Com­pre­hen­sive Moves to­ward a Nu­clear-free Penin­sula

Global Asia - - IN FOCUS - By Bi­noy Kamp­mark

An in­ter­na­tional group of sea­soned pol­icy-mak­ers, an­a­lysts and ex­perts gath­ered in Seoul last De­cem­ber to dis­cuss a fu­ture nu­cle­ar­free Korean Penin­sula. The meet­ing was hosted by the In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs and Na­tional Se­cu­rity, with co-or­ga­niz­ers the Nau­tilus In­sti­tute and the Asia-pa­cific Lead­er­ship Net­work.

While there could have been no point­ers then that a Trump-kim meet­ing was on the hori­zon, the is­sues dis­cussed re­main valid to any so­lu­tion to the North Korean nu­clear is­sue. THE PRESS­ING NEED to find a fea­si­ble way to pre­vent con­flict on the Korean Penin­sula, while also seek­ing a last­ing so­lu­tion in­volv­ing de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, was the fo­cus of a meet­ing in Seoul on De­cem­ber 11-12 hosted by the In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs and Na­tional Se­cu­rity. As Chan­cel­lor Byung-jae Cho of the Korean Na­tional Diplo­matic Academy — where the meet­ing was held — noted in his open­ing ad­dress, the minute hand of the Dooms­day Clock of the Bul­letin of Atomic Sci­en­tists has moved closer and closer to nu­clear cat­a­clysm over re­cent decades, stand­ing in 2017 at two-and-a-half min­utes to midnight (it was moved on­wards again to two min­utes ear­lier this year). “The prob­a­bil­ity of global catas­tro­phe,” he warned, “is very high, and the ac­tions needed to re­duce the risks of dis­as­ter must be taken very soon.” South Korean Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs Kyung-wha Kang en­cap­su­lated the re­formist spirit of the Moon Jae-in ad­min­is­tra­tion in its ef­forts to seek a last­ing peace, not merely on the Korean Penin­sula but in the com­plex and testy po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment of East Asia.

The salience of these dis­cus­sions was ev­i­dent in the sub­se­quent push for a re­sump­tion of North-south Korean talks and moves towards a prospec­tive di­a­logue with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. To that end, in­ten­tions, strate­gies and ap­proaches were an­a­lyzed and can­vassed in foren­sic de­tail across six ses­sions. Var­i­ous themes and ap­proaches char­ac­ter­ized the dis­cus­sions: the in­ten­tions of North Korea and its cur­rent po­lit­i­cal out­look and re­sponses; the ap­proaches, ac­tual and pos­si­ble, to­ward North Korea; the is­sue of achiev­ing an en­dur­ing peace set­tle­ment for the Korean Penin­sula, fac­tor­ing in de­nu­cle­ariza­tion; the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of North

Korea; the in­ten­tions of the United States, most im­por­tantly those of Trump; and no­table ar­eas of di­ver­gence and con­ver­gence on all these is­sues.

De­spite the ad­verse se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment and heated ex­changes be­tween Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton, par­tic­i­pants struck a note of con­fi­dence. Leon Si­gal of the So­cial Sci­ence Re­search Coun­cil ap­pro­pri­ately termed the barbs “click­bait” and

“cat­nip.” Trump’s tweets were merely weapons of mass dis­trac­tion. Tony Namkung , Se­nior Ad­vi­sor to the Cen­tre for Hu­man­i­tar­ian Di­a­logue, viewed the trans­ac­tional na­ture of Trump’s en­gage­ment as un­likely to yield div­i­dends. Nor did the “max­i­mum pres­sure and en­gage­ment ap­proach” — one cor­ner­ing North Korea — seem much dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tions. That said, Trump’s sheer un­pre­dictabil­ity sug­gested un­prece­dented op­por­tu­ni­ties. The chal­lenge lay in iden­ti­fy­ing the most fea­si­ble means of mov­ing North Korea’s Kim Jong Un from a state of in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous weapons test­ing and arm­ing to a will­ing­ness to con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Former US Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell ex­em­pli­fied this spirit dur­ing his ad­dress on the open­ing day. “I am a be­liever in a denu­cle­arized penin­sula and a denu­cle­arized world.” Any res­o­lu­tion of the dis­pute through force of arms was un­ten­able: “jaw jaw,” said former Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd dur­ing the first day’s dis­cus­sions, is cer­tainly prefer­able to “war war.” The prospects of a fea­si­ble mil­i­tary res­o­lu­tion had also been com­pounded by im­prove­ments in North Korean mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ham­per­ing ac­cu­rate tar­get­ing in any pre-emp­tive strike. In any event, it was gen­er­ally felt that the US would not, as

Prof. Chung-in Moon said, “use such mil­i­tary force with­out prior agree­ment” with South Korea.

