America’s sabre-rattling over North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons, and the latter’s defiant rhetoric and threats, created global anxiety last week. An awesome US strike force, an “armada,” as President Trump pretentiously described it, was steering into the Korean Peninsula complete with an aircraft carrier, a nuclear-powered submarine and assorted naval vessels, and held noisy joint maneuvers with South Korean forces. The North Korean display of thousands of long-range artillery pieces designed to level the South Korean city of Seoul to the ground in minutes was equally awesome to behold. It was in celebration of the birthday of the founder of the North Korean dynasty, Kim Il Sung.
And, when the US President, Mr. Donald Trump, invited all 100 US Senators to the White House for a special briefing on Korea, the world waited with bated breath, fearing the president was going to seek authorisation for the use of force on North Korea. Fortunately, as it turned out, it was more of a reality show, if not a stunt, by Mr. Trump to celebrate his 100 days in office. A great deal was, of course, said about North Korea in the so-called “briefing,” but not in an alarming belligerent tone.
Indeed, when Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command, told the Senators that the advanced missile system the US is installing in South Korea aims “to bring the young North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, “to his senses, not to his knees,” a great deal of relief was felt not only among the White House audience but also, predictably, even in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
For decades, it had been the centre of North Korea’s political thinking that the United States aims to overthrow its established dictatorial dynasty, and effect a regime change. The only credible counter-measure in North Korea’s strategic thinking is the development of a nuclear arsenal capable of serving as a deterrent against what they believe to be American aggression. To that extent, the North Koreans regard the testing of their ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, as instruments for the survival of their government. It is to them an existential imperative. Indeed, in 2002, US President George W. Bush named North Korea, Iran and Iraq as the world’s “axis of evil,” to underscore the adversarial relationship of the two countries.
The current view from Washington is that the continued testing of the weapons and their delivery systems have shown that sooner or later, the North Koreans would be able to build inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting American cities with nuclear bombs. And this scenario, Americans have sworn to prevent. Their problem is how to do it, since they are not on speaking terms with the North Koreans. A survey of US-North Korean efforts towards some agreement reveals a field strewn with broken promises, acts of bad faith, US arrogance, and North Korean intransigence.
It is on record that in 1985, North Korea signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); but in 1993, it did not allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to two nuclear waste storage sites. In 1994, US and North Korea signed an agreement with the Koreans pledging to freeze and eventually dismantle their nuclear reactors in exchange for international aid to build two “light-water” reactors which, apparently, would be incapable of producing weapons-grade materials. In 2002, the Bush administration revealed that North Korea has admitted operating a secret nuclear weapons programme in violation of the 1994 agreement.
The next year, North Korea withdrew from the NPT. From then on, it has been a cat and mouse game of agreeing to dismantle the nuclear programme today and restarting it tomorrow; testing a nuclear weapon today and agreeing to close the facility in exchange for $400 million aid, which happened in 2007 at the so-called six-party talks in 2007. In 2009, North Korea announced its second nuclear test. In 2012, the US State Department announced that North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile launches and nuclear activity in exchange for food aid. The following year, the North Koreans said they would continue nuclear testing which “will feed into an upcoming all-out action targeting the US, the sworn enemy of the Korean people.”
The US-North Korean issue illustrates the senselessness of nuclear weapons proliferation and why NPT must be enforced by the UN Security Council. The Chinese are probably the only major power capable of exerting an influence on North Korea. But, it is difficult to put the genie back into the bottle now that the North Koreans seem conscious of their own capabilities, even with conventional weapons. It is unrealistic to expect the Chinese to do all the heavy lifting. The US must come down from its high horse and talk with North Korea.
We believe that in the end, the only credible long-lasting solution remains the convening of a formal peace conference of all interests in the Korean Peninsula to sit down at the peace table, and review the Armistice of 1953 which ended the Korean War, and get all parties to endorse a formal peace treaty, which the North Koreans have demanded for decades. Indeed, we think that all parties must endorse a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and an exploratory discussion on the unification of Korea, which both Koreas seem to want in spite of ideological divisions. German Unification succeeded in spite of ideological differences of East and West Germany. The Cold War ended 30 years ago. The unification of Korea is a possibility.