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Turning the Six-Party Talks into a Multilateral Security Framework for Northeast Asia

The Cold War in Northeast Asia became irreversible with the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950. Over the decades partial steps were taken to end it: rapprochement with Beijing in 1971–72 and then with Moscow in 1989–92; the Agreed Framework of 1994 and the Sunshine Policy of 1998–2002 that in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile brinkmanship set the direction for engagement; and, recently, in the six-party talks the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 and the Joint Agreement of 13 February 2007. Without idealistically assuming that more intense engagement will necessarily bring cooperation by North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat capacity, we nonetheless may take advantage of the momentum achieved not only in bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks but also in the multilateral six-party setting to consider what may be necessary for a lasting framework of regional security cooperation. In June 2010, at the end of the customary 60-year East Asian cycle counting from the outbreak of the Korean War, participants in the six-party talks (on the basis of six minus one, as the North gradually earned its place in areas where it is still far from prepared) could strive to have in place a three-part framework: (1) a peace regime for the Korean peninsula, (2) the embryo for regionalism in which the Northeast Asian Community became a unit of the planned, greater East Asian Community, and (3) a new multilateral security institution.

In this paper I review strategic thinking toward Northeast Asia in each of the five states with emphasis on what might make feasible its accession to such a framework in 2010. Then, I focus, one by one, on the above components of the regional framework.

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