The so­lu­tion, then, must be diplo­macy of the sort that would, as Rudd ar­gued, “avoid sleep­walk­ing into war in North­east Asia and achieve the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” Tom Schelling’s point on the re­cip­ro­cal fear of sur­prise at­tack, made dur­ing the Cold War, was deemed even more apt by way of anal­ogy to the Guns of Au­gust, Bar­bara Tuch­man’s his­tory of how the

First World War started. The cy­cle of fear by which Wash­ing­ton and Seoul an­tic­i­pated a pos­si­ble at­tack by North Korea on the ba­sis of state­ments or provocations had to be bro­ken.

Diplo­matic So­lu­tions, In­cre­men­tal Steps

What, then, would the shape of this diplo­macy look like? Par­tic­i­pants saw prom­ise in an in­cre­men­tal ap­proach: small, re­cip­ro­cal steps to build up trust, ac­com­pa­nied by par­al­lel ac­tiv­i­ties. For Nobuyasu Abe, former UN Un­der-sec­re­tary-gen­eral for Dis­ar­ma­ment Af­fairs and Am­bas­sador, chronic mu­tual dis­trust and the se­cu­rity deficit must be over­come. Small, pre­lim­i­nary steps — “mi­cro level” en­gage­ment — might also be taken in en­ergy co-op­er­a­tion. Var­i­ous short-range en­ergy op­tions could find their way to the diplo­matic ta­ble and be ex­changed for a re­duc­tion in the pro­duc­tion of fis­sile ma­te­rial. This point was ad­vanced in a de­tailed pre­sen­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pants by Nau­tilus In­sti­tute en­ergy ex­pert David von Hip­pel and direc­tor Peter Hayes. This stress on en­ergy, noted dis­cus­sants, would in­volve North Korea in in­ter­na­tional struc­tures, el­e­vate in­ter­de­pen­dency and en­cour­age com­pli­ance. Py­ongyang could be in­volved in re­gional oil and nat­u­ral-gas pipe­lines. Elec­tric­ity grid in­ter­con­nec­tions could be pow­ered by Simpo/kumho re­ac­tors. Re­new­able en­ergy op­tions and shar­ing of ex­cess oil re­fin­ing ca­pac­ity might also be de­vel­oped. Co-op­er­a­tion on trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture could also fea­ture in dis­cus­sions. The mil­i­tary sphere might fur­nish ad­di­tional ar­eas of joint co-op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing search and res­cue, fish­eries man­age­ment and joint oceano­graphic re­search and ves­sel con­trol in some

ar­eas west of the Korean Penin­sula.

To in­crease trust on an even higher level, Py­ongyang might be con­vinced that it need not fear pre­ven­tive war from the US. For Mor­ton Halperin, for­merly of the Pol­icy Plan­ning Staff at the US Depart­ment of State, a regime guar­an­tee might also be war­ranted in which the US would give an un­der­tak­ing not to use force to over­throw the Py­ongyang regime. Such ap­proaches might seem to be a ques­tion of what Deng Xiaop­ing de­scribed as cross­ing “the river by feel­ing the bot­tom one stone at a time.” As Si­gal and former US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State Thomas Pick­er­ing as­serted in dis­cus­sions dur­ing the first day, North Korea could hardly be ex­pected to re­lin­quish the po­lit­i­cal lever­age in­her­ent in its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity with­out some­thing in re­turn. As North Korean ex­pert Pa­trick Mceachern noted, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion could be re­al­ized but only af­ter the ini­tial ex­pan­sion of Py­ongyang’s nu­clear armed forces in both a qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive sense, and the end­ing of the “hos­tile pol­icy” of the US.

Such steps might well con­sti­tute a freeze-for­freeze op­tion (en­tail­ing the ini­tial sus­pen­sion of Us-south Korea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises on the one hand, and North Korean nu­clear and mis­sile test­ing on the other) to ini­tially tem­per the sit­u­a­tion and build trust. In that re­spect, par­tic­i­pants found much com­mon ground be­tween Halperin’s sug­ges­tion for an im­me­di­ate freeze on mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and weapons tests, and those ar­tic­u­lated in Chi­ne­serus­sian pro­pos­als. Draft­ing a timetable for the de­struc­tion of nu­clear weapons, ac­com­pa­nied by ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity guar­an­tees from the US and China and eco­nomic in­cen­tives for North Korean de­vel­op­ment might also be ad­vanced.

