The North Korean nuclear conundrum

| September 30, 2017 | 0 Comments
North Korea has been escalating its nuclear tests with 13 ballistic missile launches in 2017.  (Photo: Bemil, Chosun Media)

North Korea has been escalating its nuclear tests with 13 ballistic missile launches in 2017. (Photo: Bemil, Chosun Media)

The most crucial threat affecting Northeast Asia’s stability is the nuclear and missile program of the DPRK (North Korea). It poses a serious threat, not just for the Republic of Korea (South Korea), but for the Asia-Pacific, and the entire world. North Korea claims to be a “nuclear weapon state,” and it is the only country in the 21st Century to have conducted nuclear tests.
Since the first North Korean nuclear crisis broke out a quarter century ago, Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests and numerous missile launches. In the past two years, its tests have accelerated, with two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches in 2016, one nuclear test and 16 missile launches in 2017, which include two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in July and two intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) over Japan. The sixth nuclear test, carried out on Sept. 3, 2017, is the regime’s most powerful yet. There is no doubt that, at the rate of current advancement, Pyongyang is fast approaching its goal of obtaining full nuclear weapons and nuclear delivery capability that could strike targets in North America.
Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests are in flagrant violation of international norms, notably to the pertinent UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Yet North Korea’s behaviour indicates the country is determined to continue on its path towards a nuclear capability. Further, North Korea has been ignoring international warnings that its nuclear ambitions will only serve to deepen economic pressure and isolate the regime. Imagine for a moment the young and brutal dictator, Kim Jong-un, with his finger on the nuclear button. It is indeed an unsettling scenario.
We must be clear-eyed about Pyongyang’s intent. It wants recognition as a nuclear weapon state, believing it is the only way to guarantee its security. If we do not put the brakes on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions today, we will come to regret it tomorrow.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The international community must address North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs with a renewed sense of urgency. It should send out a united and forceful message for complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear programs.
Despite the unanimously adopted Sept. 11 UNSC resolution 2375, which strengthened UN sanctions on North Korea in response to its sixth nuclear test in Setpember, the North still launched another missile over Japan, in blatant disregard of the international community.
Dialogue is always important, but considering the urgency of the moment, the international community should act in a concerted manner to implement stronger sanctions. This should be done with the specific aim of cutting oil supplies and sources of finance to North Korea, to prevent them from advancing their nuclear and missile technology. This needs to occur so that we can bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.
The key question plaguing the North Korean nuclear issue is whether sanctions will be effective enough to force North Korea to come back to the denuclearization negotiating table. Some critics argue for a negotiated solution instead of sanctions, citing the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal reached under then-U.S. president Barack Obama.
However, we know that many negotiations with North Korea over the past 20-plus years have led us nowhere. North Korea has repeatedly violated its denuclearization commitments, buying additional time to advance its nuclear capabilities. A traditional axiom in the international disarmament area is: “trust, but verify.” Regrettably, mutual trust is in short supply when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Given that, negotiations without pressure and sanction are not a solution.
Of course, there are no guarantees that sanctions will work either. After all, North Korea has continued to advance its WMD capacity even under increased international pressure and sanction. But one can make the argument that there were many loopholes in those sanctions, giving ample room for North Korea to exploit the international community. Therefore, we need to test and evaluate the efficacy of sanctions before we can fully assess the effectiveness of such measures.
The objective of sanctions is not to bring North Korea to its knees, nor to seek regime change; rather, it is to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table by opening a window of opportunity for this to happen.
Since President Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017, the Korean government has repeatedly urged North Korea to cease its provocations, and it has announced that it is open to a denuclearization dialogue with Pyongyang, but only under the right circumstances.
In early July, Moon delivered an important policy speech in Berlin, outlining his new North Korean policy initiatives. It comprises five pillars: First, South Korea will only pursue peace and does not wish for North Korea’s collapse; South Korea will not work towards unification through absorption. Second, a fundamental solution is to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue once and for all. South Korea will pursue that target step-by-step by guaranteeing the security of the North Korean regime. Third, the Korean government will work towards establishing a permanent peace regime by concluding a peace treaty with the participation of relevant countries, formally ending the war. Fourth, the government will work towards drawing a new economic map on the Korean Peninsula. Economic co-operation is an important part of establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. Yet economic co-operation will only occur if there is progress on the North Korean nuclear issue, and if appropriate conditions are met. Finally, the Korean government will consistently pursue non-political exchange and co-operation projects with North Korea by separating it from the political and military situation.
With that being said, we are not under any illusions. While pursuing our ultimate long-term goal, a permanent peace, it is imperative to keep maximum pressure on North Korea, with tougher and stronger sanctions to bring them back to the negotiation table. Any approach will be bolstered by robust military deterrence.
South Korea and the U.S. have worked closely together towards the goal of denuclearization, based on a robust bilateral alliance and shared position. China is also a key partner in resolving the issue, as it is the main supplier of oil to North Korea; it is also the primary importer of North Korean goods, accounting for approximately 90 per cent of its exports. Although the major stakeholders (South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan, Russia) do not fully share a consistent approach in addressing Pyongyang, they are working together with the understanding that there still remains further room for tightening pressure and sanctions.
In response to the provocation and in line with many like-minded states, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on Sept. 3 condemning North Korea’s nuclear test in the strongest terms and reaffirmed that, “[Canada] will continue to work with key regional partners — including the United States, South Korea and Japan — as well as the broader international community, to counter the North Korean threat.”
The Korean government always appreciates the strong support of the Canadian government and its people. In the Korean war of 1950 to 1953, South Korea and friendly states, including Canada, fought together to restore peace on the Korean Peninsula. Now more than 60 years later, our two countries continue to work as strategic partners to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and to keep permanent peace on the Peninsula.

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