Fo­cus on Min­i­miza­tion of Korean Ten­sion

While en­gag­ing with Py­ongyang, US and its al­lied na­tions shouldn’t re­main adamant on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of North Korea a pre-con­di­tion for talks

The Day After - - CONTENT - By ChAn­DAn Ku­MAr

The North Korean nu­clear pro­gramme has been the fo­cus of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion over the last two decades be­cause Py­ongyang’s de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons and in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles can­not be sep­a­rated from its bel­li­cose be­hav­iour, which has caused a great deal of ten­sion in the re­gion and the world. Since rev­e­la­tions of North Korean nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ment sur­faced, the US and South Korea have tried un­suc­cess­fully to bring the pro­gramme to a halt.

De­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula has been cen­tral to the for­eign pol­icy of both coun­tries for decades, yet one pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter an­other has left of­fice with­out de­ter­ring North Korea’s steady progress in be­com­ing a nu­clear-armed state. In fact, just the op­po­site has oc­curred, with North Korea cur­rently de­vel­op­ing even more so­phis­ti­cated nu­clear weapons and mis­sile de­liv­ery sys­tems.

The US in­tel­li­gence ser­vices have re­cently re­ported that North Korea has devel­oped minia­tur­ized nu­clear weapons that can fit into the heads of a new class of bal­lis­tic mis­siles, which Py­ongyang has suc­cess­fully tested in the wa­ters be­tween Korea and Ja­pan. These tests be­gan a war of words be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump promis­ing “fire and fury” if North Korea at­tempts to threaten the US. North Korea re­torted by threat­en­ing to con­duct mis­sile tests directed towards the US ter­ri­tory of Guam in the Pa­cific Ocean, edg­ing both states to the brink.

Al­though Pres­i­dent Trump tried to adopt a fresh ap­proach soon af­ter tak­ing of­fice, ig­nor­ing a North Korean mis­sile launched in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and say­ing he “would be hon­oured” to meet with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un, he soon re­verted to the rhetoric of pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, vow­ing to re­solve the cri­sis through harsh sanc­tions and tough talk.

Mean­while, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, who took of­fice this year, pledged to en­gage North Korea, al­though his pro­nounce­ment that a nu­clear freeze would make pos­si­ble the be­gin­ning of of­fi­cial talks, and that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion would be the fi­nal out­come of such talks, seems far­fetched.

One of the prob­lems in the ap­proaches taken by South Korea and the US is that

both coun­tries want North Korea to ac­cept their terms and con­di­tions be­fore they con­sider Py­ongyang’s de­mands, which in­clude a peace treaty, po­lit­i­cal nor­mal­i­sa­tion, and a sus­pen­sion of joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. They dis­count the fact that Py­ongyang is pin­ning the sur­vival of the regime on nu­clear weapons as a de­ter­rent against the ad­vanced weaponry of the US and South Korea. Hence, North Korea is not likely to give up its nu­clear weapons pro­gramme as long as it feels threat­ened and vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack or in­va­sion.

Iron­i­cally, North Korea had agreed in the past to drop its nu­clear pro­gramme but backed away af­ter a num­ber of events which might have forced it to re­con­sider, in­clud­ing the 1994 Agreed Frame­work with the US that saw Wash­ing­ton fail to live up to its own pledges to de­liver fuel oil to North Korea, build two light wa­ter nu­clear re­ac­tors in the coun­try, and other promises. Then, there was the pro­nounce­ment by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush Jr call­ing North Korea part of an “axis of evil,” and the fail­ure of the Six Party Talks. North Korea has also been wit­ness to what hap­pened in Iraq and Libya, where regimes that were in con­fronta­tion with the US were de­stroyed af­ter they gave up their nu­clear weapons. With Iran, too, Pres­i­dent Trump has pushed for new sanc­tions de­spite Tehran’s ad­her­ence to the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (JCPOA).

Con­se­quently, North Korea has ev­ery rea­son to dis­trust the US and hold onto tech­nol­ogy it sees as lev­el­ling the play­ing field be­tween it­self and the world’s su­per­power. Even the for­mer US Direc­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, James R Clap­per Jr, has said that “the no­tion of get­ting the North Kore­ans to de­nu­cle­arise is prob­a­bly a lost cause.” North Korea will likely con­tinue to de­velop its nu­clear weapons un­til it gets a sec­ond strike ca­pa­bil­ity, which would be a cred­i­ble de­ter­rent against at­tack by a more pow­er­ful op­po­nent.

Given the reck­less rhetoric com­ing from the White House – in­clud­ing that the US has a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive for North Korea “locked and loaded” – the de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korea penin­sula may be an un­re­al­is­tic goal for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Per­haps it would be bet­ter to fo­cus on a dif­fer­ent goal, one of min­imis­ing the nu­clear weapons North Korea is will­ing to pos­sess, and send­ing tan­gi­ble en­cour­age­ment to get Py­ongyang to ob­serve a mora­to­rium on launch­ing more mis­siles in the re­gion. Any pro­pos­als for talks that have pre-con­di­tions of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion how­ever, espe­cially given the re­cent round of UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sanc­tions and the con­tin­u­ing joint South Korean-US mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, are likely to be a non-starter.

The time has come to ac­cept the re­al­ity on the ground – North Korea is a nu­cle­ar­armed state – and find ways to dis­suade Py­ongyang from fur­ther nu­clear and bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests. More rhetoric of fire, fury, and war be­tween the US and North Korea will only fur­ther es­ca­late ten­sions and re­in­forces Py­ongyang’s be­lief that it is only safe if it con­tin­ues to de­velop nu­clear weapons and the means to de­liver them to coun­tries within the re­gion and even­tu­ally, the US.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pro­vides guid­ance on a nu­clear weapons pro­gram

US-South Korea joint land­ing op­er­a­tion drill in Po­hang

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