De­fus­ing North Korea’s nu­clear threat

Why it’s time for China to co-op­er­ate

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Joseph DeTrani

On April 23, 2003, China, at the re­quest of the U.S., hosted three party talks with North Korea and the U.S. Early that month, when bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with North Korea were tense, Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell asked China to in­ter­cede with North Korea to con­vene di­rect talks be­tween the U.S. and North Korea. China com­plied and got North Korea to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble.

This re­quest to China came af­ter North Korea, dur­ing an Oc­to­ber 2002 meet­ing in Py­ongyang with As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State James Kelly, ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a Ura­nium En­rich­ment Pro­gram, a vi­o­la­tion of the 1994 Agreed Frame­work that froze North Korea’s Plu­to­nium nu­clear re­ac­tor at Yong­byan, in re­turn for the con­struc­tion of two Light Wa­ter Re­ac­tors and the pro­vi­sion of heavy fuel oil in the in­terim, while the re­ac­tors were un­der con­struc­tion.

Given this North Korean vi­o­la­tion,

in Novem­ber 2002, the U.S. ceased pro­vid­ing heavy fuel oil to North Korea and sus­pended con­struc­tion of the two Light Wa­ter Re­ac­tors at Kumho, North Korea.

North Korea’s re­ac­tion was swift. In De­cem­ber 2002, they restarted the plu­to­nium nu­clear re­ac­tor and were mak­ing prepa­ra­tions to re­move over 8000 spent nu­clear fuel rods, stored in cool­ing ponds, to re­pro­cess them for fis­sile ma­te­rial for nu­clear weapons. In Jan­uary 2003, North Korea with­drew from the Non Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT), the only coun­try to with­draw from the NPT. This was a tense pe­riod; it mo­ti­vated the U.S. to reach out to China to in­ter­cede with North Korea.

The three party talks China hosted in April 2003 re­sulted in the es­tab­lish­ment of Six Party Talks (6PT), that also in­cluded South Korea, Ja­pan and Rus­sia. The first meet­ing of the 6PT was in Au­gust 2003, con­vened by China’s For­eign Min­is­ter, Li Zhaox­ing.

China, as the host, or­ga­nized the three party talks in April 2003, fol­lowed by six Ple­nary ses­sions of the 6PT, through 2008. On Sept. 19, 2005 there was a mo­ment of suc­cess with a Joint State­ment that com­mit­ted North Korea to com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible dis­man­tle­ment of its nu­clear pro­grams, in re­turn for eco­nomic devel­op­ment as­sis­tance, a peace treaty, se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and the pro­vi­sion of Light Wa­ter Re­ac­tors when North Korea re­turned to the NPT as a non-nu­clear weapons state.

The guid­ing prin­ci­ple of this agree­ment was ac­tion for ac­tion; as North Korea com­menced with the dis­man­tle­ment of its nu­clear pro­grams, the eco­nomic and se­cu­rity de­liv­er­ables would be pro­vided. When North Korea in late 2008 re­fused to sign a ver­i­fi­ca­tion and mon­i­tor­ing agree­ment that per­mit­ted mon­i­tors to leave Yong­byon to in­spect and take sam­ples from other ar­eas in North Korea, all progress with the Joint State­ment ended and of­fi­cial talks with North Korea ceased.

Since that time, North Korea has built a size­able num­ber of nu­clear weapons and mis­sile de­liv­ery sys­tems, to in­clude the July 28 and July 4, 2017 suc­cess­ful launches of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Bal­lis­tic Mis­siles (ICBM), with es­ti­mated ranges of 7000 and 10,000 kilo­me­ters. Prepa­ra­tions ap­pear un­der­way for the North’s sixth nu­clear test, fol­low­ing an es­ti­mated 30 kilo­ton nu­clear test in 2016.

In ad­di­tion to claim­ing the abil­ity to minia­tur­ize their nu­clear war­heads, North Korea in 2017 also suc­cess­fully launched an In­ter­me­di­ate Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile (IRBM) with a range of 4000 kilo­me­ters and a Sub­ma­rine-launched Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile (SLBL).

Our pol­icy of Strate­gic Pa­tience, since 2010, as a strat­egy for deal­ing with North Korea, ob­vi­ously wasn’t suc­cess­ful. While ad­di­tional sanc­tions were im­posed and North Korea was fur­ther iso­lated in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the Kim Jong-un gov­ern­ments raced to ac­quire for­mi­da­ble nu­clear and mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We are now, un­for­tu­nately, at an in­flec­tion point.

