proposal

(Project of Kajima Institute for International Peace)

December, 2016

Reconsidering North Korea Policy: How to Deal with a Nuclear Armed Divided States

Masao Okonogi
Senior Associate at Society of Security and Diplomatic Policy Studies
Professor Emeritus at Keio University

Six proposals -- - Policy for Denuclearization

1) The nuclear armament of North Korea has become almost an established fact, and the denuclearization of the country has emerged as a task requiring a generation-long efforts. Chairman Kim Jong-un must be compelled to clearly recognize "the unacceptable reality" that "the North"s nuclear armament or long-range missiles development will not secure the survival of the state." Otherwise, negotiations with North Korea would be impossible, and it would be likewise impossible to cover the North"s nuclear missile development with "some sort of cap."

2) To this end, the states concerned should abandon any appeasement policy for North Korea in the short term, and pursue the following measures: 1) the continuance of U.S. secondary sanctions against financial institutions in third countries; 2) coverage by B-2 strategic bombers of the airspace above the Osan air force base; 3) THAAD deployment at, among others, U.S. bases in South Korea, and 4) the strengthening of the security partnership between Japan, the United States, and South Korea including the recently concluded Japan-South Korea GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) .

3) Since it is quite difficult to use force against the nuclear-armed divided state (North Korea), we should instead learn from the flexible "containment" policy that George F Kennan propounded in the early Cold War period. "A long term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment" may be the most effective prescription for North Korea. The North will search gingerly for the possibility of negotiations, once they have become aware of the limit of their nuclear deterrence.

4) The states concerned including Japan should cling to the joint communique of the fourth six-party talks in September 2005. It is essential to advocate the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as the ultimate common goal. Otherwise, any international joint action by the states concerned including China and Russia would be impossible. Without such efforts, it would be likewise impossible to freeze North Korea"s nuclear weapons and intermediate and long-range missiles programs, and establish an international surveillance system.

5) North Korean demands the unification of the Korean Peninsula based on a federal system. If the two regimes could coexist peacefully in the Peninsula over a long period of time, there would be an increasing possibility of denuclearization of the Peninsula and a North-South unification. In the process of forging an effective diplomacy for North Korea, not only South Korea but the surrounding nations including Japan must formulate long-term diplomatic policies aiming at a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

6) The coming of the Trump administration and South Korean political crisis may help tide turn toward the resumption of the six-party talks and a North-South dialogue. The Japanese government should review the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, and then seek afresh for the possibility of "establishing fruitful political, economic, and cultural relations" with the North through overcoming "the unfortunate past" between the two countries"

1. Rapid development of North Korea"s nuclear missile strategy

In 2016 North Korea (The Democratic People"s Republic of Korea) has carried out its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range missile test ("satellite" launch) in February. Both were related to the Seventh Congress of Korean Workers" Party in May held after a long interval of 36 years. Since the purpose of the Congress was to establish the Kim Jong-un regime, it may be said that those tests were intended to declare the beginning of the North Korea"s new age at home and abroad. In other words, the North Korean leadership has been looking for the optimal timing for a nuclear test and a long-range missile test since they announced in October 30 last year that the said Congress would take place half a year away, or in early May this year. Furthermore, on December 10 last year, Chairman Kim Jong-un declared, "North Korea has now become a strong nuclear power capable of reverberating the huge explosion of a hydrogen bomb," thereby predicting those tests.

North Korea"s provocations did not stop after the Party Congress. As early as March 15, 2016, Kim Jong-un said North Korea would "conduct a nuclear warhead explosion test and a ballistic rocket test-firing at our early convenience," and continued supervising a solid fuel engine combustion test, as well as a ground-based ICBM engine firing test and an ICBM stage separation test. After the Congress, the prediction of Kim Jong-un came true as the test-firings of various missiles followed -- - Scud, Nodong, Musudan, and SLBM (submarine- launched ballistic missile). Besides, three Nodongs were fired consecutively on September 5, and the fifth nuclear test was ventured on September 9. On top of that, on September 20, North Korea reported the combustion test of a new type rocket engine to launch a stationary satellite, introducing Kim Jong-un"s directive to "finish preparations quickly for testing." Another long-range missile test may be conducted in a near future.

