Countering North Korea’s nuclear advance

North Korean LaunchFrustration over North Korea’s “slow but steady nuclear advance” has reached the point where even its heretofore staunchest ally, China, has taken the unprecedented step of voting in favour of the latest UN Security Council resolution on North Korea.

Resolution 2270 puts in place one of the toughest sanctions regimes ever imposed by the Security Council, and there is already good evidence that China is taking steps to implement the regime, not just rhetorically support it. Some academic experts have even gone so far as to describe the change in Chinese view as a move from seeing North Korea as a “strategic asset” to a “strategic liability”.

There is much hyperbole surrounding this issue, not least from North Korea itself, which is prone to greatly exaggerating its own military capabilities in an effort to maintain domestic support and control as well as to dissuade potential adversaries.

In a Threat Assessment Brief entitled North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: How to Halt Its Slow but Steady Advance (ACA, 19 February 2016), Greg Theilmann argues a deeper understanding of North Korea’s motives is needed in order for the international community to effectively dissuade the DPRK from continuing on its current path. In addition, the international community needs to be flexible in their demands when dealing with that paranoid, ultra-secretive country.

He states:

In order to enhance international support for sanctions and exploit the opportunity strengthened sanctions may offer in the coming weeks, they must be accompanied by an openness to negotiate without requiring North Korea to capitulate on the key issue in dispute [its nuclear capability] as a precondition for starting talks.

Theilmann suggests that the Iran nuclear deal could be used as a template for engaging with North Korea on halting their nuclear weapons program. This means that South Korea and the United States should be willing to make concessions which could include reducing the number of American troops stationed in the South in exchange for the North agreeing to immediately halt all nuclear testing and nuclear enrichment processes.

In other words, the focus would be on freezing current activity backed up by international safeguards, rather than insisting on a total rollback of nuclear capacity.

Recently South Korea’s Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Daeshik Jo, hosted a Dialogue on the “International Non-Proliferation Regime & the North Korean Nuclear Issue”. Invitees included current and former diplomats and military advisers, academics, and representatives of leading Ottawa-based think tanks, including the Rideau Institute. As part of his talk, Ambassador Jo noted the lack of a multilateral security cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia.

For those Canadians involved in the North Pacific Cooperative Security Dialogue, launched in 1990 by then Foreign Minister Joe Clark, but which floundered due to bureaucratic opposition after he left the portfolio, we can only imagine what might have been, when all these years later, absent Canadian multilateral innovation, there still remains a void in multilateral diplomacy in the North Pacific.

On June 21st, 2016 North Korea conducted two more ballistic missile tests, reminding the international community that sanctions alone, no matter how tough, will not secure a positive change in North Korean behaviour.

For the full briefing note from the Arms Control Association, click North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: How to Halt Its Slow But Steady Advance (Threat Assessment Brief by Greg Theilmann, ACA, 19 February 2016).


Photo credit: Arms Control Association



Tags: Arms Control Association, Ballistic Missile Test, China, Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Canada, Iran nuclear deal, Korean Peninsula, North Korea, North Pacific Cooperative Security Dialouge, Nuclear Deterrence, Nuclear Diplomacy, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear weapons, Rideau Institute, South Korea, United States, United States Government, UNSC Resolution, UNSC Sanctions