North Korea fired a medium-range Musudan ballistic missile shortly before 8 a.m. on the morning of Feb 12. The launch reminds people of the 13 missile tests and two nuclear tests by Pyongyang in 2016 and constitutes a real security challenge for the Trump administration. At a press conference the next day, President Trump noted, “North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.” Then what can the United States, the United Nations and the other countries concerned do to solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum?
Looking back, people can see that since Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006 UN and international community have done a great deal to force North Korea to give up its nuclear pursuit: UN Security Council passed resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087, 2094, 2270 and 2321 to condemn and impose sanctions upon North Korea; China, the US, Russia, South Korea , Japan and North Korea held six rounds of Six Party Talk (suspended in 2009) to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula; think tanks held various conferences to find better solutions to the nuclear crisis. However, all these efforts came to nothing. Causes for failure are many and complicated but several of them are fundamental. First, the pursuit of nuclear weapons has been written into North Korea’s constitution and the leadership will not give up its effort to pursue nuclear weapons easily. Second, the six parties of the talks have different priorities, though they have a consensus to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Third, the UN and the parties concerned have relied too much on dialogue and sanctions.
Facing a new nuclear test and more missile tests by North Korea, UN and the parties concerned should give up their old ways of thinking and acting and seek new ways to persuade and force Pyongyang to give up or at least suspend its nuclear development.
Way One: Coordinate six parties’ priorities to make denuclearization their first priority. In dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue each party follows a different priority: Pyongyang takes its national security as first priority and will agree to denuclearize only under the condition that its national security is ensured by the US. The US, South Korea and Japan take overthrow of the North Korean regime as their first priority, aiming at denuclearization through regime change; China and Russia take peace and stability as their first priority advocating denuclearization through peaceful consultations and negotiations. Different top priorities have diverted efforts to denuclearize and the Six Party Talks have achieved little. Each party, including North Korea, should understand that while there are a variety of contradictions in how countries deal with this nuclear issue, denuclearization is the primary objective and all the others are secondary; once the primary issue is solved, the secondary contradictions are easy to solve. Therefore denuclearization best serves each party’s concerns and interests and the six parties should coordinate their priorities to make denuclearization the first focus of their efforts..
Way Two: Make a military strike an option while holding talks and imposing sanctions. In the past, the international community mainly replied on talks, conferences and sanctions to persuade and press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear development. However, facts show that talks, conferences and sanctions are far from enough. Without a military option, North Korea could not face a life or death choice, that is, no overwhelming pressure could force the country to give up its nuclear pursuit. With a military option, the leadership will have to seriously consider the high cost and low benefit in continuing nuclear development and make a better choice. Of course the military strike should be limited to “surgical operations” other than a large-scale war, only to destroy nuclear facilities and not to attack the country’s political, economic and civilian targets, that is, not aiming at overthrowing the North Korean regime.
Way Three: Initiate peace treaty negotiations and denuclearization talks concurrently. What Pyongyang worries about most is its survival; what it wants most is to sign a peace treaty with the US. The worry and the wish are reasonable and understandable. With proper coordination of all parties concerned, negotiations of a peace treaty between North Korea and the US and denuclearization talks among the six parties can be undertaken concurrently. The negotiations and talks interact and promote each other and ultimately result in the signing of such a peace treaty and an agreement upon denuclearization.
Way Four: Remove obstacles to build confidence and mutual trust. To show sincerity and goodwill, each of the six parties should remove obstacles to build confidence and mutual trust. North Korea should fulfill its international obligations under Security Council resolutions, suspend its nuclear development and missile tests and return to Six Party Talks. The US should reduce the number and frequency of its military exercises, cancel the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, promise not to overthrow the North Korean regime and agree to have direct contact with it. South Korea and Japan should urge the US to sign a peace treaty with the North and return to Six Party Talks without conditions. China and Russia should forsake their opposition to any military strike and play a bigger role in Six Party Talks.
The four ways are by no means panacea but worth trying. If all parties’ concerns and interests are taken care of, it is possible to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.