The North Korea Solution
North Korea is without a doubt a threat.
We all know North Korea has been building nuclear weapons and missiles to defend itself against militarily superior countries. But one thing has changed in the past couple of years to make people take these threats more seriously. North Korea, which had always referred to its nuclear weapons as a deterrent, has increasingly talked about a preemptive strike.
“There’s a pattern to North Korea’s expressions. Now, the threat of a preemptive strike is part of its template,” says Snyder of CFR. “It’s hard to tell whether it’s representing a heightened likelihood of attack or whether the propaganda writers just found a new word in the dictionary.”
Although the chances of North Korea conducting military provocations are low, you’re right not to breathe a sigh of relief. Small clashes or conflicts could occur in this highly tense time, and small clashes could have a bigger impact because of the high tensions. There are also plenty of alternatives to conventional attacks — such as hacking, something North Korea has gotten pretty good at.
“The North could try to attack South Korea in cyberspace or stage a provocation but make it hard to trace the offender. It could declare a quasi-state of war,” says Cheong of the Sejong Institute.
North Korea won’t be giving up their nuclear weapons. They are key to instability.
North Korea is to China and Russia as Saudi Arabia is to the U.S. With China and Russia unwilling to crank up pressure on North Korea, the United States and its allies have only one option left: engaging Pyongyang diplomatically. This means abandoning the policy of “strategic patience” toward the DPRK that the Obama administration has pursued since 2009. The policy centers on the insistence that Pyongyang commit to denuclearization as a precondition for direct talks.
North Korea will never agree to give up its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang sees the nukes as the ultimate guarantee of its security and will not exchange them for any amount of agreements and assurances from Washington.
Not only that but giving up nukes would end the Kim regime. The Kim dynasty has defined the U.S. as the antithesis of what it means to be Korean. The Yankee imperialist enemy helped legitimize multi-generational rule from the Kim family, as well as justify the repressive security measures, harsh living conditions, lack of economic progress and the generally low level of prosperity. If Kim Jong Un were to cut a deal to relinquish his nuclear weapons, he would be acknowledging that a threat no longer exists. And if there’s no longer a threat to North Korea, why should the people tolerate deprivation, sacrifice and the Kim’s?`
A message from Kim Jong Un to Xi Jinping expressed “the hope to strengthen and develop bilateral friendship and to maintain peace and stability in the region.”
North Korea would continue its ‘two front lines policy” of developing nuclear weaponry in tandem with reinvigorating its isolated and stagnating economy. North Korea knows that China’s cooperation is essential to carry out the economic side of its ‘two front’ policy.
However, by receiving the North Korean delegation in Beijing, Beijing is also sending a message to the U.S. that it’s not abandoning its old ally.
China and US Cooperation Key to Determination
For more than a decade, China has been viewed as a crucial partner to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization. The Beijing-hosted Six Party Talks served as a bridge enabling China to facilitate U.S.-North Korea talks during the George W. Bush administration. Within this framework, the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement proved to be the high-water mark for multilateral diplomacy toward North Korea in which the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the two Koreas agreed to principles that linked denuclearization to diplomatic normalization, economic development, and peace objectives based on an “action-for-action” framework.
There are a few reasons why both countries need to cooperate more tightly than ever on managing the ongoing crisis.
First, given the Republic of Korea (ROK) government’s uncompromising stance with respect to North Korean provocations, there will be an increased chance of more severe inter-Korean crises occurring over the next two years.
Second, notwithstanding repeated calls for putting a “military option” back on the table, a large-scale joint US-ROK military operation against North Korea is increasingly becoming less realistic.
Third, ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula have the potential to undermine trust and increase military competition between China and the United States, a development that is set to detrimentally affect overall China-US relations and cannot be in the interest of either party.
And last but not least, in general, any type of large-scale military operation on the Korean Peninsula will almost certainly involve a large-scale destruction of human life and property. Given the size of the forces and the weaponry involved, this would be more akin to the Korean War and World War II–very complex, probably high casualty. North Korean artillery could shell Seoul with thousands of rounds within the first hour of a full-scale war.
Negotiations offer the opportunity to resolve subsidiary issues and improve security even short of achieving full denuclearization. Doing so still might not make the North Korean nuclear monsters go away. Nevertheless, the lesson of the DPRK’s latest nuclear test is that talking to North Korea offers a better hope of success than ignoring it. But then, that’s what Beijing has been telling the U.S. for a long time.