Is nuclear peace with North Korea possible?
Recent public exhibitions from North Korea intercontinental and launched submarine ballistic missiles have raised new concerns about the risks the Pyongyang regime poses to the Americas. As President Joe Biden’s administration reviews US policy towards the DPRK over the past four years and draws the lessons it can from Donald Trump’s policies. nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he should consider a new approach to arms control.
The failure of Trump’s efforts should come as no surprise. After all, the old American administrations initiatives to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, including Bill Clinton’s “agreed cadre”, the Six-Party Talks under George W. Bush administration and the “Leap day” agreement– did not lead to anything. Quite the contrary: North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, and broke a 1992 agreement with South Korea pledging to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. .
All this diplomatic activity leading nowhere raises a fundamental question: does nuclear weapons control have a future on the peninsula?
This is the case, but not as it is currently practiced. It should be clear by now that Kim will not abolish his nuclear arsenal, nor allow a verifiable nuclear freeze, as some have called for. The reason is simple: As with all nuclear-weapon countries today, nuclear weapons remain the regime’s ultimate security cover. The bomb also provides Kim with leverage over South Korea. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that North Korea never uses its nuclear arsenal.
Achieving this goal will require a combination of classic deterrence and new diplomatic thinking, especially a normalization of relations between the United States and North Korea. America currently provides deterrence on the peninsula with its nuclear air and sea umbrella over South Korea, while nearly 30,000 US troops in the country complement more than three million active South Korean troops and reserve.
But relying solely on deterrence against North Korea certainly cannot prevent or manage the missteps, as the country’s isolation from the rest of the world creates unique perils. Isolation promotes pathological insecurities that could fuel misunderstandings and miscalculations. To complicate matters further, Kim is prone to greatness, military postures, and intimidation.
Normal diplomatic relations reinforced by deterrence have paved the way for nuclear peace in other bilateral relations, especially between China and the United States. As threatening as North Korea is today, Cold War-era China under Mao Zedong’s leadership posed a far greater threat to American interests. Mao intervened in the Korean War against the United States, instigated the Taiwan Strait crises later in the 1950s, and encouraged wars of national liberation against Western powers. When President John F. Kennedy’s administration took office in 1961, it saw China as a burgeoning nuclear power. black beast and considered military action against it.
But America did not bomb, and Richard Nixon’s subsequent opening up to China and the normalization of relations during Jimmy Carter’s presidency neutralized American concerns. Despite the absence of a bilateral nuclear arms limitation treaty, China’s arsenal remains largely a low-level problem amid current Sino-US tensions.
Likewise, the United States’ diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union dating back to the 1930s proved their worth during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. As the United States increased its military readiness to oblige the Soviet Union In withdrawing its nuclear missiles, interaction between Washington-based Soviet diplomats and US officials has been crucial in breaking the stalemate. Likewise, the United States’ diplomatic influence over Pakistan and its ties to India helped slow the momentum towards nuclear war during the Kargil conflict in 1999 and in the aftermath of the Jaish-e terrorist attack. -Mohammad of 2001 against the Indian parliament.
To be sure, the centrality of North Korea’s nuclear enterprise to the survival of the Kim regime would complicate any effort to normalize diplomatic relations. Then there are questions on how to build a diplomatic relationship. Can or should the process start with the opening of embassies, in the hope that this will engender confidence and allow the two countries to address substantive issues? Or can negotiators get into the details right away?
In any event, two priorities stand out. North Korea needs international economic sanctions relief, and the United States must eliminate North Korea’s ability to strike it with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Sanctions, national mismanagement, natural disasters and the Covid-19 have left the North Korean economy – by Kim’s own admission – in desperate need of repairs. For America, which currently lacks effective ballistic missile defenses, the prospect of being in North Korea’s nuclear sights is unacceptable. Could this indicate a possible compromise, namely the lifting of sanctions in exchange for the elimination of missiles?
Such a deal would leave North Korea’s theater nuclear force intact and help turn around the country’s economy while reducing the risk of a pre-emptive US strike. It would also immunize the United States against a possible North Korean ICBM attack, leaving it better positioned to meet the security needs of South Korea and Japan. And with diplomatic representation in the other’s countries, both sides would have reliable channels to settle disputes and manage relations in general.
To determine whether the Kim regime would be open to serious negotiations, the Biden administration could initially endorse what’s known as Track II diplomacy – former U.S. government and non-government interlocutors informally meeting with northern officials. -Koreans in third countries. If awareness raised interest in Pyongyang, the door to formal talks would open. America’s default option is to revert to proven efforts to persuade North Korea to disarm. The challenge will be to convince leaders on both sides that diplomatic normalization leading to an ICBM-sanctions compromise is the best way forward.