Per­mit­ting North Korea to fur­ther en­hance its nu­clear and mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties, en­sur­ing that it be­comes an ex­is­ten­tial nu­clear threat to the U.S., is not in our in­ter­est. Nor is ac­qui­esc­ing to North Korea’s de­mand that they be rec­og­nized as a nu­clear weapons state, pos­si­bly even be­ing amenable to ac­cept­ing a cap on the num­ber of nu­clear weapons it can re­tain. In­deed, per­mit­ting North Korea to re­tain even a small num­ber of nu­clear weapons would be a mis­take. It would lead to a nu­clear arms race in the re­gion, with South Korea, Ja­pan, Tai­wan and oth­ers also seek­ing their own nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity.

Also, the ac­ci­den­tal use of a nu­clear weapon, through er­ror or mis­cal­cu­la­tion, is al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity, as is the prospect that a nu­clear weapon or fis­sile ma­te­rial finds its way to a rogue state or a non-state ter­ror­ist ac­tor.

China alone can­not or will not re­solve the nu­clear is­sue with North Korea. It’s likely China will, how­ever, as they did from 2003 to 2008, work with the U.S. to get North Korea to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble to dis­cuss halt­ing its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams, as the first step in a di­a­logue that hope­fully will suc­ceed in con­vinc­ing Kim Jong-un that the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula will ben­e­fit North Korea, with eco­nomic devel­op­ment as­sis­tance, a peace treaty, se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and progress to­ward a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship with the U.S.

Since Chair­man Deng Xiaop­ing as­sumed power in 1978, strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the U.S. and China has been note­wor­thy. Co­op­er­a­tion to de­feat the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan was a sem­i­nal suc­cess story, as are bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion on counter pro­lif­er­a­tion, Cy­ber se­cu­rity and piracy on the sea.

Given the good meet­ings be­tween Pres­i­dents Trump and Xi, at Mar-a-Largo and the G-20, and the re­cently es­tab­lished eco­nomic di­a­logue, to dis­cuss trade and For­eign Di­rect In­vest­ment and other re­lated is­sues, and the prospect that mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary re­la­tions will be en­hanced, to deal with the South China Sea and other is­sues, it’s im­por­tant now that we seize this mo­men­tum and en­sure that co­op­er­a­tion with China in re­solv­ing the North Korea nu­clear is­sue is our pri­mary ob­jec­tive.

Given my decades of work with China, I’m con­fi­dent Bei­jing could get North Korea to sit down with the U.S. for of­fi­cial three party talks, sim­i­lar to April 2003, to de­ter­mine if North Korea would be will­ing to halt its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams, in re­turn for a dis­cus­sion of is­sues im­por­tant to them, like se­cu­rity as­sur­ances, peace treaty, joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and sanc­tions.

There should be time lines es­tab­lished for these ex­ploratory talks, with ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­to­cols es­tab­lished to en­sure com­pli­ance with any agree­ment. In­deed, if we get this far, then a con­tin­ued dis­cus­sion of com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula should be pur­sued, sim­i­lar to what all agreed to in the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint State­ment, with the added prospect that in­ter­est sec­tions or li­ai­son of­fices could be es­tab­lished in our re­spec­tive cap­i­tals.

If North Korea re­fuses any Chi­nese re­quest for talks with the U.S., or if the ac­tual talks are un­suc­cess­ful, then the U.S., work­ing pri­mar­ily with our South Korean and Ja­panese al­lies, should pur­sue a pol­icy of greater mis­sile de­fense de­ploy­ments, en­hanced sanc­tions, ex­panded joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea, and greater tri­lat­eral in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the U.S., South Korea and Ja­pan.

Ide­ally, China can get North Korea to the ta­ble for talks with the U.S. and China on an im­me­di­ate halt to North Korean nu­clear tests and mis­sile launches, in re­turn for a dis­cus­sion of se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and sanc­tions re­lief of con­cern to North Korea. This process could defuse cur­rent ten­sion and lead to a more per­ma­nent peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of is­sues with North Korea.

ILLUSTRATION BY GREG GROESCH

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