Is denuclearization dead?

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Is denuclearization dead?

After a third nuclear test, North Korea has taken one step closer to the deployment of nuclear weapons. That means the international community’s concerted efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have failed. The North insists on its status as a nuclear power. Last month, it declared it was scrapping all efforts toward denuclearization. We have to wonder if our goal, and that of the rest of the world, to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is realistic any more.

We are not saying we should officially give up the denuclearization goal at this moment. However, the international community’s decades-long effort toward that goal is on the brink of basically being abandoned. The primary responsibility for this precarious situation has to be borne by Pyongyang, which does not budge an inch on the issue. But the international community also must take responsibility for the impasse as it failed to persuade - or coerce - the recalcitrant regime to give up on its highly dangerous dream.

China, among others, is accountable for the botched diplomacy to thwart the North’s nuclear ambition. Beijing did not by any stretch of the imagination do its best toward that goal. It put a higher priority on keeping the status quo. In other words, China has largely left the situation unattended in order to maintain or reinforce its rising power in its rivalry with America. Even after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test, China still maintains an ambiguous attitude.

The United States seems to have virtually abandoned the denuclearization effort after being convinced there’s no other way - barring a military option - except China dissuading the North. Washington probably had to abandon the goal because a military solution would certainly bring about massive destruction on the peninsula. In America, security experts increasingly argue that Washington needs to shift its policy goal from denuclearization of the North to curbing its ability to transfer nuclear weapons technology to other countries.

Under a direct nuclear threat from the North, we cannot accept such a supine approach. Yet we can hardly achieve denuclearization of the North on our own. What choices are left? Should we also abandon the denuclearization goal? Must we also arm ourselves with nuclear weapons? Or will America protect us with its nuclear umbrella until the last minute?

The North’s latest nuclear test endangers our survival. If we conclude that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is impossible, we have no other choice but to make a decision.
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