November 25, 2004

November 25, 2004 | Commentary on Asia

Steady Course on Korea

There should be little doubt about the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the second term of President George W. Bush, especially with respect to the Korean Peninsula. It stands to remain unchanged.


Consider the Six-Party Talks initiated by Bush in his first term to address North Korea's outlaw nuclear weapons program. In the Sept. 30 presidential debate, Sen. John Kerry said he would supplement the multilateral negotiations by conducting bilateral discussions with Kim Jong Il's regime.

The president responded unequivocally. It would be a mistake, he said, to open up a separate, American/North Korean dialogue. All negotiations with Pyongyang must engage all five partner-states: South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.

That way, he argued, if Kim decides not to honor any resulting agreement, "he's not only doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China [and the other negotiating partners] as well." Staying unified in a five-nation coalition is the most effective way to send a clear message to Kim.

Nuclear Free Peninsula

The goal of these negotiations remains unchanged, as well. Throughout the campaign, Bush repeatedly stated his firm resolve to create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula via negotiations, and insisted that the pact provide some means to verify that, this time, Kim honors the agreement.

Yes, the "Bush doctrine" calls for the use of pre-emptive force to prevent an imminent attack on the United States. But Bush has made it clear that he has no intention of initiating the use of force against North Korea.

So what, exactly, should America's allies in South Korea expect during the next four years of the Bush administration?

  • Expect a long, slow process. Kim will not rush immediately to the negotiating table for a new round of talks. Pyongyang likely will wait for Bush's inaugural address on Jan. 20 hoping to glean hints about future policies from that speech.

    After all, it was in the 2002 State of the Union Address that Bush introduced the term "axis of evil" to refer to North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Kim will wait to see how North Korea is characterized, if at all, in the next inaugural address
  • Expect some new faces filling key administrative positions. Again, changes in the National Security Council staff and the foreign and security policy team will occur over a period of months, not weeks. And some of the new people will have to undergo the often-lengthy confirmation process in the Senate, further extending the wait.

    This augurs for a pause in full negotiations, as the second Bush team is assembled and placed fully at work. In the interim, one might expect a set of working group talks with North Korea. 
  • Expect consistency. The patient, principled approach taken in the first Bush administration will continue. There will be no rush to the negotiating table from this side of the Pacific, either.
  • Finally, expect the multilateral talks to continue at a level below that of secretary of state. There's little chance we'll see the next secretary of state join Kim in dancing the macarena in a North Korean stadium, à la Madeleine Albright. Meanwhile, the Bush administration will move forward with other initiatives in Asia. The Global Defense Posture Review will prompt an adjustment that devotes more ships and aircraft to maintaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.
At the same time, we can expect a reduction in ground forces on the Korean Peninsula and an upgrade in mobility and command and control throughout the region. The net result: no weakening of our allied defensive posture in Korea.

Bush will also proceed with deploying a layered system of ballistic missile defenses. The United States will continue to work closely with our allies in Japan on the development and deployment of such defenses and will encourage the South Korean government to protect its own people with ballistic missile defenses.

American security policy will continue to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. The second Bush administration can be expected to pursue the Proliferation Security Initiative vigorously. It will seek to reduce future military threats with a combination of diplomacy, deterrence, strategic defenses, arms control and nonproliferation initiatives, and capable offensive forces. And, of course, Bush will work closely with America's allies to pursue the war on terrorism throughout Asia, and beyond.

Larry M. Wortzel is vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

Appeared on DefenseNews.com