Six Party Silence: How the International Community Isn’t Handling North Korea

Since the end of World War Two and the beginning of the Cold War, there has been a consistent debate over what to do in terms of subduing and hindering the growth of the nuclear weapon program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter referred to as North Korea). The rise of North Korea’s nuclear program parallels its escalating tension with its neighbour, South Korea. To hinder further escalation on this subject, six nations have banded together in an attempt to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula: China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States of America.  That being said, little seems to have come to pass in terms of resolution since the genesis of this collaboration rightfully named “The Six Party Talks.”

Image courtesy of Joseph A Farris III, © 2011, some rights reserved
Image courtesy of Joseph A Farris III, © 2011, some rights reserved

It is necessary first to go through a brief background of the six party talks and their subsequent outcomes.  The first round of talks in August 2003 brought little result, other than the chairman agreeing that there should be another round of talks.  These took place in 2004  and did not yield any tangible results either, except for the attendees declaring that they would act peacefully and meet again.  The third round later on in the year had the same result of reaffirming the principles under which the party talks began. It is clear that the general pattern of these talks seems to be that they seldom produce tangible actions. The rounds after the initial ones generally yielded similar results and though some treaties where passed, no significant action was taken.

One of the main issues  keeping the the Six Parties from reaching concrete solutions to increasingly persistent problems can be found in conflicting opinions, not between opposing nations, but between allied powers South Korea and the United States.  Before the advent of the Six Parties’ talks, different positions made themselves known.  Whilst they are steady economic and diplomatic allies, South Korea and the United States have varying opinions on what to focus on with North Korea which have changed over time.  Additionally the United States’ and South Korea’s approach on how to confront North Korea vary significantly.  The main idea is that the United States wishes to focus on the North Korean nuclear program in the short and long run whereas South Korea worries about an imminent attack.  Furthermore, within each respective country, South Korea and the United States, different administrations have held different opinions on the North Korea situation.  For instance, in 1994 US president Bill Clinton signed an agreement with North Korea in attempt to return to normalcy and establish diplomatic relations.  For the government of South Korea this agreement raised several red flags and it observed the meetings between Clinton and North Korea with considerable suspicion.  However, this agreement fell apart with the election of US president George W. Bush, who favoured confrontation over Clinton’s supposed appeasement of North Korea’s actions and growing nuclear technology.  Unfortunately, the beliefs of South Korea’s government did not directly line up with Bush at this time and a concrete solution again did not come to pass.  The increased diplomatic talks in the early 2000s between South Korea and North Korea did not parallel the US approach to dealing with North Korea.  Furthermore, during this time period, the United States and South Korea had to focus on their internal affairs rather than making North Korea their main focus.

The consistent usage of the Six Party talks in the 21st has seen South Korea and the United States working harmoniously. That being said, because of their rock-solid alliance, any action that the United States takes on North Korea will  have implications for South Korea.  For instance the United States’ choice to freeze North Korean accounts in Macau resulted in increasing threats from North Korea to South Korea.  The mélange of nations in the Six Party Talks raises concerns as to whether they will ever be able to agree on something in particular.

Currently, despite the six party talks not always having shown the best productivity, it is imperative that a solution comes to pass in the next few months, due to the threat of attack from North Korea on South Korea.  Since the death of Kim Jung Il and his succession by his son Kim Jung Un, now the world’s youngest nuclear commander, there has been a resurgence of hostility between the North and South.  There is a fear however that, as so often before, the six party talks will not reach an agreement.  Every time the US plans to impose sanctions on North Korea and South Korea follows suit, North Korea increases its threats to Seoul, South Korea’s capital. The question is: if North Korea is so persistent in its growth of the nuclear program, how can there be any solution for the situation without using forms of sanction?

Leave a Reply