After five nuclear tests, the North Korea has acquired the technology to make a smaller, lighter nuclear device to mount on a missile. A concealed uranium enrichment program seems to have made possible the mass production of nuclear weapons, and some 50 nuclear bombs are estimated to accumulate by 2020. Moreover, missiles have been diversified, and the use of solid fuel has advanced. In brief, the nuclear missile development by North Korea has entered the final stage. Short-range nuclear-tipped missiles might have been already completed. In a speech on September 20 at the U.N. General Assembly, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho declared that his country would "continuingly abide by the policy of reinforcing its nuclear power in terms of both quality and quantity." This is a threat of unprecedented for Japan. Although North Korea has not yet succeeded in developing missiles able to reach the U.S. mainland, they could launch a flanking attack on the U.S. bases in South Korea with SLBMs.

North Korean authorities have so far repeatedly articulated that the targets of their missile strike are primarily the Blue House (the official residence of the South Korean president) and various administration agencies of South Korea, and secondly U.S. bases in the Asia- Pacific region and the U.S. mainland. "The U.S. bases in the Pacific region" include a number of bases in Japan such as Okinawa, Misawa, Yokosuka, and Sasebo, besides Osan, Pyeongtaek and Guam. Japan and South Korea now face almost the same level of threat. The U.S. and South Korean governments started discussion about the deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in South Korea, in defiance of China"s strong protest, and on July 8, agreed finally on its deployment in the course of the next year. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs vehemently reacted against the decision and issued a statement reading "it will seriously damage strategic security interests of countries in the region, including China, as well as the region"s strategic balance."

Interesting are reactions from the North Korea. They are content that their missile tests resulted in the promotion of THAAD deployment in South Korea, and exacerbated U.S. / ROK vs. China / Russia relations. In other words, they are convinced that the result has brought about strategic advantages to their own country. For example, "The Democratic Choson" (the cabinet publication) of July 21 carried a news commentary titled "The Relations of China-Russia and the United States to turn worse by THAAD deployment decision," stating that China and Russia denounce THAAD deployment in the South Choson (Korea) as "an insane military behavior which is to utterly destroy the regional strategic balance, and endanger peace and stability in the region." North Korea seems to calculate that, coupled with geopolitical confrontations in the East and South China Seas, Ukraine, and Syria, THAAD deployment for the U.S. Forces in Korea(USFK) may help mitigate denuclearization pressure from China and Russia.

photo rodon shimun

2. The divided states" regime competition -- - the source of threats

North Korea witnessed the end of the Cold War a quarter of century ago facing defeat in an economic development race with South Korea. With democratization and Seoul Olympics Games in the background, South Korean president No Tae-woo launched "a northern diplomacy," and established diplomatic relations with, first, the Eastern European countries, and then the Soviet Union and China, whereas North Korea failed in diplomatic normalization with Japan, and could not but join the United Nations along with South Korea. Although the North Korean regime was regarded as doomed, Kim Jong-il, successor to the supreme leader Chairman Kim Il-sung, achieved after the latter"s death "the Agreed Framework" with the Clinton administration, and agreed to the moratorium of nuclear activity. The agreement aimed at replacing North Korea"s graphite-moderated nuclear reactors with light water reactors in ten years, while making efforts to normalize U.S.-North Korea relation. After the establishment of the Bush administration, however, the nuclear agreement between the United States and North Korea collapsed, due to the implications of 9.11 terror attack. Named by Bush as part of "the Axis of Evil," North Korea changed its policy to push on with nuclear development, amidst the outbreak of the Iraqi War. In other words, the North Korean leader then had no alternative but to stake his own survival on nuclear missile development.

During approximately 20 years, General Secretary Kim Jong-il dominated as supreme leader, and North Korea continued the development of nuclear weapons and missiles at the expense of the people"s lives. The nuclear development of North Korea was certainly a survival strategy in this sense. 1) Safety of the top leader, 2) maintenance of the regime, 3) national security, and 4) ideological authenticity were, in this exact order, important to the incredulous Stalinist Kim Jong-il. For him, the means to achieve these purposes were nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The failures committed by Iraqi and Libyan leaders were nothing but "negative examples" from which he should learn lessons. But the nuclear missiles North Korea sought after were a unique deterrent and an asset for diplomatic negotiations rather than war potential. On the other hand, North Korea has been regarding the normalization of relations with major states as another goal of its survival strategy, as is shown by the histories of Japan-North Korea negotiations, U.S.-North Korea negotiations and six-party talks. At this moment, as of 2016, North Korea aims at the completion of nuclear missiles able to reach the U.S. mainland, and a peace agreement negotiations with the U.S. President-elect, Donald Trump.

