Washington and Seoul Presuppose the Collapse of North Korea

Since nuclear weapons are undeniably considered terrifying omens of mass destruction, it is the mutual desire of all members of human society to see them reduced, eliminated and to also see their proliferation stopped. It was on this basis that, in 1970, the “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” (NPT) was put into effect. It can be said that the NPT is a solemn pledge to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, but that the true effectiveness of the treaty to date has left little for people to be optimistic about.

The United States shows two sides in its attitude toward the NPT. The first is tacit approval toward Israel’s nuclear development programs. The other is to enact economic sanctions against the nuclear development programs of countries like North Korea and Iran. It ought to be said that, if this treaty seeks fairness at the most basic level, then those countries with nuclear capabilities shouldn’t threaten those countries seeking to become nuclear-capable, and in return those without nuclear capabilities wouldn’t need to seek nuclear weapons in the first place. By the same token, nuclear-capable countries should seek ways to assist those without nuclear power to develop peaceful nuclear technologies — this is especially true where cooperation on medical advancements is concerned. But the truth is that North Korea believes itself and other non-nuclear countries, like Iran, are under threat from nuclear-capable nations. I think that this is a violation of spirit of the NPT.

Since the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, North Korea has never sought the protection of a “nuclear umbrella” from either Russia or China. Moreover, the DPRK’s original mutual defense treaty has long been dead and buried. The Chinese-North Korean relations of today, as well as North Korea’s relations with Russia, are far from the cordial state they entertained during the Soviet Cold War period. North Korea also cannot establish relations with either the United States or Japan. South Korea continues to maintain its military treaties with the United States, and the U.S. has provided a “nuclear umbrella” to protect it. South Korea has also been able to establish normal foreign relations with Russia and China, and has even been able to build various strategic partnerships with these countries.

A huge economic gap exists between North and South Korea. The GDP of South Korea is 42 times that of North Korea’s. Under these conditions, with the DPRK opposing the threat that the alliance between the U.S. and Seoul presents, Pyongyang can only concede that there is no possible way for them to maintain their traditional military equilibrium along the DMZ. The consequence is that North Korea now thinks the only way it can defend itself is by developing nuclear capabilities. In fact, North Korea is actually acting upon an economic policy of full nuclear dependency. It is also probably worth pointing out that the DPRK’s nuclear push will be unlike what we have seen previously in India and Pakistan. Here, the DPRK’s push for nuclear capabilities is very likely to trigger nuclear arms programs within South Korea and Japan as well. When this happens, we can expect any hostile outbreak within the North Asia region to eventually drag the rest of the world into peril along with it.

We ought to act upon the North Korean nuclear issue immediately. Six-way talks over the DPRK’s nuclear program were held from 2003 to 2007, though after disagreements between Washington and Pyongyang flared up, the talks have been on a seven-year hiatus. The problem now is that the Obama administration wants to rely upon a policy of strategic patience. It wants to just put economic sanctions on the country, and pressure China into exerting its influence over Pyongyang. The U.S. is doing nothing of its own accord to try to resurrect the six-way dialogue process. Sitting back and just being patient on the issue is about as useful as setting the issue aside for good, or having no plan at all. Some people are even beginning to suspect that the United States’ real motives in this waiting game with the DPRK are actually part of its overarching plan to strategically encircle China.

Behind both the Obama administration’s “strategic game of patience” and the Park Geun-Hye government’s “realizing a new unified Korea that ensures everyone’s happiness” theory also lies the “North Korean collapse theory.” These leaders think that if they can just go on applying the appropriate amount of pressure, then before long North Korea will simply cave in and fall apart. But it’s difficult to achieve any outcome on the international foreign politics front when one has no hopes for being able to negotiate with the party they’re having issues with. And when one’s military force is insufficient to overthrow an enemy government, then it’s difficult to force any kind of regime change. Of course, even minor spats between North and South Korea are likely to deteriorate into a full-scale war, and so any military solution to changing the DPRK’s government are completely out of the question. The only thing that can be done here is for everyone to return to the table and talk.

The United States, North Korea and South Korea all want change. North Korea has often made clear that the wishes of its deceased Chairman Kim Il Sung were that he never wanted to see nuclear weapons in the North Korean peninsula. North Korea should put its cards on the table and openly discuss its national defense issues, and the steps it should take to eradicate its nuclear materials. It should also seek to genuinely reopen six-way dialogue with the United States and other countries. At the same time, China and South Korea should begin to discuss the matter of establishing full free-trade agreements and the development of the Kaesong industrial zone. Such trade talks should also include not only Russia and China, but also North Korea — especially so where matters of bilateral economic cooperation and ways to reintegrate the country into the international arena are concerned. I hope that during the November meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, we will see some concrete progress on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

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