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Only the US and North Korea Can Defuse the Nuclear Crisis

Sep 27 , 2016
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

On Sept 9, North Korea, in defiance of strong global opposition, conducted its fifth and biggest, nuclear test. This is part of the chain reaction to and fearsome consequence of the US’ planned deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. The US and South Korea immediately upped the ante: The US recently deployed, for the first time, two B-1B supersonic strategic bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, to fly over South Korea as an open intimidation of North Korea. With the latest developments, the confrontation between North and South Korea and the US worsened, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula deteriorated, which poses a grave threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The fact that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons and the US planned deployment of the THAAD missile defense system on the peninsula are the cause and crux of the crisis.

The deployment of the THAAD system is not only aimed at North Korea, but China and Russia sense they are targeted as well, despite US denials. This will deal a heavy blow to the security pattern in the Northeast Asia and may cause endless troubles in the future.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. The Korean nuclear issue and the subsequent escalation of the tensions on the peninsula are actually the consequences of long-term, vehement clashes between the irrational policies of both the US and North Korea. The root of the Korean nuclear crisis is the unsettled conflict between North Korea and the US. As the two parties at the center of the Korean nuclear issue, they bear direct and principal responsibility for the worsening situation.

The US has stuck to a Cold War mentality, being hostile to North Korea, and has considered North Korea the most evil among all evil states. The US has been trying every possible means to suppress North Korea with economic sanctions and blockade, with diplomatic isolation, and political demonization, and military threats aimed at the border of North Korea, in particular, the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, ostensibly as to deter North Korea’s nuclear advances. All these have made North Korea feel a threat to its survival and take countermeasures.

Previously, the George W. Bush administration could have adjusted its hostile policy towards North Korea and worked to satisfy some needs of North Korea by making a security pledge and taking actions to improve ties with North Korea before its first nuclear test in 2006. In that case, North Korea would probably have not embarked on the road to possess nuclear weapons. The US, however, failed to do so and missed the best opportunity of achieving the goal of a nuclear-free Korea peninsula.

As another saying goes, it takes two to tango. The fact that North Korea has stubbornly pursued nuclearization is also a major reason for the worsening situation. In the face of power politics and bullying by the US, North Korea may have reasons to take countermeasures and strengthen its defene, but it is a serious policy mistake if it goes extreme and sticks to the road of nuclearization. North Korea lags far behind the US and South Korea in terms of military power, but it possesses conventional weaponry, and there has existed a kind of military “balance of terror” on the Korean peninsula. If the US and South Korea launch an offensive against North Korea, and a full war between the north and south breaks out, it would mean catastrophe for both sides. This would be a consequence none of them could possibly bear. Furthermore, Northeast Asia is an important region in the geopolitical strategies for China and Russia. The US and South Korea, fearing that war might provoke reactions from China and Russia, dare not hastily wage war against North Korea. Under the current situation, it is not likely that North Korea would invade South Korea, nor likely that the US and South Korea would wage war against the North. North Korea knows this, and knows clearly it could defend its national security without developing nuclear weapons, but it still stubbornly seeks an undeserved fame as a “nuclear state”, and persists in developing nuclear weapons without any justifiable reason. When North Korea goes further down the road of nuclearization, self-claims to be a “nuclear state” and tries to legalize this status, it will endanger the global nuclear non-proliferation system, challenge the security bottom line of the region and the common conscience of the mankind. This is an illegitimate and unjust move, which would cause unforeseeably dangerous consequences to itself, the parties concerned and the entire world.

As a Chinese saying goes, whoever started the trouble should end it. The key to defusing the crisis is in the hands of the US and North Korea. In the face of risks and disagreements, the two sides should restart negotiations, and embark on the road of peaceful consultations to seek settlement to their disputes and ease the crisis. For the US, that means changing its hostile policy toward North Korea by, first of all, abandoning its plan to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. For North Korea, it means showing its sincerity and action in abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Only exercising these fundamental options will put an end to the Korean Peninsula crisis and to achieve security and stability there and across Northeast Asia.

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