The reason why North Korea"s nuclear armament is recognized as a serious threat for the neighboring nations including South Korea is that it is nuclear armament efforts undertaken by a divided state suffering political failures. The divided regimes in the Korean Peninsula are always unstable and accompanied by impulses for, among others, military unification, military provocations, low intensity conflicts, guerrilla struggles, and terrorism; such a situation as this is quite different from the nuclear armaments of big powers like the United States, Russia and China that are stably structured on mutual deterrence theories. There is no room of doubt about the legitimacy of the South Korean government; whilst the North Korean government likewise can trace its legitimacy back to the partisan struggle executed by Kim Il-sung in East Manchuria in the late 1930s and maintain the present regime by Stalinist means of information closure, enforced ideological education, and violent suppression. The North Korean political regime features "resilience" that the regime of East Germany lacked, and the nation"s founding myth does not preclude the possibility of military unification.

On the other hand, in contrast with North Korea"s continued efforts of nuclear armament, the surrounding nations" policies to prevent it were in-consistent and were not necessarily effective. Particularly the policy of the Bush administration was inconsistent. Its original policy of "Bluff" transformed to "Multilateralism" represented by the six-party talks. In September 2005, the member states of the six-party talks came up with a joint communique with which North Korea pledged denuclearization. However, soon after that, the United States embarked on financial sanctions against North Korea(Banco Delta Asia incident), alleging North Korea"s money laundering, and made the implementation of the joint communique impossible. Nevertheless, when North Korea carried out the first nuclear test in October 2006, the Bush administration, while adopting the first UN Security Council sanctions resolution targeted at North Korea, sat for a face-to- face talk with North Korea and not only withdrew financial sanctions but removed the name of North Korea from the list of terrorism-supporting states. Quite different is the policy of the eight-year long Obama administration which was consistent regarding "strategic patience." However, it was impossible for the administration to discourage North Korea"s strong will of nuclear development. North Korea conducted four nuclear test during President Obama"s tenure (so far). The Obama administration focused on the U.N. Security Council"s economic sanctions, but U.S. actions were capitalized on by North Korea to earn enough time for its nuclear missile development.

China participated in the Korean War to prevent the advance of the U.S. armed forces (the United Nations forces) in North Korea. After completion of the war, however, both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping supported "the voluntary and peaceful unification" of the Korean Peninsula, namely "unification through federal system." The six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsulas are conductive to China"s policy in this sense. Yet, it is "peace and stability" of the Korean Peninsulas that are of primary importance to China. Thus after North Korea"s fourth nuclear test (Jan.6). "Denuclearization" referred to in China"s Three Principles on the Korean Peninsula -- - 1) denuclearization, 2) peace and stability, 3) solution by talks and negotiations -- - should be understood as denuclearization for "peace and stability." Due to China"s negative attitude, the U.N. Security Council resolution (Resolution/ 2270) against the fourth nuclear test of North Korea was not adopted until March 2; and the sanctions resolution in response to North Korea"s fifth nuclear test on September 9 has not yet been adopted (as of November 15, 2016). China is cautious about the strengthening of the U.S.-South Korea security alliance such as the THAAD deployment, and is unlikely to agree to sanctions that may destabilize North Korea. Russia"s response is similar to China.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who is responsible for unifying U.S. intelligence agencies, frankly spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York recently (October 25): "the notion of getting North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause;" "that is their ticket to survival." Recollecting his Pyongyang visit in November 2014, he continued, "They are under siege and they are very paranoid;" "the best we could probably hope for is some sort of cap." The author endorses the observation of Clapper, and will further raise additional questions about the relationship between the North"s nuclear weapons development and the regime competition between two Koreas, for example: 1) Does North Korea think that they can maintain their regime by acquiring a rudimentary nuclear deterrent, and thereby freeze their nuclear program? (If so, there is possibility of negotiations); 2) Will North Korea continue to be satisfied with regime survival, or will they pursue more? (If so, this will mean possibility of the provocations), and 3) If and when it becomes difficult for North Korea to maintain its regime, will they tacitly accept the collapse of the regime? (This will mean the possibility of implosion). We must take into account these fundamental yet essential questions to formulate North Korea policies.

3. Six proposals -- - Policy for denuclearization

1) We should bear in mind that North Korea"s nuclear missile development issue will not find any short-term solution. The nuclear armament of North Korea has become almost an established fact, and it is up to us to decide whether we approve of it tacitly, or we should be prepared to conduct a generation-long efforts to denuclearize the country. If we choose the latter option, we must begin with making North Korea rectify their own overestimate of their nuclear missile capacity. Chairman Kim Jong-un must be compelled to clearly recognize "the unacceptable reality" that the North"s nuclear armament or long-range missiles development is no more than a quite rudimentary mode of nuclear deterrence, and with those alone, he could not change the present world or secure the survival of his state. Without these premises, negotiations with North Korea would not be realistic, and it would be likewise impossible to cover the North"s nuclear missile development with "some sort of cap."

