Mar. 26  2019
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National Defense System of the Bush Administration, Korean Policy and Missile Talk

The National Missile Defense system has not been initiated solely by the Republican Party. The Clinton administration established Rumsfeld Commission, headed by current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to plan for a Theater Missile Defense system and NMD system.

Source  :  Korean Committee Against NMD-TMD and for Peace

The National Missile Defense system has not been initiated solely by the Republican Party. The Clinton administration established Rumsfeld Commission, headed by current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to plan for a Theater Missile Defense system and NMD system. It was well before North Korea launched a satellite in August 1998. Since the Republican Party won the election in November 1994 Democrats and Republicans have raced to put their name on the system. NMD was not proposed to meet the missile threat of a handful of weak nations, as the U.S government would like it to be viewed. The system lies at the heart of 21st century U.S military strategy. Political consensus has been built in the U.S. over the deployment of NMD.
What differs the Bush administration from the Clinton administration is how unilateral it is in pushing for NMD. The Clinton administration didn’t want the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S and U.S.S.R signed in 1972, to be undermined as it proceeded with NMD. On the other hand, the Republic Party doesn’t see the existence of the ATM Treaty or the opposition from Russia as an obstacle to going ahead with NMD. Republicans made this clear even before the Bush administration took office.

The European Union, a major ally of the U.S., opposes the deployment of NMD in the context of a global security order led by the U.S. However its opposition is useless since the U.K. is siding the with the U.S. in the deployment of NMD in exchange for new Trident II fleet ballistic missiles. As long as the U.K. insist with its own position, the E.U. cannot effectively express its opposition. Russia has proposed a‘Eurasian Missile Defense System’ that covers the whole European continent. However NATO’s European members are in no position to be engaged in equidistant diplomacy between Russia and the U.S. Remarks of EU officials confirm this fact. What the EU has in mind is European Common Defense and “EU Joint military capacity”, which would be independent of NATO. They will inevitably conflict with NATO at some point. The U.S and EU agree that “EU Joint military capacity” will be sent to where NATO forces are not engaged. In other words, independent European forces will engage themselves only in peacekeeping operations, which do not have significant security value. EU seems to want to expand the reach of European Common Defense but faces inevitable limits, such as its relations with the U.S., its diversity in its way of cooperation, and uncertainty over the amount of political will it will have for mustering necessary resources. European countries currently do not have any reason or political will to oppose the possibility of the expansion of NMD to include the European continent. They do not take the opposition from Russia lightly, but they do not think Russia is strong enough to counter the U.S. nor has it any economic prowess to go ahead with its own plan.

The global missile defense system is the core element of the U.S. global strategy and its deployment is matter of time. There is no possibility that the U.S. will scrap the system, since Mr. Bush won the presidential election. In this situation what kind of diplomatic choice must Korea make?
On March 6, the New York Times carried an interview with Wendy R. Sherman, former State Department Counselor coordinating U.S. policy on North Korea. She said that an agreement was going to be reached that would conclude missile talks with North Korea. In the presidential election, President Clinton was too cautious in making sure that the Democratic Party was not in the offensive in the security debate with the Republicans. This was why the Clinton administration failed to finalize the Geneva agreement with North Korea, which was signed in 1994. However had the Clinton administration had enough political will, it would have succeeded in concluding missile talks with the North. Secretary of State Powell confirmed this fact when he said before and after the summit meeting between the U.S. and South Korea that the Clinton administration’s missile talks with the North were very promising. According to Wendy Sherman, North Korea had promised not to produce, test, and deploy missiles with more than a 300 mile range. The North pulled back from its previous position when it gave up these missiles in exchange for cash compensation. As the negotiation proceeded the North promised not to test missiles and kept its word. North Korea didn’t test missiles for five years before and two years after it launched a satellite in August 1998, something which has been confirmed by U.S. experts such as William Taylor.
Therefore, the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles by North Korea, which is the rationale for NMD, can be prevented through negotiations. If the U.S. continues emphasizing the threat from the North, it means that the U.S. needs an imaginary excuse to protect the political and diplomatic legitimacy of its global missile defense system. The flip-flop attitude of Secretary of State Powell clearly shows that the U.S. feels it needs to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through missile talks with the North. At the same time, however, it is wary of a situation where the successful conclusion of the missile talks undermines the legitimacy of an NMD system. If the U.S. concludes negotiations with the North over missiles, it no longer has a convincing rationale for NMD. In an effort to prevent this, the U.S. may further emphasize the threat of accidental launch of nuclear missiles from Russia or China. Or it can promote an NMD system as an inevitable outcome of competition over hegemony with Russia and China. In effect, such ideological propaganda started long before the Bush administration took office.

