EUs outreach to N. Korea
By Solomon Passy
The Lisbon Treaty provides the legal authority and instruments for Europe to realize its destiny as a global actor in foreign and security affairs.
Recent developments on the Korean Peninsula are a reminder that the Korean issue is the key, long-standing global issue involving every other global actor apart from the EU. The six-party talks engage the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
The 1950 U.N. Security Council Resolution 84 provided the establishment of the United Nations Command under the U.S., while the member states were recommended to contribute with military forces to repel the armed attack of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Seventeen key countries, including France, the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Greece, Turkey, Canada and Australia participated with troop units in it. The U.N. flag still flies over the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone.
The EU provides agricultural assistance to the DPRK, intends to provide development assistance, and voices concerns for human rights which, however, is still insufficient for a genuine political actor on the global stage.
In July-August 2007, as chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, I undertook a mission to Pyongyang which opened my eyes to the gigantic amount of help that the North Korean people needs.
Friendship between Bulgaria and the DPRK has a long history. Dozens of DPRK officials have been educated in Bulgaria and speak fluent Bulgarian. The DPRK Embassy in Sofia is the regional diplomatic hub, covering almost a dozen countries including some larger neighbors. Although relations are much different from 20 years ago, the DPRK continues to trust and respect Bulgaria and we continue to offer scholarships to DPRK students.
For these reasons the U.S. requested me to convey a message to Pyongyang urging the government to follow the Libyan example by abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for similar advantages to those offered to Col. Moammar Gadhafi after he relinquished his programs for weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
There was an additional reason why Bulgaria should be invited in July 2007 to explain the breakthrough in Libya to the leaders in Pyongyang. After almost nine years we had just negotiated the release of the Bulgarian medics from Libya.
Moreover, it was the UNSC Bulgarian presidency which, back in 2003, issued a presidential statement congratulating Libya on her decision to abandon her WMD program. I happened to be the highest Bulgarian official visiting Pyongyang since the fall of Todor Zhivkov's communist regime in 1989.
As a trusted friend of Kim Il-sung, Zhivkov is still respected there. Surprisingly, the seemingly irrelevant coincidence that I occupied Zhivkov's former premises in the Parliament building turned out to be a crucial factor enabling me to invoke the Kim-Zhivkov relationship.
In the DPRK, to inherit the office of Kim Il-sung (who is mummified and on show for visitors inside his office) would be permissible only to God! Another piece of know-how, borrowed from my experience in Tripoli, was that I had with me my 13-year-old son. This provided me with an ice-breaking certificate of openness, much-needed in the defensive atmosphere of the DPRK, characterized by suspicion and distrust.
The message the Allies were delivering to Pyongyang, courtesy of Bulgaria, did not fall on deaf ears. The rapprochement between North and South Korea began shortly afterwards, in the fall of 2007, with a historic meeting between the two leaders and the destruction of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor's tower. This was high politics, in which we may be forgiven for thinking that Bulgaria played a small but essential part.
My visits to both Koreas convinced me of the EU's huge potential for future resolution of this conflict. Therefore, I urged Javier Solana, the EU's high representative, and Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner to engage the EU in the process. Maybe the timing was wrong ― on the eve of European elections and change in the commission's make-up ― but nothing came of these endeavors.
Today, the DPRK is again on the UNSC agenda. Simultaneously, the DPRK’s ruling Workers’ Party meeting last month is promoting a new generation of the Kim dynasty to inherit power. Here is a window of opportunity for the EU.
The DPRK tends to see the other five participants in the six-party talks as “a conspiracy of our neighbors against our sovereignty.” The involvement of a big new broker, not seen as one of these neighbors, could raise progress to a new level. Among the 27 members of the EU there are some, like Bulgaria, to whom the ears of the DPRK leadership may now be more open.
What could be the EU's unique contribution, adding value to the efforts of the other global actors on the Korean Peninsula? One answer is for the EU to offer its know-how to mitigate the effects of the DPRK's self-imposed isolation.
The first and foremost need of the people of North Korea is information. I well remember what a magical effect access to information had on Bulgaria and the rest of Eastern Europe to abolish communism. This is the first essential condition for the DPRK as well.
Compared to other countries which have become causes of international security concerns ― such as Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia ― the DPRK is by far the most isolated, information-deprived nation of them all. This provides a historic opportunity for an EU leadership.
Another crucial role could be performed by the EU members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which could partially replace the 30,000 U.S. troops deployed in South Korea. This would be a big step for the EU, requiring a new level of relations with the U.S.
According to the world's religious calendars, Judaism is in year 5771, the Chinese in 4647 (or even later), Christianity in 2010 A.D. and Islam in 1431. The unique DPRK Juche calendar begins with the birth of Kim Il-sung on April 15, 1912, making it just 99 years old.
But there is good news too. The DPRK's single party emblem includes a calligraphy brush, the traditional symbol of intellectuals, writers and scientists. It signifies this nation's potential for a future overshadowing its past. The EU could be the key to unlocking this future. As a global actor the EU has to engage with all conflicts of this magnitude. Sixty years of shying away from the Korean issue is enough.
Solomon Passy, former Bulgarian foreign minister and founding president of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, was re-elected as the club's president in 2009 after eight years in government. He also served as chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), chairman of the U.N. Security Council and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Bulgarian Parliament.