The so-far unproductive multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear program are not new. For many years, the great powers in the region have separately and collectively engaged the two Koreas in efforts to resolve the Korean conflict. American analysis of how best to achieve tension reduction in the peninsula also goes back many decades. Yet the nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea has increased the risk of war and nuclear war on the Korean peninsula since October 2003 and in spite of the talks, we are no closer today to resolving the critical insecurities driving the standoff than a year ago. It is useful, therefore, to revisit earlier reflections on how best to reduce tensions in Korea.
The US Government’s Institute for Defense Studies produced a technical report in 1972 that details ways to reduce the threat of conflict on the peninsula through constructive confidence building between the powers in the region. The cornerstone of their proposal rested upon promoting dialogue, the same missing element between the United States and the DPRK that impedes the current six-party talks. The authors argued dialogue with the DPRK can be achieved without offering concessions that might prove politically dangerous or sacrifice bargaining chips needed in actual negotiations.
The IDA report states:
“The negotiating plan that we present may not lead to major arms-control measures in Korea in the very near future, but at least we expect that it would contribute to the confidence-building process, that it would tend to stabilize relations between the Koreas, and that the proposed arms-control dialogue would add substance to the developing détente between North and South Korea, the United States and China, the United States and the Soviet Union, and between the Communist countries and Japan. The risks in the suggested plan are not great, since unilateral substantive concessions are not involved; on the other hand, failure to take additional tension-reducing initiatives in Korea could lead to a deterioration of North-South relations that would involve far greater dangers.” [page 26]
This report was released to the Nautilus Institute under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).