This would bring into play the na­ture of a com­pre­hen­sive se­cu­rity set­tle­ment fea­tur­ing six phases: the cre­ation of a Six-party-north­east Asia Se­cu­rity Coun­cil; the grad­ual end­ing of sanc­tions against North Korea; a dec­la­ra­tion of non-hos­til­ity; the sign­ing of a nor­mal­iz­ing peace treaty to end the Korean Armistice; the pro­vi­sion of aid to North Korea that would en­com­pass en­ergy, tele­coms, lo­gis­tics, trans­port, mo­bil­ity, trad­ing and fi­nan­cial net­works through the North Korean land-bridge link­ing

Eura­sia with Ja­pan and South Korea; and, fi­nally, the es­tab­lish­ment of a nu­clear weapons-free zone (NWFZ). Such an in­ter­lock­ing sys­tem crowned by the NWFZ would help en­sure a last­ing ar­range­ment. For Halperin, the last el­e­ment, while only com­ing in the fi­nal phase of ne­go­ti­a­tions, would nonethe­less be an in­cen­tive to cre­ate last­ing peace while forg­ing a nu­clear-free Korean Penin­sula. Hayes fur­nished an ad­di­tional pointer: that it would sup­ply a means of manag­ing the threat as North Korea in­cre­men­tally dis­armed, en­abling it to come into com­pli­ance with the Nu­clear Non-pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT).

Par­tic­i­pants also noted that us­ing the NWFZ would shift the fo­cus away from specif­i­cally de­nu­cle­ariz­ing North Korea to cre­at­ing a zone free of nu­clear weapons. Such a treaty for­mat also has the dis­tinct merit of avoid­ing com­pet­ing claims of sovereignty over the Korean Penin­sula, while ac­knowl­edg­ing the su­per­sed­ing of the Septem­ber 2005 prin­ci­ples is­sued at the fourth round of the Six­party Talks. Hayes noted the salient point of en­sur­ing durable trust: North Korea should have con­fi­dence in agree­ments that will last be­yond the life­span of ad­min­is­tra­tions in Seoul and Wash­ing­ton.

Such an am­bi­tiously en­vis­aged Grand Bar­gain could also employ the an­chor­ing sta­bil­ity of the Sixo­cean

Party for­mat, de­spite its mori­bund sta­tus. China, ac­cord­ing to Rudd, would find much to rec­om­mend in such an ap­proach. Ad­di­tional ac­tors, such as the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, could also play roles. Be­yond that, a re­gional se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture was sug­gested as a means of calm­ing the tem­per­a­ture and set­tling dis­putes, whether along the lines of an East Asia Sum­mit, as sug­gested by Rudd, or the more spe­cific, phased pro­cesses en­vis­aged by Halperin and his col­leagues. Dis­agree­ments be­tween such pow­ers as China and the US also have to be man­aged.

Points of Dis­agree­ment

In­evitably, some dis­agree­ment was reg­is­tered on the role of ex­ist­ing poli­cies in com­pelling Py­ongyang to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, even as its nu­clear pro­gram is re­tarded. One par­tic­i­pant took the rather dim view that “we do not have any good so­lu­tions to the prob­lem.” What should be given up in achiev­ing an NWFZ? Fur­ther­more, would these mea­sures gen­uinely en­cour­age Py­ongyang to achieve a denu­cle­arized Korean Penin­sula? Should ne­go­ti­at­ing par­ties sur­ren­der hope that Py­ongyang will give up nu­clear weapons? Or should they make a move first?

This also led to di­ver­gence on the is­sue of what role South Korea would play. Py­ongyang’s wedge strat­egy — de­signed to di­vide the North­east

Asian al­liance sys­tem — had to be seen along­side per­cep­tions that Seoul lacks in­de­pen­dence from Wash­ing­ton. The first day of the con­fer­ence saw the former for­eign min­is­ter of Thai­land, Ka­sit Piromya, tak­ing the view that the South Kore­ans were sim­ply too closely aligned with Wash­ing­ton’s in­ter­ests. An un­der­stand­ing that North Korea or any fu­ture uni­fied Korea would not be a se­cu­rity buf­fer zone, but part of a gen­uinely se­cure denu­cle­arized area, was also ad­vanced by re­tired Chi­nese Ma­jor Gen­eral Pan Zhen­qiang on day one. Par­tic­i­pants on day two, how­ever, also ex­pressed the view that the Us-south Korea al­liance has been an es­sen­tial tool A volatile en­vi­ron­ment spiked by threats of nu­clear at­tack, a bel­liger­ent Py­ongyang and a testy ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton sug­gest an in­sol­ubly dan­ger­ous cri­sis. For all that, Thomas Pick­er­ing quipped that there was still room for the sort of cau­tious op­ti­mism sup­plied only by lu­natics.

of de­ter­rence and should not be de­cou­pled. Putting stock in such peace­keep­ing bodies as the United Na­tions would be a poor sub­sti­tute.

