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Staying on Topic…

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My latest column at WPR involves Wikileaks and North Korea:

Of course, the collapse of North Korea would require intense negotiations between all of the major regional actors, including Japan, Russia, China, South Korea, and the United States. Such negotiations would produce a situation just as complicated as the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. However, we can envision the basic outlines of an agreement, while taking note that envisioning and achieving aren’t the same thing. U.S. forces would not be necessary in post-reunification Korea, or at least not near the Chinese border. The dismantling of any intact North Korean nuclear weapons, as well as North Korean nuclear facilities, would probably be a key concern for both Japanese and Chinese policymakers. Any agreement would have to provide for the securing of Korea’s border with China, and develop a framework for managing China’s economic interests in the former North Korea.

In the context of any discussion about negotiations, the release of the cables brings up some relevant issues of diplomatic secrecy. As Pei suggests, not thinking about a North Korean collapse would be the height of irresponsibility for policymakers in the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China. Since the final status of North Korea affects the interests of all four powers, policy coordination will be necessary. However, none of the states involved can publicly discuss contingency plans for a North Korean collapse. Evidence that South Korea and the United States were actively colluding in planning for the aftermath of such a contingency would probably quash any hopes for the Six-Party Talks. Open Japanese participation in such talks could inflame opinion in both Koreas and in Japan. Perhaps most important, evidence that China had broached the topic of a North Korean collapse with the United States and South Korea might serve to make Pyongyang even more paranoid and reckless.

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