Giving Diplomacy a Chance

Nyamosor Tuya
October 7, 2016

Former Foreign Minister Nyamosor Tuya explains how a country that is not a member of the Six Party Talks can facilitate trust building as a necessary prelude to dialogue and diplomatic engagement with North Korea.

The latest nuclear test by North Korea conducted days after it fired three rounds of ballistic missiles, and preceded by the launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine earlier this year have shown, yet again, that the sanctions introduced by the UN Security Council against the DPRK are not succeeding in persuading the country to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile program. In fact, it appears that North Korea is accelerating its program, growing its nuclear arsenal, and pursuing a capability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile. 

In the face of these dangerous developments the international community should work – and urgently - on an agenda for action that, beyond such tools as pressure at the Security Council, tightening rounds of sanctions, and deterrent displays of military might, includes efforts to address the issue through political means - that is, through diplomacy. Without a strategy that complements sanctions with some form of dialogue involving all parties concerned and addressing their security preoccupations, the stated goals of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and the broader goals of non-proliferation in the region may well lose out to the forces of mutual mistrust that, increasingly, characterize major power relations in the region. 

There is no avoiding the fact that the growing mutual wariness among major players in the region about each other’s intentions and current and future capabilities, as well as the ongoing military modernization programs have now come to define the region’s underlying geopolitical context. An onset of a dangerous action-reaction dynamics driven by zero-sum logic is the last thing the region needs at a time when cooperation of all parties is needed to tackle the North Korean nuclear problem and reduce regional tensions. 

Amid a growing sense that now is the time to act in order to put a brake on North Korea’s nuclear ambition, diplomatic engagement of North Korea and return to the negotiating table should become an integral element of policies aimed to achieve this common objective. One could submit that a six-party format of negotiations where all participants in the previous Six-Party Talks come back together could, and should, be resuscitated to start discussing what realistically appears to be the most feasible first step towards denuclearization - the freezing of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs. Other agenda items could be added upon agreement.

In the meantime, deep mistrust has hampered dialogue while refusal to talk only deepens mistrust. Engagement of North Korea on a range of less controversial, non-nuclear issues, including by third parties, that is by non-Six-Party-Talks countries, such as Mongolia, can be a valuable contribution to building a modicum of trust that can help produce acceptable compromises. 

Take, for instance, Mongolia. Mongolia and North Korea, despite the differences in our respective political and economic systems and in our world outlooks, maintain pragmatic and stable relations. The latter withstood the end of communism in Mongolia in 1990 and North Korea’s continued isolation. The existing channels of communication with North Korea make it possible for Mongolia to initiate or host what is called Track 2, or informal, activities on issues ranging from regional economic or environmental cooperation to non-traditional security issues. By keeping interaction alive, such gatherings can contribute to building better mutual understanding among parties. Mongolia’s experience of peaceful and successful transition from a closed society to one that has opened itself up to the outside world can also be of value. 

A Mongolian initiative called Ulaanbaatar Dialogue aims precisely to encourage such interaction. In the past couple of years it has sponsored mayoral forums, a conference on energy connectivity in the region, discussions on regional security outlooks and a youth symposium. These are the small steps that Mongolia is undertaking to contribute to developing dialogue and cooperation in the Northeast Asian region. But, as things stand, it is the major interested parties, namely the parties to the Six-Party Talks, who should jointly lead the way on renewing negotiations and pushing for diplomacy so the nuclear situation in North Korea does not deteriorate and regional peace and stability is not undermined.

Nyamosor Tuya is a former Foreign Minister of Mongolia, a Member of the Mongolia Institute for Strategic Studies, and a member of Mongolia's Permanent Mission to the UN.

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