Five steps to end crisis
From the beginning of the year, Pyongyang’s provocations of the fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch shook the Northeast Asian strategic topography. The epicenter is the rogue state, North Korea, but the tsunami swept up entire Northeast Asia. The Korean government began negotiating the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system with Washington and shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex. There are disagreements over the timing, intensity and method of these measures, but as the window of resolution for the nuclear issue is rapidly shrinking, they were inevitable choices. Now, Seoul must urge North Korea to give up the parallel pursuit of nuclear and economic development through intense pressure.
We don’t have much time left. In the past two decades, North Korea progressed to make smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear weapons. The delivery means now include mobile missiles, inter-continental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles. North Korea’s intention is to make strategic nuclear weapons that can strike continental United States along with second-strike capability. North Korea is left with securing nuclear material needed to produce dozens of nuclear weapons, expansion of their loading weight, and reentry technology into the atmosphere, so the denuclearization of North Korea should be completed before 2020, at the latest.
The new structure for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue should include the following.
First, considering the progress of the nuclear program and Pyongyang’s negotiation style, North Korea would not give up the parallel policy unless its survival is threatened. As the 1976 Panmunjom Axe Incident and the 1998 East Sea submarine penetration illustrate, we need to have a position of strength to change the North’s behavior. Based on a solid security stance and strong Korea-U.S. alliance, we must create an effective sanctions network to strike the economic development of North Korea - one of the two goals of the parallel policy.
At the same time, enhanced UN Security Council resolutions, separate sanctions and a secondary boycott should be combined along with tougher restrictions on financial transactions, ships that entered the North Korea, trade, petroleum expert, workers’ overseas employment and North Korean vessels. As U.S. dollars began to circulate in the North’s economy, cutting off the flow will add considerable pressure.
Second, though the Security Council resolutions would include tougher sanctions, China and Russia’s lukewarm attitude suggest that they may not be as intense as we wish. Therefore, Korea, the United States, Japan, EU, Australia and Canada may form a coalition of the willing and supplement with direct sanctions. The effect of the sanctions would depend on China’s execution, as it is the main channel of North Korea’s trade and finance. The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act passed by Congress includes individuals and companies of a third country doing business with North Korean individual or companies. However, as the execution of the law is up to the administration, Seoul needs to focus on diplomatic efforts to ensure Washington’s strict execution to prevent Chinese individuals and companies’ businesses. The Obama administration’s term has less than one year left, and presidential election is scheduled this year.
Third, unified will and action of Korea, America, China, Japan and Russia is necessary to resolve North Korean issues. The Iran nuclear deal was agreed to as the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany supported in unison. In the same context, it does not have a confrontational structure between Korea-U.S.-Japan and China-Russia. Communication between Korea and China to avert aggravation of public sentiment in both countries should be more active. Also, Seoul must help resolve strategic confrontation between Washington and Beijing over Thaad.
Fourth, we should be prepared for negotiation in the future as talks are unavoidable for denuclearization while we focus our diplomatic caliber on pressuring the North for now. Washington and Pyongyang have already exchanged opinions on negotiation for a peace treaty, and China proposed simultaneous six-party talks and negotiation for a peace treaty. Of course, the negotiation should be considered once sanctions show certain effects, and freezing of nuclear activities and implementation of an inspection system are prerequisites. Moreover, involved nations need to agree on a deadline to prevent Pyongyang’s protraction and on harsher sanctions in case of failure.
Fifth, we need to be wary of the arguments to connive at North Korea’s status as a “de-facto nuclear state” - just like India and Pakistan. Dr. Siegfried Hecker proposed shifting the focus from denuclearization to freezing and nonproliferation, and Lei Cui of China Institute of International Studies said North Korea’s nuclear armament should be condoned without officially recognizing it. But when these claims become official, denuclearization would become impossible, so they must be cut off in advance.
North Korea’s nuclear program is the biggest obstacle to peace in East Asia and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Now, we need to concentrate all national strengths to resolve the nuclear tension and respond to North Korea’s threats. As North Korea is betting its survival on the nuclear program, we should have extraordinary determination to pressure Pyongyang to the critical point with the international community. We should use strategic thinking based on objectives and clear judgment. God helps those who help themselves.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 29
*The author, former Korean ambassador to Japan, is an advisor at law firm Shin & Kim.
by Shin Gak-soo