The following is a statement of principles for U.S.-North Korean relations, signed by Leith Anderson, William Bennett, Charles Colson, Nicholas Eberstadt, Robert George, Michael Horowitz, Max Kampelman, Penn Kemble, Dianne Knippers, Richard Land, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, Marvin Olasky, Mark Palmer, Nina Shea, Radek Sikorski, and R. James Woolsey:
A repressive, powerfully armed communist regime headed by an odious despot creates a crisis in relations with the U.S. and the world's democracies. It does so by threatening nuclear war if the world's non-communist powers fail to accede to its demands. The crisis manufactured by the regime results from its acute internal crisis of legitimacy and survival, and from the mounting collapse of its economy. The regime demands formal negotiations leading to economic assistance and broad support for its internal security. In particular, the regime demands formal U.S. and international recognition of the permanence of the borders under its control.
Faced with strong political pressures both at home and from U.S. allies to negotiate over the regime's "peace for security" demand, the president of the U.S. agrees to do so.
But the president takes a simple additional step; he broadens the negotiating agenda to make the regime's human rights practices a legitimate item for discussion. Eager to begin negotiations over its "political-security basket" of demands, eager to establish trade relations and receive economic support, unable to sustain the public position that its internal security depends on the denial of basic human rights, and confident of its ability to repress human rights once its economy and security receive outside support, the regime accepts the president's negotiating proposal.
This scenario is neither contemporary nor fanciful. It describes events in which the dictator was Leonid Brezhnev not Kim Jong Il, and the regime the Soviet Union, not North Korea.
History will record President Nixon's 1972 agenda-broadening decision as one of the wisest of modern history -- one that converted a blustering threat from a nuclear-armed regime into a major cause of its implosion. The decision trumped and negated the false but damaging charges then being made that the U.S. was indifferent to the specter of war with the Soviet Union. It placed on the bargaining table more than the appeasement-or-war, red-or-dead "choices" the Soviets sought to posit. It rescued the world's democracies from being defensive respondents to crisis and helped bring about widespread liberation.
Beginning with the Soviet Union's initial agreement to a Helsinki process, the Brezhnev demands culminated in the Helsinki Agreement of 1975. The Soviet Union gained what it had primarily sought, and what proved meaningless: formal recognition of the permanence of its Eastern European borders. Yet what it gave in return -- formal acknowledgment of the legitimacy of such rights as the free exchange of people, open borders and family reunification -- opened the floodgates of dissent and led to its collapse.
The animating insight of Helsinki was that, by publicly raising human rights issues to high priority levels, the U.S. would set forces in motion that would undermine the legitimacy of the communist empire. And so it turned out to be.
At the nongovernmental level, such monitoring groups as Czechoslovakia's Charter 77, Poland's Solidarity and Russia's Helsinki Monitors emerged from the Helsinki Agreement -- often fragile, frequently persecuted, but nonetheless real and, as we know today, deathly potent to their totalitarian targets. At the governmental level, Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe review mechanisms gave U.S. negotiators a means of achieving the release of significant numbers of named political prisoners. As a result, dissident artists and cultural leaders, rebellious students, Jewish refuseniks, Pentecostal ministers and other gulag victims became brave icons of hope within and without the Soviet Union. Their freedom liberated others to challenge the regime's authority.
The "rights basket" of Helsinki issues thwarted the Soviet Union's efforts to create and exploit great divisions within the West over how best to respond to nuclear blackmail. They also unified the Free World by illuminating to its people the fundamental values they shared.
Confronted today with significantly less potent threats from Kim Jong Il than those made by Brezhnev, the world's democracies are nonetheless faced, as they were in the early 1970s, with the zero-sum trap of either rewarding North Korea for violating its prior commitments or appearing indifferent to its threats of nuclear war.
Based on the lessons of Helsinki, we strongly believe that the U.S. must neither directly nor indirectly license a fragile and oppressive Pyongyang regime to commit heightened atrocities against its own people in exchange for yet another promise not to pose nuclear threats to the world order. We also believe that the U.S. can enter into formal negotiations with Pyongyang in a manner that promotes American and universal ideals and creates unity with our allies.
With that in mind, and acknowledging the complexity of all foreign policy decisions, we call upon President Bush to take the following steps:
- Respond positively to Pyongyang's demand to negotiate with the U.S. over exchanging monitored renunciation of nuclear weaponry for a U.S. commitment of military "non-aggression" -- but on condition that Pyongyang agrees to negotiate over allowing institutions that promote such human rights as the free exchange of people, religious liberty, open borders and family reunification.
- Express willingness to negotiate an "economic basket" of issues in which the U.S. will consider lifting trade sanctions and offering economic assistance -- but on condition that Pyongyang takes monitored steps that satisfy the president's newly announced "millennial standards" making U.S. foreign aid contingent on the adoption of market-based and rule-of-law reforms.
- Announce, in simple, stark terms, that the central U.S. objective towards North Korea is the promotion of democracy so that its people can enjoy the same rights and progress enjoyed by the people of South Korea.
- Significantly enhance U.S. public diplomacy toward North Korea. This can be achieved through a number of steps, including:
Give priority status to the plight of North Korean refugees and senior level defectors. This can be achieved through many steps, including:
- Greatly expanding the current, scandalously inadequate four-hour per day Korean-language Radio Free Asia broadcasts;
- Investigating, compiling and disseminating the human rights abuses of the regime through expanded satellite photography of gulags and broadly available computerized databanks; and
- Paying special attention to the regime's religious persecution through expanded funding for investigations by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.
- Pressing the Russian and, most particularly, Chinese governments to allow the reasonable processing of the refugee claims of North Korean escapees;
- Strongly insisting that the U.N. High Commission for Refugees should invoke its express powers under a Dec. 1, 1995, China-UNHCR treaty to obtain binding international arbitration to resolve any dispute involving the failure of the Chinese government to give UNHCR personnel "at all times . . . unimpeded access to refugees."
- Supporting the Brownback-Kennedy bill granting North Korean refugees the same Lautenberg Amendment rights to U.S. refugee status as are now provided to Cuban refugees;
- Discreetly but actively encouraging senior level defections by senior North Korean officials by aggressively countering the regime's disinformation campaign regarding the fate of post-collapse Soviet officials, and by offering financial support and amnesty for key defectors; and
- Providing assurances to South Korea, China and Japan that the U.S. will assume a significant share of the financial costs of any collapse of the Pyongyang regime -- thereby allaying a major if largely unacknowledged source of support for continuing the regime in power.
The lessons of Helsinki allow the crisis now created by the Pyongyang regime to be seen as an opportunity for, not a threat to, the free world. They allow the U.S. to focus the current debate on the regime's policies of persecution and starvation and to the massive failure of its economic policies. They allow the president to strengthen democracy and human rights throughout the world, to strengthen the bonds of alliances now temporarily strained by efforts to portray the U.S. as indifferent to Korean peninsular peace, and to maintain his determination never to allow rogue regimes to benefit from threats or broken promises.
We believe that little is lost, and much gained, by immediately broadening negotiations with the Pyongyang regime to include the plight of those who live under its rule. As such, we call on the president to do so -- in furtherance of historic American values, and the national interests of the U.S., its allies and the world at large.