We need to take note that the Clinton administration took the initiative in planning a TMD and an NMD system and at the same time it pushed for missile talks with the North. This has significant implications for Korea to understand the North Korean policy of the U.S. In other words, the Missile threat from the North is can be separated with an NMD system, which is the core element of the U.S. global strategy in the 21st century. The same will be true of the Bush administration. However the current administration would prefer the diplomacy of strength at the negotiating table to comprehensive agreement. As long as the Bush administration wants to advance the date of NMD deployment in its full scale, the conclusion of missile talks with the North would not seem attractive.

After taking into consideration our mid and long term challenge, which are going ahead with the engagement policy toward the North and securing peace on Korean peninsula, there are two choices for South Korea to make in relation to an NMD system and the U.S. policy on Korean peninsula. One is to oppose an NMD system in the context that the deployment of NMD inherently contradicts engagement policy toward the North. The other is to oppose an NMD system in principle and to make an effort to separate negotiations between the two Koreas, or between the North and the U.S., from an NMD. In short, it is about insulating the Korean peninsula from the negative effect of an NMD system and the controversies surrounding it.

The basic precondition for going ahead with the second choice is to stop the North’s missile threat from being used as a rationale for NMD. If the current situation continues as it is, where the South Korean government says it understands the need for an NMD system in its joint statement after the summit meeting and the U.S. government consistently underscores the missile threat from the North, North Korea cannot help believing that the South, not to mention the U.S., considers its missile threat as rationale for NMD. This is a totally different issue from President Bush calling the North a rogue nation and its leader an autocrat.
We have to keep in mind that North Korea’s attitude towards an NMD system will be closely linked to China’s response. China doesn’t want North Korea’s missiles to be used as an excuse for deploying an NMD system. Therefore China will want the U.S. to separate North Korea’s missile threat from NMD issue and to continue missile talks with the North.

Under this circumstance, the Korean government has to look for ways to conclude the missile talks with the North quickly. As long as the Bush administration focuses on deploying an NMD system rather than finalizing missile talks, its relationship with the North will become sour. This is inevitable because as time passes more issues, such as the withdrawal of forces from the DMZ and the reduction of conventional weapons will be added to the negotiations. Of course, no matter what route the U.S. takes, it is up to the U.S. to decide. However South Korea’s vision and action will remain as important variables in the determining North Korean policy of the U.S., just as they did in the past. The role and negotiating power of the South Korean government in the relationship between the North and the U.S. can be strengthened by its political leadership or weakened by social divisiveness. Being in a politically weak position, the Kim Dae Jung government made haste in siding with the U.S. over an NMD system despite the high possibility of the North’s opposition. The opposition party and some major media, organisations in Korea want to see President Kim’s engagement policy toward the North fail. If they cannot make it fail, they want the U.S. government to derail South Korea’s North Korean policy. In this situation the Kim Dae Jung government may have seen that it was necessary to express its understanding of an NMD system to buy U.S. support for its North Korean policy.

Since the U.S. government has used the threat from the North as the most obvious reason why it needs an NMD system, it may be hard for it to compromise the two goals, which are to finalize missile talks with the North and to maintain the legitimacy of NMD. Just as any administration does, the Bush administration is suffering from the controversies that accompany a power transition. In this situation it may take a long time for the new administration to embark on any action to normalize its relationship with the North. What is most needed now is cool-headed strategic judgment by both the South and the North governments based on their common security on the Korean peninsula.
If the U.S. sticks to the global strategy represented by NMD, the relationship between the U.S. and China will remain tense. This is tantamount to building an iron curtain along the East Asian coast, and will fuel an arms race in this region. China will take a hard line and try to build up its nuclear capability, causing Japan to enhance its own nuclear capability. This will have a significant impact on the Korean peninsula and its neighboring region before and after the reunification of the two Koreas. The challenge to South Korea is to construct a common security framework early and put an end to the vicious cycle of security dilemmas. When South Korea meets this challenge successfully, it can be hopeful about its historic role of converting the vicious cycle of security dilemmas into a virtuous cycle.

April 9, 2001

Professor Lee, Sam-Sung,
(Dept. of International Relations, Catholic University)

2001 / -0 / 4-
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