2) To this end, we should abandon any appeasement policy for North Korea in the short term. Such a policy may not only help the North to overestimate its nuclear armament, but also induce the state to resort to military provocations at worst to check its deterrence effects. The current policies adopted by the states concerned after the fifth nuclear test can be judged as commendable measures: 1) the U.S. secondary sanctions against financial institutions in third countries; 2) demonstrating the extended deterrence capabilities(nuclear umbrella), including coverage by B-2 strategic bombers of the airspace above the Osan air force base; 3) THAAD deployment at U.S. bases in South Korea and the major U.S. bases in the Pacific, 4) the strengthening of the security partnership between Japan, the United States, and South Korea including the recently concluded Japan-South Korea GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement).

3) The policy objectives of Japan, the United States and South Korea are not to use force against the nuclear-armed divided state (North Korea) or to overthrow it by other means. Even in the best possible case, such a policy would give rise to a Romanian type civil war and invite a military intervention of China; and in the worst case, it could bring about a military conflict between the North and South; the intervention of the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea; the spread of turmoil to other regions, and even a nuclear war. At this moment of time, it is impossible to conduct surgical strikes and remove all nuclear facilities in North Korea. Rather we should learn from the flexible "containment" policy that George F. Kennan propounded in the early Cold War period in order to hamstring the North"s strong nuclear armament intention in the longer term. "A long term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment" is the best option as the basis of North Korea policy. North Korea is a poor small country, but not foolish. At a relatively early time, they will search gingerly for the possibility of negotiations, once they have become aware of the limits of their nuclear deterrence.

4) Japan, the United States and South Korea should stick to the joint communique of the fourth six-party talks in September 2005 where the member states agreed upon the reopening of the China-hosted six-party talks and the pursuance of North Korean denuclearization, even if North Korea insists the communique has already been nullified. Needless to say, North Korea is not expected to readily abandon nuclear weapons already in possession, but it is essential to advocate the abandonment as the final common goal of an international joint action, which is to be jointly endorsed by not only the three countries but also China and Russia. Without such efforts, it would be impossible to freeze North Korea"s nuclear weapons and intermediate and long-range missiles programs, and establish an international surveillance system." In particular, the role of China is quite important in relation with the next proposal (5). Furthermore, we should remember that the said joint communique contains agreement on normalization of the U.S.-North Korea and Japan-North Korea relations. Consequently, it is no wonder that the result of a new phase of negotiation may become similar to the U.S.-North Korea "Agreed Framework" created by the Clinton administration.

5) The North Korean leader will not accept complete denuclearization until he succeeds in rescuing his country out of international isolation and is convinced of the security of his self- being. He demands the unification of the Korean Peninsula based on a federal system --- "one nation, one state, two regimes, and two governments." As it is quite natural that the proposal suggests the creation of "one federal government," it is the North"s diplomatic "deceit" not to advocate it overtly. As long as North Korea remains a divided state, fated to continue the intense regime competition with the South, and suffers from international isolation and severe economic sanctions, the North Korean regime will not be guaranteed its survival. Although it may seem paradoxical, it is only when the two regimes can coexist peacefully in the longer term that there will be likelihood for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a Germany-type unification. If looking back humbly on the past, one of the causes for today"s situation of the Korean Peninsula is that the surrounding states failed to realize the Korean Peninsula détente after the end of the Cold War, or the cross- recognition of the two Koreas by the four interested powers -- - the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Japan. From today"s vantage point, truly regrettable were the setbacks in Japanese diplomacy in those days led by Kanemaru and Koizumi who attempted normalization between Japan and North Korea in 1990 and 2002, respectively. In the process of forging an effective diplomacy for North Korea, the surrounding nations including Japan must formulate long-term diplomatic policies aiming at a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

6) It is uncertain whether the upcoming Trump administration will continue the rebalance policy of the Obama administration. The new administration may adopt a policy to reduce its engagement in East Asia. On the other hand, it is certain that the scandal-ridden Park Geun-hye administration in South Korea will lose a unifying force, and the opposition party will forge an administration proactive toward talks with the North. At any rate, the tide will turn toward the resumption of the six-party talks and the North-South dialogue. To be ready for such a development of the situation, the Japanese government should first review the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, and then seek for the possibility of "establishing fruitful political, economic, and cultural relations" with the North through overcoming "the unfortunate past" between the two countries and endeavoring to solve "the pending issues" (abduction issue).