PROG­NO­SIS: ALARM­ING AND UN­STA­BLE

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS - Nathan VanderKlippe is The Globe and Mail’s cor­re­spon­dent in Beijing.

I don’t think ei­ther mil­i­tary threats or the threat of eco­nomic sanc­tions can bring North Korea to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, un­less China is ready to eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially stran­gu­late the North Korean re­gion. Song Min-soon For­mer South Korea na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and Six Party Talks chief ne­go­tia­tor The only way this con­flict is go­ing to be solved is when the North Korean regime col­lapses. But we don’t know when that will hap­pen – and if it does, it may be a ter­ri­ble mess. Alexan­der Lukin Di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for East Asian and Shang­hai Co-op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion Stud­ies at the Moscow State In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions of the Rus­sian Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs

Just over a decade ago, the Six Party Talks se­cured a prom­ise from North Korea that it would aban­don nu­clear weapons. With Kim Jong-un now threat­en­ing to launch an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­sile, Nathan VanderKlippe ask ked those who sat down with Py­ongyang in 2005 to of­fer frank as­sess­ments on a grim sit­u­a­tion

There was a time, not so long ago, that the world looked at North Korea and dared to breathe a sigh of re­lief.

In June of 2007, Wash­ing­ton gave about $25-mil­lion (U.S.) in frozen regime funds back to Py­ongyang, fol­low­ing a land­mark deal to de­nu­cle­arize the Korean penin­sula. A month later, a team of In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency mon­i­tors landed in the iso­lated Asian na­tion to ver­ify that it had, as promised, shut down its nu­clear re­ac­tor.

By De­cem­ber, Ge­orge W. Bush, who once ridiculed Kim Jong-il as a “pygmy” and “tyrant,” had signed a re­mark­ably civil let­ter that ad­dressed the North Korean leader as “Dear Mr. Chair­man.”

A decade later, the fu­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion in ten­sions around North Korean mis­sile and nu­clear tests makes such ci­vil­ity seem al­most un­think­able. But do past break­throughs of­fer any hope for a more peace­ful fu­ture?

Un­der­ly­ing what looked like a re­mark­able chance for peace in the mid-2000s were the Six Party Talks, which took two years from their launch in 2003 to pro­duce a joint state­ment in which Py­ongyang said it “com­mit­ted to aban­don­ing all nu­clear weapons,” while the U.S. pledged it had “no in­ten­tion to attack or in­vade” North Korea. Both sides said they would “ex­ist peace­fully to­gether.” The two Koreas, the U.S., China, Rus­sia and Ja­pan all came to­gether to hash out the frame­work for a so­lu­tion – and fi­nally, it seemed, decades of ten­sions with the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, as North Korea calls it­self, could dis­si­pate.

Then the agree­ment fell into a mud­dle of mu­tual re­crim­i­na­tions fol­lowed by an alarm­ingly quick de­vel­op­ment of new weapons tech­nol­ogy by North Korea that has led to the cri­sis today: a pariah state that ap­pears on the verge of its sixth nu­clear test and is clos­ing in on the abil­ity to de­liver a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile to the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. Even nor­mally staid China has warned that war ap­pears ter­ri­fy­ingly close at hand.

Is there a way, again, out of this mess? The Globe spoke with some of the most au­thor­i­ta­tive voices on North Korea in four coun­tries: peo­ple who ne­go­ti­ated at the Six Party talks, helped draft the 2005 agree­ment and now pro­vide schol­arly sup­port to their coun­try’s poli­cies. Their com­ments have been edited for clar­ity and length.

North Korea has repeatedly proved an abil­ity to det­o­nate nu­clear de­vices. Can it still be ex­pected to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram, or dis­arm?

