In a series of interviews with the U.S. media including CBS and The Washington Post, President Moon Jae In revealed his strategy for approaching North Korea to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. He presented a step-by-step approach utilizing sanctions and dialogue, to first end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, then to eventually bring about complete denuclearization. Although President Moon has already mentioned this approach several times in the past, what is meaningful is the fact that he officially declared his political agenda regarding the North Korean nuclear issue to be a peaceful resolution. To go about the North Korea issue in a non-peaceful way, risking mass destruction and human sacrifice, is futile. Moreover, if President Moon’s plan to incorporate dialogue in sanctioning and pressuring North Korea is realized, it will present a new contributing factor to denuclearizing North Korea.
President Moon's statement was made in consideration of the upcoming U.S.-South Korea summit with President Donald Trump.* The purpose was to inform the U.S. of South Korea’s position in advance so that the U.S. can prepare its stance in the matter. It was also intended to minimize the concerns of the two nations which disagree over their approaches to North Korea. This is why President Moon used this interview to stress that his strategy is not different from Trump's "engagement" policy.
With the summit approaching, the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. need to form an understanding and consensus on how to approach the North Korean issue. The problem is with diplomatic and security concerns, with issues like the environmental impact assessment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the suggested reduction of ROK-U.S. joint military training, and the recent death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier. American public opinion has turned ugly, and in response, the Trump administration is moving to strengthen the terms of the North Korean dialogue about completing denuclearization. It’s worrisome that this may be a prelude to regressing from previous talks on military measures. It is all the more burdensome for President Moon who has to persuade President Trump to find a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.
Adding to our concerns is the South Korean conservative party, which is acting as if President Moon’s administration has created a huge fissure in the relationship with the United States. Simply criticizing the conservative party for using the North Korean issue to leverage its attack on the liberal party is not enough; the bigger issue at hand is that this might possibly end up cutting off healthy debate about the issue. We need to quickly come up with measures to handle the conservative party as well.
In this sense, President Moon cannot stop at proposing a plan; he also needs to prepare specific pre-emptive measures to lead North Korea to dialogue. A bold proposal that surpasses the current level of support for North Korea is needed to move the mind of North Korea, as it is already in possession of nuclear weapons. If effective pre-emptive action is taken, it may not only persuade the U.S., but also sway South Korea’s own public opinion.
*Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the U.S.-South Korea meeting in Washington, D.C., on June 28, 2017, but the editors believe the perspective remains relevant.