To establish trustpolitik on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea should adapt its past strategies toward North Korea. Previous governments in Seoul have alternatively attempted to engage and deter Pyongyang. The ones that have emphasized accommodation and inter-Korean solidarity have placed inordinate hope in the idea that if the South provided sustained assistance to the North, the North would abandon its bellicose strategy toward the South. But after years of such attempts, no fundamental change has come. Meanwhile, the governments in Seoul that have placed a greater emphasis on pressuring North Korea have not been able to influence its behavior in a meaningful way, either.
A new policy is needed: an alignment policy, which should be buttressed by public consensus and remain constant in the face of political transitions and unexpected domestic or international events. Such a policy would not mean adopting a middle-of-the-road approach; it would involve aligning South Korea's security with its cooperation with the North and inter-Korean dialogue with parallel international efforts. An alignment policy would entail assuming a tough line against North Korea sometimes and a flexible policy open to negotiations other times.
For example, if North Korea launches another military strike against the South, Seoul must respond immediately to ensure that Pyongyang understands the costs of provocation. Conversely, if North Korea takes steps toward genuine reconciliation, such as reaffirming its commitment to existing agreements, then the South should match its efforts. An alignment policy will, over time, reinforce trustpolitik.
To implement such an alignment policy, South Korea must first demonstrate, through a robust and credible deterrent posture, that it will no longer tolerate North Korea's increasingly violent provocations. It must show Pyongyang that the North will pay a heavy price for its military and nuclear threats. This approach is not new, but in order to change the current situation, it must be enforced more vigorously than in the past.
In particular, Seoul has to mobilize the international community to help it dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear program. Under no circumstances can South Korea accept the existence of a nuclear-armed North Korea. North Korea's nuclearization also poses a major threat to the international community because Pyongyang could develop long-range missiles with nuclear warheads or transfer nuclear technologies and materials abroad. Through a combination of credible deterrence, strenuous persuasion, and more effective negotiation strategies, Seoul and the international community must make Pyongyang realize that it can survive and even prosper without nuclear weapons. If North Korea undertakes additional nuclear tests, South Korea must consider all possible responses in consultation with its principal ally, the United States, and other key global partners.
Even as Seoul and its allies strengthen their posture against North Korea's militarism and nuclear brinkmanship, they must also be prepared to offer Pyongyang a new beginning. Trust can be built on incremental gains, such as joint projects for enhanced economic cooperation, humanitarian assistance from the South to the North, and new trade and investment opportunities. When I met the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2002, we discussed a range of issues, including a Eurasian railway project that would reconnect the Trans-Korean Railway, which has been severed since the Korean War, and link it to the Trans-Siberian and Trans-China lines. Reconnecting the Korean railway would be a testament to mutual development and inter-Korean peace. And if that line were then tied to other regional lines, the effort could help develop China's three northeastern provinces and Russia's Far East -- and, in turn, perhaps transform the Korean Peninsula into a conduit for regional trade. Although tensions have delayed further discussions about the railway project in recent years, these could be restarted as a means of building trust on vital security matters.
The rest of the world can help with these efforts. To begin with, strengthening the indispensable alliance between South Korea and the United States should send unequivocal signals to North Korea that only responsible behavior can ensure the regime's survival and a better life for its citizens. The EU is not a member of the six-party nuclear talks, but the model of regional cooperation that Europe represents can contribute to peace building on the Korean Peninsula. Asian countries can devise ways to adopt a cooperative security arrangement based on the model of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the world's largest intergovernmental security organization. The OSCE process of fostering security and economic cooperation could be adapted to Northeast Asia: offering guarantees that North Korea would receive substantial economic and diplomatic benefits if it changed its behavior would reassure its leaders that the regime can survive without nuclear weapons.
Given its role as North Korea's principal economic benefactor and ally, China can play a critical part in prompting Pyongyang to change. Chinese efforts to encourage reforms in North Korea could be spurred by a more cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship. As that relationship deepens, Pyongyang's outlier status will increasingly undermine Beijing's desire to improve its ties with Washington. Conversely, tensions between China and the United States might only increase North Korea's intransigence, allowing it to play the two countries off each other.