Denuclearizing North Korea - Agenda for Action
Event Reports

Denuclearizing North Korea - Agenda for Action

*To read the full report, please download the pdf file on the left.

Faced with continued DPRK defiance on nuclear weapons and missile provocations, the international community seems at a loss to know what to do next. Most likely Security Council condemnations and sanctions will continue to be applied, but with no appreciable impact. The Six-Party Talks have stalled seemingly indefinitely. Is there scope for better and more directed sanctions and other pressures from neighbours? And might it be time to try again with carrots (after the disastrous failure of KEDO)? Might there be room for track-2 diplomacy?



Moon Chung-in (Co-convener, APLN / Editor-in-chief, Global Asia)


Nyamosur Tuya (former Foreign Minister of Mongolia)

Pan Zhenqiang (Senior Advisor, China Reform Forum / (retired) Major General)

Peter Hayes (Founder & Director, Nautilus Institute for Security & Sustainability)

Yong-soo Hwang (Senior researcher, NCNCP, ROK)

*All presenters and moderator are APLN members.

-How should we handle the North Korean issue?

HWANG: There should be a creative solution. While Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) has failed, many lessons were learned.

HAYES: Kim Jung Un is preparing for change in DPRK. He outlined his vision for the next few decades based on youth power, or generational shift, in his New Year’s speech. His repeated use of the words ‘youth power’ signals that he is going through internal change in DPRK. It would be a turn for the worse if DPRK strengthens its nuclear power in the context of change. DPRK should be presented with a viable option to lose nuclear weapons. One possibility is a nuclear weapons free zone in Northeast Asia.

PAN: As each country has a different threat perception, it is too difficult to find a solution that all countries could agree upon. Meanwhile, DPRK is updating its capabilities. As such, we should try to search for a method that combines our common goal. For China, two things are important. First, as denuclearization for DPRK is an issue concerning all surrounding countries, there is an obligation to make an environment that enables DPRK to feel comfortable abandoning its nuclear capabilities. Second, a dual approach should be tried. Sanctions are necessary, but they should serve as a window to open up a new opportunity for peace. It should not be a tool to crash the regime. Negotiations based on mutual respect and trust will give solutions. New creative ideas for this issue are unnecessary.

NYAMOSOR: There were two failures regarding DPRK’s nuclear issue. First was the failure for DPRK to abandon nuclear weapons. The second involved failure for mutual compromise that could have been acceptable. More diplomacy is the key – sanctions have not worked and they may continue to do so in the future. The Iran deal took much time and effort to solve. Likewise, we need more time and effort to solve the issue of DPRK. In that context, Mongolia has been trying to provide setting for dialogue for DPRK through channels such as the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue.

-Will sanctions be effective in changing the behavior of DPRK?

PAN: There is always a dilemma regarding implementation of sanctions. Sanctions should be meaningful if they are to be implemented. It should damage DPRK and make it feel that continuing to pursue nuclear weapons will hurt its rule over the population. On the other hand, sanctions should not hurt the people. China does not want regime collapse. Sanctions should be proportionate to the problems that are faced. It should not lead to destabilization of the Korean Peninsula.

MOON: The South Korean government believes that sanctions are working. Now the American government is concurring with that opinion.

HWANG: Sanctions worked for the Iranian case. However, there are many technical and political problems for the North Korean case. It emphasizes the importance of peace talks among all concerned parties. There should be a creative package that will stabilize the region.

MOON: The South Korean government thinks that there should be more damage forced to the North Korean regime. It believes that the North Korean government will come back for a more acceptable deal then.

HAYES: That will not work because DPRK has already been through famine and worse situations. Also, states do not want regime collapse because the cost is too high. In fact, current sanctions on DPRK are not exceedingly strong. Sanctions regarding financial markets would be a strategic strangulation of a regime.

NYAMOSOR: A regime collapse would not be welcomed by China. China will not be cooperative.

-What do you think about the argument that the regime is collapsing right now? Or will they even collapse later?

PAN: It is difficult to understand the sudden enthusiasm of the South Korean government regarding sanctions. ROK should not want regime collapse as well as it is counter-productive. Sanctions should only be used to express the firm attitude that the parties will not back off.

HAYES: The actual definition of regime collapse is the absence of the Kim family. It may be possible to achieve that by stopping all supply of oil, including Kerosene. However, there will be chaos and military action. In the end, neighboring countries will have another family to contend with. A military alliance is not effective. There is not enough intelligence on North Korea.

MOON: There are many interpretations of regime collapse – change of government, policy, leader, system, or the collapse of DPRK as sovereign state. But the last one is not doable. As such, we should freeze, roll back, and then have negotiations to solve problems. While this incremental approach is not wanted by the U.S., DPRK will not throw away its nuclear weapons overnight.

PAN: This issue should not be approached from a worst case scenario. ROK should not follow the position of the U.S. ROK is playing into DPRK’s hands when it is much stronger than DPRK. China is burdened with the current leadership role. ROK should pursue leadership and its own independent policy. The sunshine policy’s intention was laudable.

-What feasibility is there in a solution through dialogue?

NYAMOSOR: There were hopes that Japan, DPRK, and ROK could come to Mongolia to talk about abandoning nuclear power. Other states would provide nuclear weapon protection. However, this is challenging. There is geopolitical tension as each country faces a different situation.

MON: Suspension of ROK and the U.S. joint military exercise may make DPRK listen. However, the two countries refuse to give up on this option. As joint military exercise is easier to give up than others, I do not understand the failure to pursue this option. We need to declare that joint exercise will be suspended next year, and see what DPRK offers in turn. However, such a direction would be challenging given President Park’s lack of trust towards DPRK and her strong commitment to the ROK-US alliance. The U.S. also does not trust DPRK. Also, the pre-condition of the South Korean government for dialogue with DPRK is very vague. It only repeats that it wants proof of authentic intention.

HAYES: Cancelling a joint military exercise would not be an effective method as the option has already been tried and failed before. General nuclear management rather than just that of DPRK is needed. This should be addressed at leadership level, not at bureaucratic level. The negotiation method should be flexible: that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Then it may be possible to have a deal that encompasses the whole range of nuclear threat from DPRK, from nuclear states to non-nuclear states, and nuclear states to other nuclear states. DPRK leadership should be legitimized. Otherwise the regime will respond appropriately. For the pre-condition of the U.S. government for dialogue with DPRK, a statement containing information such as a new uranium facility and its location would fulfill those criteria.

HWANG: Letting DPRK have nuclear power on the condition of international verification is very difficult. As DPRK has been developing its program for many years, they may not have information even among themselves. Verification process needs strict procedures, so it could incite difficulties among the U.S., ROK, and DPRK. There should be new ideas for managing nuclear energy of DPRK. There should be a negotiation between IAEA and DPRK to implement technical solutions for managing processing plants.

HAYES: The Non-Proliferation Treaty recognizes nuclear weapon free zone as very valuable mechanism. DPRK should undergo the usual inspection process in addition to a regional inspector. ROK and Japan should have their own inspector rights. The verification process should be more extensive because the international community has to gauge the real intensions of the DPRK.


Image: APLN/Pixabay stock.