Christo­pher Hill, for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador, for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific af­fairs, and head of the U.S. del­e­ga­tion to the Six Party Talks:

They have proved a ca­pac­ity to det­o­nate nu­clear de­vices un­der­ground. They have never, to our knowl­edge, taken one of th­ese de­vices, minia­tur­ized it and made it into a war­head, nor have they ever tried to put the war­head on a mis­sile and tried to de­liver the war­head. So they have a long way to go in terms of a de­liv­er­able nu­clear weapon. But I don’t think it’s to be ruled out that they could get there some­where in the next four years. Where­upon Pres­i­dent Trump will have some ex­plain­ing to do to the Amer­i­can peo­ple why, on his watch, he al­lowed a new threat to the U.S.

I don’t think they have in­di­cated any in­ter­est in ne­go­ti­at­ing away their nu­clear weapons. If any­thing, they have em­braced them even more closely than they did be­fore. I think this has to do with the im­petu­ous leader they have. So it’s not a pretty pic­ture.

Song Min-soon, for­mer South Korea na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and Six Party Talks chief ne­go­tia­tor:

The 2005 joint state­ment en­vis­aged the aban­don­ment of all nu­clear weapons and nu­clear pro­grams, if any, in North Korea. So at that time we al­ready adopted a catch-all clause in case North Korea had nu­clear weapons – that they were to be aban­doned. Now the prob­lem is how to bring North Korea back to talks based on the prom­ises we had in that joint state­ment. And I think it’s up to what we can of­fer. They de­mand the abo­li­tion of all hos­tile in­tent and threats to­ward them. We have to char­ac­ter­ize what threats they are talk­ing about, and how to get rid of them.

Alexan­der Lukin, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for East Asian and Shang­hai Co-op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion Stud­ies at the Moscow State In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions of the Rus­sian Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs:

North Korea won’t give up nu­clear weapons un­less you some­how de­stroy it com­pletely, or it col­lapses. To de­stroy it is im­pos­si­ble, and this is ob­vi­ously a bluff from the United States. Be­cause you can­not re­ally strike its fa­cil­i­ties, since that will start a ter­ri­ble mess. China will prob­a­bly pro­tect North Korea, and then there will be a se­ri­ous con­flict, pos­si­bly nu­clear.

But you also can­not make any dic­ta­tor re­ject nu­clear weapons, be­cause they un­der­stand that if they do it, like [Sad­dam] Hus­sein or [Moam­mar] Gad­hafi, they are go­ing to be pun­ished for that. [Both lead­ers, un­pop­u­lar in Wash­ing­ton, were taken down by U.S. forces, cre­at­ing worry that the same will hap­pen to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un if he is not pro­tected by nu­clear weapons].

Yang Xiyu, se­nior fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Beijing and drafter of the 2005 Six Party Talks joint state­ment:

North Korea in­deed has se­vere se­cu­rity con­cerns be­cause of the U.S. and South Korean mil­i­tary pres­sures or threats. But the more se­vere and tan­gi­ble threat to the North Korean regime is the sus­tain­abil­ity of their econ­omy. That is the ba­sis for the regime’s sta­bil­ity and sur­vival.

So we need to main­tain ex­ist­ing sanc­tions mea­sures. But we also need to make greater ef­forts to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment un­der which North Korea has con­fi­dence, so that even with­out nu­clear weapons they see no prob­lem with their na­tional se­cu­rity. That’s the key for a peace­ful so­lu­tion.

What sort of pre­con­di­tions should there be be­fore talks can be­gin – both for North Korea and for other coun­tries?

Song Min-soon: North Korea has to re­it­er­ate clearly that they in­tend to aban­don all their nu­clear weapons if their con­di­tions are met. The United States, South Korea, Ja­pan and oth­ers must also com­mit to im­ple­ment what was promised in the joint state­ment from 2005. We don’t need to re­ar­range all of those com­mit­ments – they can be a good plat­form for new talks.

