Regime change in North desirable but unfeasible
Voices calling for tougher North Korea policies such as regime change have gained impetus in South Korea and the United States in the wake of the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea.
Nevertheless, Michael Armacost, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, expressed regret that the allies have no means to pursue such a strategy.
“(People in Washington) hope for regime change in North Korea,” Armacost said in an interview with The Korea Times at a Seoul hotel Thursday. “But we have no capacity to promote a regime change strategy other than to wait and hope. We have no representation in North Korea. We basically have no means to pursue the strategy.”
Armacost, former president of the Washington-based Brookings Institution (1995-2002), added that China “appeared to be acquiescing or accepting the North Koreans’ notion of dynastic succession.”
Under the Bush administration, “regime change in North Korea” was buzzwords of a group of intellectuals supporting a hawkish North Korea policy in Washington, the so-called Neocons.
There is a range of military and non-military options that can help attain this goal. The toolbox includes funding rebel insurgents, encouraging democratic movements or covert or overt military action.
A secret memo leaked to the New York Times in April, 2003 revealed that then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to change the Kim Jong-il regime — if not by force, then by economic pressure.
The memo called on the United States to team up with China in pushing for the collapse of the North Korean regime.
There was a policy shift to engagement with North Korea later in Bush’s presidency.
People in Washington and Seoul have begun looking at regime change again after the Nov. 23 shelling of the island near the maritime border in the West Sea.
Last Sunday, U.S. Senator John McCain called on the U.S. government to consider regime change in North Korea.
“I think it’s time we talk about regime change. I do not mean military action, but I do believe that this (North Korea) is a very unstable regime,” McCain said in an interview with CNN.
The latest attack has also hardened South Koreans’ heart toward the North.
An increasing number of people has called on the government to take firm measures that can send an unequivocal signal to the North that it will face the consequences of its acts of war.
A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies found that eight out of 10 South Koreans believed their military should have returned fire against the North more aggressively.
North Korea’s latest aggression sparked a debate here on policy options that South Korea can use to tackle the communist country, which is increasingly provocative amid a leadership succession.
Those on the table include sanctions, isolation of North Korea, redeployment of nuclear weapons to South Korea, naval drills, changing the rules of engagement and urging China, a decades-long benefactor of North Korea, to use its leverage to stop the North’s provocative acts.
Armacost said the same debate is in full swing in the U.S., too.
“I am not opposed to sanctions but I believe so long as China remains Pyongyang’s supplier of last resort, sanctions will have a limited impact,” he said.
Armacost was also skeptical about isolating North Korea further, noting it already lives in isolation.
“The key objective must be sustaining the credibility of deterrence at a time when North Korea appears more reckless than before.”
He said Seoul and Washington should concentrate on their defense and deterrence capabilities.
In the long run, Armacost said, promoting exchange programs with North Korea can be considered as a strategy to end the North Korean nuclear program.
“I am attracted to the idea of professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in promoting exchanges — exposing North Koreans to a wider knowledge of the outside world. (This is) because I think that can only undermine the credibility of North Korea’s fanciful propaganda and thereby undermine their authority and legitimacy over time.”
레짐 체인지, 현실적인가?
북한의 연평도 도발 이후 대북강경론이 힘을 받고 있는 가운데 강경론의 일환으로 한국의 일각에서, 그리고 워싱턴에서 레짐 체인지가 북한의 도발을 막을 방안으로 주목을 받고 있다.
아마코스트 전 주일 미국대사는 워싱턴에서 북한을 다루는 방안으로 레짐 체인지를 희망하는 목소리가 높으나 현실적으로 이것을 북한에 적용할 전략이나 구체적 방안은 없다고 코리아 타임스와의 인터뷰에서 밝혔다.
레짐 체인지는 부시 정권시절 대북강경론을 주장하던 네오콘들의 지지에 의해 럼스펠드 장관시절 미 국방부에서 검토를 한 적이 있었던 것으로 2003년 당시 미국언론에 보도된 바 있다.
부시 정권 말기 대북정책이 변하면서 세간의 관심에서 멀어진 대북강경론인 레짐체인지가 북한의 연평도 도발 이후 다시 주목을 받고 있는 것.
지난주 일요일 CNN과의 인터뷰에서 맥케인 상원의원은 북한을 다룰 방안으로 레짐체인지를 다시 검토할 것을 촉구한 바 있다.
아마코스트 전 브루킹스 연구소 이사장은 레짐 체인지가 맞는 접근이기는 하나 한미가 이것을 실현할 마땅한 수단이 부재하다고 밝혔다. 중국 역시 북한의 권력세습을 수용하는 듯한 태도를 취하고 있기 때문에 더욱더 어렵다는 것.
그는 단기적으로는 북의 도발을 억제할 능력을 갖추고, 교전규칙을 강화하고, 한미 해상훈련을 자주 실시하는 것 외에, 장기적으로 북한주민들이 외부세계와 접촉을 자주 갖게 함으로써 북한 정권의 실상을 깨닫게 하는 것이 북한을 변화시키는 방안이라고 조언했다.