EU Parliamentarian: Six-Party Talks Hostage to Differing Desires

Date: 09-19-2006

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HONOLULU (Sept. 19) — The six-party talks aimed at defusing the ongoing North Korean nuclear problem are stalled. And for good reason, according to Glyn Ford, a long-time British member of the European Parliament and member of its Foreign Affairs committee. But he does not put the onus solely on an obstinate North Korea. “In terms of what is going to happen with the six-party talks, the problem is the interest of the six parties are very different.”

Ford, a recent East-West Center (EWC) POSCO fellow, says the drama surrounding the Six-Party talks stems from the fact the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and North Korea are divided on what they actually want, reading from different scripts as it were. He argues all, with perhaps the exception of Pyongyang, do not want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea, but other domestic and geopolitical factors play an overriding role.

Ford says the United States has its eye on only one outcome. “It wants to see a change of regime.” Barring that, he says Washington does not want “an early settlement” and is more than willing to “keep the pressure on North Korea.” Not surprisingly, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il does not agree.

In fact, Ford says there is only one area of agreement between Washington and Pyongyang. “The one thing the U.S. and the North Koreans agree on, and they’re both right, is not to trust each other.”

According to Ford, South Korean leaders are in tune with their Northern brethren regarding sudden regime change. After an exhaustive study of the costs of German reunification, Ford notes, the consensus in South Korea is “economically, socially, and politically it’s completely impossible … to contemplate the collapse of the North.” That Seoul continues to be wedded to former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy, sending large amounts of aid and investments to the North, shows how committed the South is to maintaining stability.

Ford says the South Koreans believe they have no other choice. “The alternative,” he notes, “is there are 10 million North Koreans within 7 days walk of Seoul.” That means, according to Ford, “the (North Korean) regime has got to stay,” if only to ensure a flood of refugees does not sweep south.

Domestic politics also factor into Japan’s position at the Six-Party talks, according to Ford. Tokyo “doesn’t want a solution to the crisis,” he says. To the conservatives in Japan’s ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, “it’s a perfect excuse for the deployment of a theatre missile defense and more importantly for constitutional reform.” The EU parliamentarian asks then answers the rhetorical question, “How are you going to get rid of Article Nine, the peace article in the constitution, if people are not frightened of North Korea? The only thing that gives the opportunity of revoking Article Nine is actually a threat from the North.”

In Beijing, Ford says, leaders are desperately seeking a solution to the North Korea problem, the reasons going far beyond the fear of losing face as the host of any failed Six-Party talks. A sophisticated Japanese missile defense system and the possibility of constitutionally sanctioned armed forces in Japan may be bigger threats to China than nuclear weapons in North Korea. “That would mean,” according to Ford, “China would have to shift spending from the civilian sector to the military sector, would have to move their missiles and probably increase their ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) from 20 to 200.” Something that could put the brakes on China’s booming economy and open a Pandora’s box of its own.

Russia? It, at times, seems the odd-man-out. But Moscow does have a real interest in what happens in North Korea. Both territorially, its Far Eastern provinces lying to the north of North Korea, and financially. And, according to Ford what Moscow wants is, much like the United States, quite simple although not the same.

“Russia wants influence. It would also like to sell a nuclear power station to North Korea if it could.” Pipelines traversing North Korea carrying Russian Far Eastern oil and gas to markets in the south and Japan would not be a bad thing either for Moscow.

North Korea, more than the other five, certainly has its own domestic concerns dictating its position toward the Six-Party talks. As Ford puts it, “North Korea? They want regime survival.”

To assure that, he says, Pyongyang may be willing to give up quite a bit.

“Complete verifiable irreversible disarmament is fine,” says the EU parliamentarian who has been on ten missions to North Korea. Adding after a slight pause, “At least they say so.” But before that happens, Ford says, Pyongyang is going to insist on guarantees of physical and economic security.

“They require a guarantee that the U.S. will not attempt regime change,” Ford says. “They also want an energy supply under North Korean control.” If not the former, certainly the latter could be a deal breaker among Pyongyang’s Six-Party talk partners. And, that according to Ford is because “there is no alternative in terms of energy supply other than nuclear.”

The need for a reliable energy supply is acute according to Ford. He notes Pyongyang has made some gains recently in the agricultural sector but its industrial base remains in tatters, mainly due to the lack of power. He points out “hydroelectric has reached its limit, they have no oil, the coal they have is not capable of supplying the power stations they’ve actually got, let alone any new power stations … there is no fuel supply.”

That fuel supply would have to come from outside the country. But, Pyongyang does not want it unless Kim Jong-Il’s regime has complete control over it. “Seoul’s offer to feed 2,000 megawatts of power from the South really, in the long-term, doesn’t work,” Ford notes. “The switch is going to be in the South not the North. And, that means a future regime in the South could switch it off.”

With all of the conflicting interests among the six parties, is there a solution? Ford outlines “two unorthodox solutions and one orthodox.”

“One of course,” Ford puts forth, “is to get a regime in the North that is prepared to talk.” He says “there have been suggestions that when China gets sufficiently exasperated with the North that it will intervene to ‘save the revolution’ as it did back in 1951 … it gets asked to go in by friendly elements in the (North Korean) military … it goes in, tweaks the regime probably leaving Kim Jong-Il formally in control of a new-look regime ready to talk, and then withdraws (back to China).”

Another unorthodox scheme, according to Ford, “would be for the Republic of Korea (South Korea), China, and Russia to supply a proliferation-resistant nuclear power station to the North.” He notes that the Six-Party talks did not say, “North Korea couldn’t have nuclear power … just that it would be discussed at a later stage.”

Ford’s third, orthodox, solution comes back to guarantees. “Guarantees not just by the U.S. but by other powers that the regime survival will be guaranteed, that they (the North Koreans) are given a menu of what would be available to them in terms of investment.”

But, Ford is not optimistic, on any counts.

“Of course, none of that would come, I suspect, because the (U.S.) Congress would not allow it … Japan would not be prepared to put in any money initially … so you’re looking at a contribution from China, from the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and maybe from the European Union.”

Even his own parliamentary body would not be open to going down the orthodox road, Ford says. He notes that the EU has been excluded from the Six-Party talks and says, “Certainly the position of the European Parliament has been to say ‘No say, no pay’.”

And, that could be the real crux to the problems plaguing the Six-Party talks. None of the participants are willing to pay for something they do not want, nor to sellout their domestic and geopolitical concerns.


Glyn Ford has been a British Member of the European Parliament since 1984 and a long time member of its Foreign Affairs Committee where he is a specialist on East Asia. He is a member of the Socialist International’s Asia-Pacific Committee. He was the European Union’s Chief Election Observer for the Indonesian Elections in 2004 and has just been appointed Chief Observer for the Aceh Elections later this year. He has visited North Korea on ten different occasions, four of these as a member of the European Parliament Delegations and in October 2004 he was a keynote speaker in Pyongyang at the EU-DPRK Workshop on Economic Reform. Mr. Ford can be contacted at +01594 827 193 or via email at

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