Christo­pher Hill: If North Korea said, “We want to get back to talks and get back to things we’ve al­ready agreed to,” I think we could find a route for­ward that wasn’t hu­mil­i­at­ing. But they doubt our re­solve, they doubt South Korea’s re­solve, they doubt China’s re­solve. Un­til they

I think what they re­ally want is for the U.S. to leave South Korea. And I think they feel that nu­clear weapons could be a part of an even­tual process to de­cou­ple the U.S. from its ally. I think that’s the prob­lem right now. Christo­pher Hill For­mer U.S. am­bas­sador, for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific af­fairs, and head of the U.S. del­e­ga­tion to the Six Party Talks Mil­i­tary strikes are not use­ful to per­suade North Korea back to the ta­ble. The more threats, the more ne­ces­sity for Py­ongyang to get more nu­clear weapons. So stop. Stop any­thing provoca­tive. Yang Xiyu Se­nior fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and drafter of the 2005 Six Party Talks joint state­ment

are con­vinced that th­ese three coun­tries are of con­sid­er­able re­solve, then I don’t think they will agree to any talks on the ba­sis of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

They have talked about the idea of talk­ing to the U.S. on the ba­sis of one nu­clear power to an­other, sort of like the SALT (Strate­gic Arms Lim­i­ta­tion Talks) talks be­tween the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But I don’t think any­one in Wash­ing­ton is pre­pared to ac­cept that, be­cause it would usu­ally in­volve some as­pect of them lim­it­ing, but not elim­i­nat­ing, their nu­clear pro­gram in re­turn for which the U.S. stops hav­ing ex­er­cises with the [South] Korean mil­i­tary.

Yang Xiyu: North Korea has repeatedly said that if the U.S. gives up its hos­tile pol­icy against the DPRK, there would no rea­son for them to keep even a sin­gle nu­clear weapon. But we have never had a clear def­i­ni­tion of what they see as “hos­tile pol­icy.” Diplo­mat­i­cally, they should elab­o­rate what they want. Then at least all of the re­lated par­ties can se­ri­ously bar­gain over that.

What would a long-term so­lu­tion look like?

Alexan­der Lukin: A so­lu­tion was pos­si­ble near the end of the 1990s. But the United States has shown that it’s an un­re­li­able part­ner. They have this strange cus­tom of chang­ing pres­i­dents, for ex­am­ple. So you agree with one pres­i­dent and then the next one says, I don’t know any­thing. And the U.S. agrees to things but never de­liv­ers. So I think the North Kore­ans have de­cided that it’s use­less. The only way this con­flict is go­ing to be solved is when the North Korean regime col­lapses. But we don’t know when that will hap­pen – and if it does, it may be a ter­ri­ble mess.

Song Min-soon: A peace treaty is nec­es­sary, but be­tween whom? In my view it should con­sti­tute two sets of nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions: be­tween the United States and North Korea, and in in­ter-Korean re­la­tions, too. Based on those terms and for­mal­i­ties, we can have a peace treaty. But I don’t know whether U.S. politics would al­low it.

Christo­pher Hill: It would in­clude a peace treaty, it would in­clude as­sur­ances by the U.S. of no in­ten­tion to attack. The prob­lem is North Kore­ans have no in­ter­est in col­lec­tive se­cu­rity, and no in­ter­est in any in­ter­na­tional guar­an­tees.

But the idea that they can main­tain nu­clear weapons in a place like north­east Asia is a very dan­ger­ous con­cept. If it’s se­cu­rity they want, there are plenty of ways to as­sure that. But I think what they re­ally want is for the U.S. to leave South Korea. And I think they feel that nu­clear weapons could be a part of an even­tual process to de­cou­ple the U.S. from its ally. I think that’s the prob­lem right now.

