|This is a transcription of Prof. Ford's intervention at the webinar on the theme "Incentives for a Rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula" on 27 November 2020 by Mrs. Chantal Chételat Komagata, UPF Coordinator for West Europe.|
I've been involved with North Korea in a reasonably serious way now for over 20 years. my first trip to North Korea took place in 1997 and I've been just under 50 times to North Korea. I'm hoping to go again in spring next year when the restrictions because of the COVID pandemic ease in both China and in North Korea.
Speaking to my topic, let me say that in terms of finding a rapprochement on the Peninsula, it seems to me that I agree very much with everything that Mark said. We need to solve the nuclear problem on the Peninsula and that means we need to engage principally with Pyongyang. The bottom line is that of course they would prefer not to give up their nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons do have two purposes. Firstly, they act as a deterrent to South Korea, Japan and the United States, and secondly, they have an economic function.
The reality is that North Korea is outspent by a factor of 6 in military terms by South Korea. South Korea spends a much smaller part of its GDP on its military than North Korea, but of course the South Korean economy is close to 50 times stronger, so two or three percent of something 50 times bigger equals 25% of the GDP that North Korea spends. In terms of South Korea, Japan and the United States, North Korea is outspent by a factor of 50, so they have lost the arms race. They've been comprehensively beaten on the arms race.
The North Korean spending on the military equipment is equivalent to that of Australia. That's why they developed their nuclear deterrent. But it also serves the second purpose: North Korea has two major problems in terms of shortages. First, there’s energy, which is why they were very interested back in the mid 90s in the KEDO project, which was mentioned; it was about, in exchange for North Korea abandoning its development of nuclear weapons, to actually build two light water reactors and supply energy in North Korea, and the second is that they’re short of labour, because there are hundreds of thousands of men principally in the Korean armed forces, and nuclear weapons actually will allow probably tens if not hundred thousand to be counted out of that into industry, and if the North Korean economy is going to grow, they actually need that labour.
So, what are they looking for if we're going to have a solution? They’re looking for what I call sanctions mitigation, that was mentioned by Mark. Actually, they're not looking for the easing of US sanctions, as frankly they won't get them. Any President in the United States would struggle to get Congress to actually lift layer upon layer of sanctions imposed by Congress, but mainly because a lot of them are actually tied up to human rights issues. What the North Koreans are looking for is the mitigation of UN, United Nations sanctions, which of course are not controlled by Congress or depend upon the incoming president Biden just giving the necessary instructions. They’re also looking for security guarantees.
What was interesting is that, in my time in North Korea, the agreed framework was based on a letter from Bill Clinton, saying: “We're not going to attack you”. It doesn't work. The North Koreans are no longer interested in a piece of paper with the current US President’s signature on it. What they need is some multilateral guarantees and they are rather interested in the joint comprehensive plan of action as in Iran. We are all aware that President Trump attempted to tear that deal up, but what was interesting to the North Koreans was, unlike the agreed framework, when George Bush Senior tore it up, it was over with the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran. Actually, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China said: “Hang on, it's actually exactly working in our opinion”. So, it had a robustness and resilience that was missing from the agreed framework.
So, I think the North Koreans will be looking for something along those lines. It will not be exactly the same people, but it will be at the United Nations Security Council, P5, the five permanent members plus. For obvious reasons in Korea, that's likely to be the South Koreans, or almost certainly it's not going to happen without them, and it's also going to be possibly Japan, with their particular problems, because of their focus on resolving the abduction issue before the nuclear issue, and maybe the European Union.
Back with the agreed framework, the people who paid the money were actually South Korea, who paid a considerable amount before the programme was abandoned, I think 3/4, followed by Japan, that paid a billion dollars, and the gap was filled by the European Union. Note that the United states paid no money at all. And Clinton had exactly the same problems that Biden will have in the future in actually getting money. So, you will have the security guarantees.
You also need to actually have, whatever you want to call it, compensation, an industrial development programme. The North Koreans are very clear that they've spent considerable amounts of money on their nuclear weapons development and their ICBM development. They will want compensation for that, and the estimated amount needed is something between 15 and 20 billion dollars, and that will be paid by South Korea, possibly Japan, the European Union and probably not the United States. So, those are the elements that will come into a solution.
It's going to be a long-term programme. Trust building is required on both sides. For understandable reasons, neither side trusts the other at the moment. So, it will be a step by step process with various staging points on the way, from where we are now to a final resolution of the programme. Certainly, the North is looking for industrial investment apart from the compensation, but I think it's proper to focus on what they are interested in, rather than what people want to impose on them, namely their view of economic development and they're very keen to modernise.
Their economy is closer to that of China, but with the state-owned enterprises, or even Japan, with the zaibatsu, or South Korea with the chaebol. it's a form of guided state capitalism that they're interested in, rather than the free market economy of the United States, and that needs to be borne in mind. We clearly need a peace settlement of some kind. I actually think that it's not possible to have a peace treaty with the United States again because of the problems with Congress getting a 2/3 majority in the Senate; a peace treaty with North Korea is frankly unlikely.
It's not going to happen, so we need some end of war declaration, with the obvious signatories being the real people behind the war: of course, the Chinese, it was the Chinese people’s volunteers that fought, not Beijing officially. It was the United Nations that fought in the South, not the US, but I think the reality is you need an end of war declaration with South Korea, North Korea, China and the United States, with the possible addition of Russia and Japan. But it seems to me that that's the way forward. It will be a long hard road, but I agree it's a very important one. It’s very dangerous, particularly for the Korean Peninsula, but also for the world, if we go down the path of what I term “regime change” as opposed to “encouraging a change of regime”. I will leave it at that.