Ending the Final Chapter of the Cold War
Over the past few weeks, the world has watched as North Korea and the United States have ratcheted up threatening rhetoric towards one another. With discussion of war, even nuclear war, it seems eirly similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. So how best do we get out of a situation of tit for tat retoric that could egnite a war as devistating as the first Korean War. The most sane option might be to come to accept North Korea as a nuclear state and end the Korean War by establishing formal relaitons between Washington and Pyongyang; thereby reducing some of the tension and preparing the groundwork for limiting or ending Pyonyang’s nuclear program.
Much of the discussions on how to end the Korean nuclear conundrum have focused on coercing the Kim family to end their nuclear program in return for aid and even diplomatic relations with the United States and others. However, as President Trump pointed out, this has not led to any changes in Pyongyang’s calculations. Since the end of the Clinton administration, the closest point Washington and Pyongyang got to starting the track down establishing formal relations, negotations between North Korea, its neighbors, and other actors have failed.
The idea of establishing formal relations with North Korea, without it ending its nuclear program, stirs up many arguments; two being, it excelerates nuclear proliferation, and it is appeasment to a rouge state that is threatening its neighbors and the U.S.
First Argument — Nuclear Proliferation:
In regards to nuclear proliferation, it has been an issue since the dawn of the nuclear age. At the end of the Cold War in 1991 there were five recognized nuclear powers (US, Russia, France, UK, and China) with Israel as an un-officially recognized nuclear state. During the beginning of the Post-Cold War era three states ended their nuclear programs; Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa, and three new Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaties were signed covering Africa, South East Asia, and Central Asia. Brazil and Argentina, also, ratified the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaty covering South and Central America. Since 1991 only three new states have been recognized, thought not legally, as nuclear powers, India, Pakistan and North Korea. And since 1998, nearly twenty years ago, only one has been recognized, North Korea.
Under the current global order with states focusing on counter-terrorism, climate change, and global economic stability it seems unlikely that any new actors may attempt to join this elite club. There have been arguments that if North Korea is allowed to keep its nuclear weapons program it may drive Japan, South Korea, and even Taiwan, to contemplate developing their own. This is a legitimate concern, but all three states understand that they are under the umbrella of the United States’ nuclear system and all three have mutual defence assurances from Washington. More over leaders in Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei recognize that China would not tolerate their development of a nuclear program and that Beijing could take significant steps, economicly, diplomacticly, and militarily, to coerce all three.
Second Argument — Appeasement of a Rouge State:
The act of the U.S. establishing formal diplomatic relations with a rogue nuclear state is not unpresedent. In 1964 the Johnson administration considered military strikes to prevent China from developing nuclear weapons, even reaching out to the Soviet Union to coordinate an operation. Yet, Johnson held back, China persued its nuclear program and became a nuclear power the same year. In the midst of Cold War tensions, and to balance against the Soviet Union, the United States came to terms with China as a nuclear power and established formal diplomatic relations starting with Nixon’s trip in 1972. In 1998 following India and Pakistan’s tests of nuclear weapons the United States placed economic sanctions on both, yet by 2001 these sanctions were ended and nuclear cooperation between New Dehli and Washington developed.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang would be just as complex as establishing relations with Beijing and with Havana. There would be many obsticles both domesticlly and regionally. The Trump administration would have to work either in the dark, and behind the backs of two key allies, or in coordination with them to produce the final outcome. Yet, signing a final peace deal and building formal relations would be a significant step that could bring several benefits to the strategic interests of the United States.
Concluding Argument — Benefits to Formal Relations:
First and for most opening an embassy in Pyongyang would give the U.S. a “listening post” within the country, reducing our dependncy on gathering information from Russia, China, and South Korea on the nuclear program and the inner workings of the government.
Signing a final peace deal and establishing relations would also help the U.S., in coordination with our allies in reducing our military presence in the region. This may lead to further reduction in tensions with Pyongyang, who sees the U.S. presence in the region as a justification for its nuclear program and bellicose rhetoric, which in turn could help open up other avenues of negotiation for reducing their nuclear stock pile.
Finally, this process of formaly ending the Korean War and building diplomatic relations should be in tandom with re-building the hibernating Six Party negotiation structure from the Bush administration so it could develope into a regional organization. This organization could help coordinate economic development, relief aid, and be the forum for dicussing a final deal to establish the Korean penninsula as a nuclear free zone and even reunification of the two Koreas.
If President Trump took on this mission and worked in coordination with Xi Jinping, Moon Jae-in, Shinzo Abe, and North Korean representatives he could show the negotiation skills he fervently states he has. He would be able to achieve the recognition of the world and the American people great, and go down in history as not only a great negotiator, but also a peacemaker. Whether President Trump is up to the challenge or not, it is time to close the book on the Cold War and truly begin the 21st century.