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Possible Security Guarantees for the DPRK

Dec 17, 2019
  • Zhang Tuosheng

    Academic Committee Member, Center for International Security and Strategy (CISS), Tsinghua University

Denuclearization talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea need to accomplish three objectives. First, the Korean Peninsula, especially the DPRK, should be free of nuclear weapons. Second, other countries should normalize their relations with the DPRK. Third, the armistice mechanism should be transformed into a peace treaty. Security guarantees for the North Korea will be reflected primarily in the latter two objectives.

Fulfilling these tasks will take a long time. This is true of negotiations, of denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism.

The road map for denuclearization can be divided into three phases: first, to realize a verified comprehensive nuclear freeze and dismantle of all nuclear facilities and destruction of all nuclear materials in DPRK; second, to dismantle, either at home or abroad, all the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, including nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, mainly medium- and long-range missiles and ICBMs, and the DPRK would come into the Non-Proliferation Treaty and sign the IAEA’s safeguards agreement and its additional protocols; third, to establish a nuclear-free zone on the peninsula by agreement of South and North.

The task of each phase may be achieved in several steps rather than just one.

Security guarantees for the DPRK should also be implemented in stages and should develop in step with the denuclearization process. Its content would mainly include economic security guarantees, military security guarantees and political security guarantees.

Why are economic measures included in security guarantees? Because the DPRK has made economic development its central task. Economic development is related closely to the stability and security of the regime.

Economic security guarantees can include measures such as providing economic and humanitarian assistance to the DPRK, gradually easing and even lifting all sanctions against it (including unilateral sanctions and UN Security Council sanctions), carrying out energy and economic cooperation to ensure the DPRK’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and supporting it in joining international economic organizations, such as the World Bank, the IMF, ADB and AIIB.

Military security guarantees can include measures such as the U.S. and its allies suspending and even permanently ceasing all joint military exercises aimed at the DPRK. South and North would eliminate military confrontation near and within the DMZ. The U.S. would withdraw its strategic weapons in South Korea, including THAAD. The United Nations command would disband. Nuclear states would give positive and negative security guarantees to the DPRK and sign a Korean Peninsula Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (which would involve the issue of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea. And the United States would gradually reduce and eventually withdraw all its troops from the Korean Peninsula.

Political security guarantees could include measures such as relevant countries, especially the U.S., establishing liaison offices with the DPRK and carrying out cultural and people-to-people exchanges with it. The U.S. would take North Korea off its terrorism list. The ROK stops its border propaganda campaign against the DPRK and establishes a joint committee for ethnic harmony. The United States stops infiltrating Korean culture and ideology. The U.S. and other countries concerned establish formal diplomatic relations with the DPRK, and the two Koreas normalize relations. The four-party and six-party talks restart, and eventually the six-party talks become a permanent regional multilateral security cooperation mechanism.

The security guarantees should be reflected in several major political documents. The first would be an end-of-war declaration — issued by two, three or four sides. In a U.S.-DPRK bilateral declaration, certain written security guarantees may be given to the DPRK, such as the “Three Nos” that were orally committed before by then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This document should be issued in the first phase of denuclearization.

Second would be joint statements on the establishment of diplomatic relations or normalization of relations between the DPRK and other countries concerned. This should be signed in the second stage.

Third is that the four or six parties sign a peace agreement in which a lot of security guarantees are made definitively.

Fourth, the ROK, DPRK and other relevant parties would sign a treaty creating a nuclear-weapons-free zone on the Korean Peninsula. This should be completed in the third phase. 

Finally, I would like to stress that the most urgent task in the current U.S.-DPRK negotiations should be to take a substantive first step toward the goal of denuclearization. Specifically, if the DPRK committed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facilities and agreed to provide a list of relevant nuclear facilities and allow international verification, the United States should agree to issue an end-of-war declaration and establish liaison offices with the DPRK.

The U.S. should also provide humanitarian assistance to the DPRK and ease some sanctions against it. This will be a no small and substantial agreement. Time is running out. The U.S. and the DPRK should do their utmost to this end.

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