Nukes are not the wayWith suspicions of North Korea’s involvement in the Cheonan sinking growing, the North’s Foreign Ministry abruptly released a memorandum on Wednesday. It said North Korea is a nuclear weapons state and therefore will participate in global arms reduction efforts on the same level as other nuclear powers. It also noted that North Korea will make as many nuclear bombs as necessary but will neither join the nuclear arms race nor make more nuclear bombs than it feels are necessary.
This is nothing new, as North Korea has been reiterating these points since its first nuclear test in October 2008. But the revival of the argument attracts our attention because it re-emerged when prospects for the resumption of the six-party talks became murky after the Cheonan tragedy. Such an attempt seems targeted at pressuring the United States into dialogue by diluting international concern about the Cheonan incident. But the argument is a hollow one, based as it is on the premise that it is a nuclear power while ignoring the realities of international politics.
The North may have been buoyed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent slipup but the U.S. government’s position is clear. On the day when the North’s memorandum was released, Gary Samore, the White House official handling weapons of mass destruction, said that the U.S. government’s policy not to recognize North Korea as nuclear weapons state is clear. In addition, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the United States “will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state.”
North Korea seems to believe that delaying negotiations will allow it to develop nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as India, Pakistan or Israel have. But the North should understand that Israel could get nuclear status thanks to U.S. acquiescence and India and Pakistan could do the same due to the special relations between the two countries. North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms is intrinsically impossible in the power dynamics of Northeast Asia, where China is the sole nuclear power and Japan and Korea cannot have nuclear weapons.
The North’s degeneration into a “failed state,” such that it can’t even feed its own people, also stems from its continuing illusion that nuclear weapons can ensure the security of the regime. Moreover, North Korea faces grave challenges such as the deterioration of Kim Jong-il’s health and uncertainties over the succession of power.
The conclusion is obvious: North Korea should return to the six-party talks and give up its nuclear weapons. It is also the only way for it to sustain its people and the regime.