Dif­fer­ing views sur­faced also on the role of sanc­tions, very much the pre­ferred weapon of choice for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies. His­tor­i­cally, when sanc­tion regimes have been im­posed, notably with Us-chi­nese agree­ment, Py­ongyang, far from be­ing dis­suaded, has ac­tively pur­sued weapons test­ing. As a tool of co­er­cion, sanc­tions have re­peat­edly failed. Fur­ther­more, a

to­tal sanc­tions regime would en­cour­age North

Korea to re­sist more force­fully. Yang Xiyu, se­nior fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, noted that any full con­tain­ment of Py­ongyang, seal­ing off all doors for en­gage­ment, was fraught with dan­ger. En­ergy stud­ies have also sug­gested that dis­rup­tions to the coal-ex­port cap, a dra­matic cut in Chi­nese oil ex­ports to North Korea and a re­duc­tion of hard cur­rency earn­ings for North Korea are un­likely to sig­nif­i­cantly bruise the mil­i­tary. David von Hip­pel and Peter Hayes fur­ther added that the ef­fect of such sanc­tions on North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams would be at best neg­li­gi­ble.

Some par­tic­i­pants di­verged over the ex­tent to which tar­geted sanc­tions might prove ef­fec­tive. Some form of pres­sure was re­quired to pre­vent or slow down North Korea’s nu­clear mis­sile build-up by re­strict­ing ma­te­ri­als com­ing in. Nobuyasu Abe took the view that hu­man­i­tar­ian con­se­quences were re­gret­table, but could be ame­lio­rated through sep­a­rate as­sis­tance. There were also dif­fer­ing views about the na­ture of

North Korea’s eco­nomic per­for­mance, which has been un­even. Since Kim Jong Un came to power, 23 spe­cial eco­nomic zones have been built. Yang Xiyu re­ported that many of these re­main empty, await­ing cap­i­tal and trade to boost the econ­omy. Such op­por­tu­ni­ties have been elim­i­nated by sanc­tions, most con­spic­u­ously in ru­ral ar­eas.

Olympic Mo­ments

A para­dox of cri­sis is that it has a ca­pac­ity to pro­duce op­por­tu­ni­ties. A volatile en­vi­ron­ment spiked by threats of nu­clear at­tack, a bel­liger­ent Py­ongyang and a testy ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton sug­gest an in­sol­ubly dan­ger­ous cri­sis. For all that, Pick­er­ing quipped that there was still room for the sort of cau­tious op­ti­mism sup­plied only by lu­natics. De­spite di­verg­ing at points, par­tic­i­pants iden­ti­fied firm com­mon ground. Sleep­walk­ing or stum­bling in­ad­ver­tently into con­flict were out­comes to be avoided with ur­gency. War should be struck off any agenda. Re­mov­ing hos­tile in­tent, elim­i­nat­ing mis­trust and deal­ing with se­cu­rity deficits were all ac­cepted as crit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties. The role of South Korea, even if cur­rently in­ex­act and neb­u­lous, was deemed vi­tal. A greater un­der­stand­ing be­tween the pow­ers within the Six-party frame­work was also urged, in­clud­ing a greater need for manag­ing dis­agree­ments be­tween China and the US.

The Olympic mo­ment, one an­tic­i­pated by dis­cus­sions dur­ing the De­cem­ber 11-12 gath­er­ing, has al­ready been seized upon by the par­ties. Di­a­logue be­tween Seoul and Py­ongyang, ini­ti­ated through the of­fices of Kim Jong Un’s sis­ter, Kim Yo Jong, dur­ing the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics, has re-com­menced. The freeze-for-freeze op­tion has gained trac­tion. De­spite ini­tial skep­ti­cism marked by the can­cel­la­tion of a meet­ing be­tween the North Korean del­e­ga­tion and US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence dur­ing the ini­tial stages of the Win­ter Olympics, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong Un are now pre­par­ing for sum­mit dis­cus­sions by the end of May. The road heav­ily trav­elled to­ward a peace­ful Korean Penin­sula has taken another twist­ing turn.

Bi­noy Kamp­mark is Se­nior Lec­turer, RMIT Univer­sity, and can be con­tacted at bkamp­mark@ gmail.com. Peter Hayes is Direc­tor of the Nau­tilus In­sti­tute and Pro­fes­sor, Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, Syd­ney Univer­sity. He is also a mem­ber of Global Asia’s Ed­i­to­rial Board. He can be reached at phayes@nau­tilus.org.

A full ver­sion of the re­port cov­er­ing these dis­cus­sions, “Com­pre­hen­sive Moves To­ward a Nu­clear-free Korean Penin­sula,” Jan. 25, 2018, is avail­able at https://nau­tilus.org/wp-con­tent/ up­loads/2018/01/nau­tilus-knda-apln-syn­the­sis­re­port-fi­nal-jan25-2018.pdf.

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