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NUCLEAR POLITICS, NORTH KOREA, AND THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF NORTHEAST ASIA AT THE DAWN OF THE ASIAN CENTURY* Donald C. Hellmann* During the past two decades a China-led Northeast Asia grew explosively to become a new center of the global economy. But throughout this time the strategic agenda for the region was set by the defiant and determined effort of a small, economically failed state to become a nuclear power. This anomalous and paradoxical situation created by the “nuclear politics” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) provides an exceptionally good window through which the dynamics of international relations in the region can be examined at the dawn of the Asian century. The articles that follow analyze the protracted and varied multilateral diplomatic maneuvers over the past decade, on an * Editor’s note: The five articles that follow this introduction are the result of the organizing efforts of Professors Don Hellmann and Yong Chool Ha of the University of Washington and its Korean Center, and Dr. Park Myoung Kyu, director of the Institute for Peace and Unification of Seoul National University. They wish to thank Republic of Korea Consul General Lee Ha Ryong in Seattle for his contributions. Asian Perspective is grateful to all these colleagues, and other participants, for their efforts at the conference on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the distinguished papers that resulted. ASIAN PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2010, pp. 5-9. Introduction to the Special Issue agenda set largely by Pyongyang. They cast light on an array of features of the contemporary regional and global international systems. Several are quite surprising. These include: how a small semi-pariah nation could magnify its international power through “nuclear politics” in an age of globalization; how the American global hegemony was constrained from providing the effective leadership (multilateral, bilateral, or unilateral) to deal with the kinds of problems presented by the North Korea security issue; how China, the regional hegemon, was inhibited from conclusively dealing with a wayward regional “ally,” while becoming a major stakeholder in the global political economy; how South Korea, blessed with an economy thirty times that of the North, driven by existential and nationalist impulses and a flexible and innovative foreign policy, was unable to devise a strategy that produced the detente seen in Europe as the failures of communism became acute; and how, the Six Party Talks, a multilateral and multidimensional focal point in the nuclear talks with the potential to become an institution for addressing issues of conflict and cooperation in Northeast Asia, failed in the absence of strong leadership by the United States and China and the obstructionist tactics of Pyongyang. Despite the extensive literature about and discussion of the North Korean nuclear problem, these questions are rarely asked and even more rarely answered in terms of the global and regional contexts. One purpose of the conference, from which these articles were drawn—“North Korean Nuclear Politics: Constructing a New Northeast Asian Order in the Twenty-First Century” (held at the University of Washington, June 4-5, 2009) —was to place the Korean nuclear talks in the broader context of the contemporary global political economy. Somewhat paradoxically, a second purpose of the conference was to explore how the domestic decision-making processes of each country affected and was affected by the Korean nuclear issue—an inside-out, not an outside-in focus. Although no paper frontally addresses the issue of the reciprocal linkage between the international context and domestic politics in the DPRK, each of the articles explicitly references this topic—an 6 Donald C. Hellmann approach made possible because all of the contributors are distinguished scholars of both Korean politics and international relations and bring to bear a sophisticated understanding of the issues and events about which they write. Three articles concern the pivotal bilateral relationships for Pyongyang: ties with the United States, China and South Korea. The other two articles take a broader approach, analyzing the subject matter more theoretically and/or refining or redefining elements of the negotiations to provide fresh insight into the process and the policies. A third purpose of the conference and this issue is to suggest policy options that may...


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