NK as nuclear state
Preconditions are verification, protocol observation
North Korea Friday night test-fired a long-range rocket that experts say could bring most of the United States mainland within striking distance. This has triggered condemnation from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. China, the rogue state’s only benefactor, criticized Pyongyang. But Beijing criticized in stronger terms Seoul’s decision to deploy temporarily a U.S. anti-missile interceptor, which China has opposed vehemently.
With near certainly, it can be predicted that the matter will be passed to the United Nations but a split will prevent any unified action because of opposition from China and Russia. Meanwhile, tension will likely go up another notch, presenting the U.S. with a stronger case for military action.
The one way to preclude this vicious cycle is to call a spade a spade.
The North has exploded nuclear devices five times. It has tested numerous missiles. On Friday and on July 4, it proved it can deliver a projectile up to 10,000 kilometers. In terms of flight distance, it has reached the level of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Judging that it takes 15 to 20 years to attain related technologies, there is little doubt that the North is close to becoming a nuclear weapon state, if it has not already done so.
So far, the countries involved have been using sanctions to stop the North from being able to launch nuclear-tipped long-range missiles. Sanctions upon sanctions have been imposed on Pyongyang with little effect.
The alternative is to give the North what it wants — status as a nuclear state. But that recognition should be given in a way that the North is brought back into the international nuclear control regime so it will act responsibly with its nuclear arsenal.
For the North to join the “nuclear club,” Pyongyang should have its nuclear capabilities verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The North would have to submit multiple warheads for inspection.
Simultaneously, the North would be asked to rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and abide by the pertinent rules.
Recognizing the North as a nuclear state would require a change in international mindset.
It may be worth the trouble. Above all, it would defuse the rising tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests. Then, China and Russia, which have opposed penalizing the North, would be given an incentive to work together with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
It could set a precedent for other countries in pursuit of nuclear status. Currently, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France are declared nuclear states in the post-World War II system. However, Britain and France as well as Russia have lost much of their previous power, with their nuclear arsenals doing little to enhance their international status.
South Africa has given up its nuclear weapons development, while Israel maintains its neither-confirm-nor-deny policy. Two foes, India and Pakistan, are undeclared nuclear states.
True, possessing nuclear weapons is a great status symbol, but none of these countries has actually used them in war since World War II.
They are weapons of last resort, meaning that using or threatening to use one can invite self-annihilation. So it is time to let the North have what it wants and see whether it can handle the heat that comes with it.