Yang Xiyu: A fu­ture peace­ful regime should be built up by a set of agree­ments rather than a sin­gle peace treaty. There should be a tri­lat­eral peace treaty be­tween North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. – and an­other treaty agree­ment be­tween China and the U.S., be­cause those coun­tries were the ma­jor play­ers in the [Korean] war. A treaty be­tween them would guar­an­tee a fu­ture re­li­able peace for the penin­sula. The U.S. and China should also sign a doc­u­ment to guar­an­tee some fun­da­men­tal things for the penin­sula, in­clud­ing a pledge to sup­port and not in­ter­vene in the in­de­pen­dent peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion be­tween the two Koreas.

How should other na­tions em­ploy sanc­tions or threats of mil­i­tary strikes – if at all – to per­suade North Korea to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble?

Song Min-soon: I don’t think ei­ther mil­i­tary threats or the threat of eco­nomic sanc­tions can bring North Korea to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, un­less China is ready to eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially stran­gu­late the North Korean re­gion. But I don’t think China will be ready to do that un­der any cir­cum­stances in the fore­see­able fu­ture. So un­der those cir­cum­stances, what kind of sanc­tions can be ef­fec­tive?

Alexan­der Lukin: Mil­i­tary threats are use­less – be­cause ev­ery­one knows it’s a bluff, and the North Kore­ans also know it. The only thing they can be scared of is a real united front against them, if the U.S., China, Rus­sia and pos­si­bly Ja­pan re­ally agree on some united ac­tion. But I don’t think that’s pos­si­ble. What China wants to do is per­suade North Korea to have some kind of China-style re­forms. But the North Kore­ans un­der­stand that if they do that, they have to open their bor­ders, and then they are go­ing to col­lapse.

Christo­pher Hill: I don’t think any so­lu­tion will ever be ar­rived at with­out Chi­nese as­sent. So I think we have to find a com­mon lan­guage with the Chi­nese. We need to make sure there’s no per­cep­tion in China that they are losers and we are the win­ners in a so­lu­tion on North Korea. At the same time, though, I think it’s im­por­tant that we not talk to the Chi­nese in a way that sug­gests that we don’t care about the South Kore­ans. Af­ter all – it’s their penin­sula.

All of this re­quires some rather deft diplo­macy.

Yang Xiyu: Mil­i­tary strikes are not use­ful to per­suade North Korea back to the ta­ble. The more threats, the more ne­ces­sity for Py­ongyang to get more nu­clear weapons. So stop. Stop any­thing provoca­tive.

At some point, North Korea will have to make a choice be­tween a bright fu­ture with re­li­able se­cu­rity, or a dark fu­ture with an un­pre­dictable and frag­ile se­cu­rity – an even more dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment. Dur­ing the past two decades, with the in­creas­ing nu­clear buildup by North Korea, their ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment has got­ten worse and worse. So the logic of nu­clear weapons for se­cu­rity is to­tally wrong for them. Every step of progress in nu­clear and In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Bal­lis­tic Mis­siles eans a loss of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity.

But if they make a right choice to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, they will gain re­moval of all in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s busi­ness and help in bring­ing a pros­per­ous fu­ture.

So how do you build up the kind of trust it will take to get peo­ple talk­ing?

Song Min-soon: Trust is based on ac­tion, not on rhetoric or words – and it can be ac­cu­mu­lated from small steps to larger steps. It could start with a small lift­ing of some por­tion of the sanc­tions on North Korea, and North Korea si­mul­ta­ne­ously sus­pend­ing some part of their nu­clear and mis­sile ac­tiv­i­ties. And small sym­bolic steps can de­velop into more trust-build­ing steps.

SHANG­HAI CO­OP­ER­A­TION OR­GA­NI­ZA­TION

AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

STR/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

An un­dated pic­ture re­leased by the Korean Cen­tral News Agency on March 7 shows the launch of four bal­lis­tic mis­siles by the Korean Peo­ple’s Army dur­ing a mil­i­tary drill at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in North Korea.

YOUTUBE/UNIVER­SITY OF WEST­ERN AUS­TRALIA

CLARO CORTES IV/REUTERS

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