they treat very harshly the very few that make it.

With regard to Russia, they simply are preoccupied with other things for the moment. Clearly, they and the Chinese are concerned about having another nuclear power in their midst, but I suspect they believe the United States will take care of it and they may come in and help, as the case may be.

The Japanese clearly have a more substantial interest. They are interested in their security. Seeing those missiles go back and forth reminds them that they were threatened by missiles at an earlier point. The North Koreans apparently have the range, and the Japanese are probably going to come to us if they have not already done so.

I can remember visiting the prime minister of Japan. Senator Nunn and I were there in 1994 during the crisis, and they said very earnestly to us, "If you can't protect us, we will protect ourselves, and we will develop a nuclear weapon." This thought keeps bobbing up: that everybody in the neighborhood is going to have nuclear weapons. Even the South Koreans themselves might harbor some thoughts.

The younger people would say much of this is highly exaggerated. "Koreans are not going to attack Koreans," they would lecture us. "Don't get too provocative. Don't get too far up front." Well, nobody is too far up front right now. My feeling is that we may be slipping a little bit behind.

I have no intelligence that leads me to believe that, on a specific week or even month, the North Koreans will necessarily move ahead and begin stripping plutonium off of the rods, beginning to try and put it together so that additional nuclear weapons might be formed. I pray that that will not be the case.

Brent Scowcroft, a month ago in The Washington Post, had an op-ed in which he said time is running out. Henry Kissinger has one today in which he indicates that time hasn't run out yet and we still need to look at the multilateral framework. I would hope we would not confuse these multilaterals with direct talks or direct talks with bilateral talks. It appears to me that there is some potential for accommodation if we're able to define the situation as one in which there are more than two parties sitting around the table, but two of them happen to be the United States and North Korea, so there is at least a conversation going on.

What might happen in that conversation could be very bad news. The North Koreans. with the same bluntness with which they treated Secretary Kelly last fall, might simply say, "You have to understand, we have a perfect right to be a nuclear power and we're going to be. In fact, we're developing nuclear weapons, trying to produce more, and we intend to produce more after that, and you'll need to accommodate yourselves to that situation."

There are some who already say, in essence, "They have some nuclear weapons, but so do other countries: for example, India and Pakistan most recently, and others may be on the way. We simply have an embattled government here that needs defense, and that's impressive, to have nuclear weapons so people don't come after you."

Worse still, even if we were to get them into a situation in which we ask directly, they might not promise not to proliferate either fissile material or weapons that might be fashioned from it--small, large, or medium, as the case may be. Indeed, North Korea's export of weapons is a real worry. Ask former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Ashton Carter. He speaks with some experience from the past Administration and has suggested that fissile material about the size of a baseball, if exported, might be awfully hard to interdict, awfully hard to find, but nevertheless might prove to be pretty deadly if utilized by persons who hope the worst for our country or for others in the process.

How much time do we have? What happens if, in fact, some weapons are made or some fissile material assembled and disbursed in ways that are well beyond the pale of the previous inspectors or anybody's inspection?

Secretary Kelly suggested in his testimony that the highly enriched uranium program may be proceeding. We don't know where it is. We don't know with what speed success might come to that program, and that's a worry, to say the least.

Where does this leave us? As I noted, in Henry Kissinger's piece today--and he's not unique in this respect--after you go through the multilateral approach and try to get everybody together, to understand they all have interests and they all are part of this, you finally come to a point at which you contemplate, even silently, military action, preemptive action to take out the facilities, preemptive action to stop the North Koreans before they invade somewhere else or create havoc.

These are very dangerous thoughts, but always at the end of the trail logically. If you have not stopped the threat by negotiations, you either decide you're not going to stop it and life goes on, or you are going to stop it and the number of choices then narrows and so do the dangers from possible miscalculations.

This has led me to conclude that I would like to see as many people around the table as possible, but I would like to see somebody talking to the North Koreans. I must say this is adamantly opposed by those who say that, once again, it would reward those who have broken their word not only once but many times; that it would lead to some sort of concessions in which there is a reward for taking provocative actions; that it might lead to demands for something we really can't deliver: a successful nonaggression pact or guarantee of security for an indefinite period of time for the North Korean state, quite apart from whatever economic goals North Korea might have in terms of openness or more immediate results.

All of these might be demands, and some of them might be intolerable as far as we're concerned. But most policy experts will say there are no easy choices here. In fact, all the choices are bad. They involve an implication that somehow we have been had once again and are busy trying to humor people who break agreements, or that we are dealing with an unstable regime that might falter and go anyway, whether or not South Korea and everybody else in the neighborhood may be worried about nuclear weapons in the same way that we are.

So I come to you tonight as one who is searching as well as trying to be an advocate. I hope that we can work creatively to move ahead. I thank you very, very much, and I ask for your assistance in the days ahead.

The Honorable Richard Lugar is the longest serving U.S. Senator in Indiana history. He is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a member and former chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and won a fifth term in 2000.


The Honorable Richard Lugar

William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society