Putting North Korea over a bar­rel

China’s ear­lier sus­pen­sion of oil ship­ments trig­gered talks

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Joseph R. DeTrani Joseph R. DeTrani was the for­mer spe­cial en­voy for ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea. The views are the au­thor’s and do not rep­re­sent any gov­ern­ment agency or depart­ment.

The theme of this year’s 72nd ses­sion of the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly is a world “striv­ing for peace.” This meet­ing of 193 mem­ber states comes at a time when one of its mem­bers, North Korea, is threat­en­ing nu­clear con­flict.

The threats from Py­ongyang can no longer be dis­re­garded and viewed as hy­per­bolic rhetoric. You don’t dis­re­gard threat­en­ing state­ments from a coun­try that in this year alone launched 18 mis­siles and con­ducted a sig­nif­i­cant nu­clear test, of a claimed hy­dro­gen bomb, ex­ceed­ing 100 kilo­tons. Of the mis­siles launched, two were in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles with a range of 7,000 to 10,000 kilo­me­ters, thus ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Den­ver and Chicago. In­ter­me­di­ate range bal­lis­tic mis­siles were also suc­cess­fully launched, with a range of 4,000 to 6,000 kilo­me­ters, ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Guam.

The 18 mis­siles launched, and the Sept. 3 nu­clear test, were in vi­o­la­tion of U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions. This alone is amaz­ing: a mem­ber of the U.N. brazenly dis­re­gard­ing 16 Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tions, start­ing with Res­o­lu­tion 1695 in July 2006 to the most re­cent res­o­lu­tion, 2371, passed on Aug. 5. One has to ques­tion the ef­fi­cacy of these res­o­lu­tions sanc­tion­ing North Korea, given that they haven’t pre­vented North Korea from sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanc­ing its nu­clear and mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that passed on Sept. 11, how­ever, is pow­er­ful in that oil im­ports of re­fined and crude oil will be capped at 8.5 mil­lion bar­rels a year, while tex­tile ex­ports, which ac­counted for $726 mil­lion, about a quar­ter of the North’s ex­port in­come , are banned. With these and other pro­vi­sions in the res­o­lu­tion, we may have sanctions that truly bite, and finally get North Korea’s at­ten­tion.

We are now deal­ing with a North Korea that re­port­edly could have over 40 nu­clear weapons, with a re­ported abil­ity to minia­tur­ize nu­clear war­heads and mate them to its arse­nal of short-, in­ter­me­di­ate­and long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles. Al­though it’s doubt­ful North Korea has a war­head that could re-en­ter the at­mos­phere with­out burn­ing up, given the lack of test­ing re­quired to es­tab­lish this ca­pa­bil­ity, I would cau­tion that es­tab­lished sci­en­tific prac­tices do not al­ways ap­ply to North Korea. The progress North Korea has made with its mis­sile and nu­clear pro­grams is im­pres­sive, and they did it march­ing to their own tune. When North Korea threat­ens to use nu­clear weapons to at­tack Seoul, Tokyo or Wash­ing­ton, we shouldn’t be dis­mis­sive.

Kim Jong-un has es­tab­lished North Korea as a nu­clear weapons state, with the bal­lis­tic mis­siles nec­es­sary to make North Korea an ex­is­ten­tial nu­clear threat to China, Rus­sia, South Korea, Ja­pan and even­tu­ally the U.S. Mr. Kim has made it abun­dantly clear that North Korea will not give up its nu­clear weapons and, there­fore, the United States, and oth­ers, should re­lent and rec­og­nize and ac­cept North Korea as a nu­clear weapons state.

Do­ing so would be a mis­take. De­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula should be our un­wa­ver­ing ob­jec­tive. In­deed, ac­cept­ing North Korea as a nu­clear weapons state would lead to a nu­clear arms race in the re­gion, with South Korea, Ja­pan, Tai­wan and oth­ers even­tu­ally seek­ing their own nu­clear weapons arse­nal, de­spite U.S. ex­tended nu­clear de­ter­rence com­mit­ments.

The next few months def­i­nitely will be tense, es­pe­cially if North Korea launches a bal­lis­tic mis­sile that could be viewed as an “im­mi­nent threat” to the U.S. or its al­lies. In­ter­na­tional law per­mits, and in­deed the peo­ple de­mand that pre-emp­tive ac­tion be taken to in­ter­cept any bal­lis­tic mis­sile that poses an im­mi­nent threat to the U.S. or its al­lies. North Korea must un­der­stand this.

Given North Korea’s provoca­tive and threat­en­ing be­hav­ior, it must be frus­trat­ing for China,which con­ducts over 85 per­cent of the trade with North Korea and pro­vides over 90 per­cent of North Korea’s crude oil re­quire­ments to re­al­ize that Mr. Kim ap­pears to be to­tally dis­mis­sive of China and con­fi­dent that China will not take any ac­tion to af­fect the sta­tus quo on the Korean Penin­sula.

The stark re­al­ity, how­ever, is that Mr. Kim con­tin­ues to threaten the sta­tus quo on the Korean Penin­sula. North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams and its race to en­hance and per­ma­nently re­tain these pro­grams af­fects the sta­tus quo, given that North Korea now threat­ens the re­gion and the world with its nu­clear weapons, mo­ti­vat­ing other coun­tries to es­tab­lish their own nu­clear weapons de­ter­rent ca­pa­bil­i­ties. With this type of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, the ac­ci­den­tal use of a nu­clear weapon is a real con­cern, as is the prospect of a nu­clear weapon or fis­sile ma­te­rial find­ing its way to a rogue state or ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. In short, North Korea’s provoca­tive ac­tions have made the re­gion and the world ap­pre­cia­bly less se­cure.

In April 2003, China brought North Korea to the ta­ble with the U.S. to defuse a tense pe­riod, when North Korea quit the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty and was re­pro­cess­ing plu­to­nium spent fuel rods for nu­clear weapons. Just prior to this April meet­ing, China had tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended ship­ment — os­ten­si­bly for me­chan­i­cal prob­lems — of crude oil to North Korea, via the Friend­ship Pipe­line un­der the Yalu River. That brought North Korea to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, which es­tab­lished the Six-Party Talks process con­ven­ing in Au­gust 2003.

China has the lever­age to again get North Korea to the ta­ble for un­con­di­tional ex­ploratory talks with the U.S. These ex­ploratory talks could lead to more for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions, to in­clude South Korea, China, Ja­pan and Rus­sia. And if it again re­quires that China tem­po­rar­ily — or even per­ma­nently — sus­pend crude oil ship­ments to North Korea to en­sure the North’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, then it’s some­thing China should do, in the peace­ful pur­suit of com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.

China has the lever­age to again get North Korea to the ta­ble for un­con­di­tional ex­ploratory talks with the U.S.


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