The Korea Herald


[Park Sang-seek] How to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat?

By 김케빈도현

Published : Oct. 19, 2016 - 15:08

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Since North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Oct. 9 this year, both South Korean and US governments, political leaders, scholars, research organizations and mass media have put forward their solutions to the issue. They can be classified into two categories: solutions through negotiations and solutions through confrontational actions.

Those who believe that the North Korean leadership is suffering from a siege mentality advocate solutions through negotiations. They suggest five types of negotiating formats: the US-North Korea bilateral talks; the US-South and North Korea trilateral talks; the US-South and North Korea-China quadrilateral talks; and the six-party talks.

They propose five topics as the subjects of negotiations: the abolition of the North Korean nuclear programs and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; a peace treaty replacing the existing armistice agreement; the end of the US-South Korea mutual defense treaty and the China-North Korea mutual assistance treaty; the establishment of diplomatic relationships between the US and North Korea and between Japan and North Korea; and the disarmament and arms control of both Koreas’ armed forces. Some suggest the first topic; others the second topic or both second and third topics; and still others all five topics.

As to the denuclearization of North Korea, the US government still prefers the six-party talks. But China, South and North Korea may prefer a different format, depending on the subjects of the negotiations. Many opinion-makers suggest the North Korea-US bilateral talks or the quadrilateral talks of the two Koreas, the US and China. Concerning a peace treaty to replace the existing armistice agreement, the US proposes a US-North Korea bilateral negotiation, but South and North Korea have not made any official statement on the subject, although North Korea has rejected the US-North Korea bilateral talks only for the discussion of the denuclearization issue.

The multilateral talks can take either a four-party format which includes the main actors in the Korean War (the two Koreas and the US and China) or a six-party format which includes the six countries in Northeast Asia. Whether these multi-party talks take a quadrilateral or hexagonal format, this peace maintenance structure will have to turn into a regional collective security system (or a concert of powers system). To establish this system, all the five topics mentioned above should be discussed and resolved.

The South Korean and US governments, some political leaders, scholars, research organizations and mass media advocate confrontational actions, condemning the conciliatory approaches.

One approach promoted by the US and South Korean governments and supported by many conservative scholars, mass media and research organizations holds that in resorting to all kinds of maneuvers and provocations, North Korea has rejected and ignored all the conciliatory offers by the US and South Korea and has continued its nuclear development and perfected its nuclear capabilities. Now, the only alternative left to the US and South Korea is that the two allies, together with the UN, impose complete economic and financial sanctions on North Korea, while urging UN member states to downgrade their diplomatic relations with North Korea and to expel it from international organizations. They particularly demand China, which is the main supporter of North Korea, to fully execute the economic sanctions required by the UNSC resolutions and put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the two allies should maintain various kinds of military measures including preparations for a preemptive attack.

On the other hand, the US and South Korea should jointly guarantee China and North Korea that the US forces would never resort to pre-emptive attacks against North Korea unless it is clear the latter is about to launch a nuclear attack. They should also assure China the US would never station its troops in North Korea even in such a case the US-South Korean forces occupy North Korea.

Another proposal supported by some moderates is that the US-North Korea bilateral talks or the six-party talks can be reopened to discuss the complete denuclearization of North Korea together with the complete denuclearization of South Korea, and a non-aggression treaty between the US and North Korea guaranteed by the other concerned parties, accompanied by economic aid, the normalization of diplomatic relations between North Korea and the US and between North Korea and Japan, and assistance to North Korea’s participation in the international economic and financial organizations.

Which approach is appropriate, negotiation or confrontation?  Unless we have the accurate intelligence on the nature of the North Korean leadership and the true motive of its nuclear ambition, it will be impossible to choose the best strategy toward North Korea’s nuclear threat. In concrete terms, the correct intelligence on the following questions should be secured.

First, is Kim Jong-un in firm control of the North Korean elites?  Second, is what the North Korean regime says about the purpose and degree of development of its nuclear program actually true or a bluff or faint motion?  Third, are the quid pro quos for the dismantlement of its nuclear program demanded by North Korea such as a peace treaty between the US and North Korea, a Korean Peninsula peace regime, the end of the South Korea-US alliance and a disarmament and arms control treaty between the two Koreas a mere camouflage or its ultimate aim to communize South Korea?

Finally, do the US and South Korean authorities have accurate intelligence on the exact locations of Kim Jong-un and his Praetorian Guard, nuclear weapons and launching apparatus?

By Park Sang-seek

Park Sang-seek is a former rector of the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies at Kyung Hee University and the author of “Globalized Korea and Localized Globe.” He can be reached at ― Ed.