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It might be best to learn to live with a nuclear North Korea

Can the world live with a nuclear North Korea?, BBC, 30 August 2017,  This is, by any standards, the most provocative of North Korea’s recent missile tests.

Launching a rocket over Japanese territory – with at least the possibility that it could break up and deposit debris on Japanese soil – shows that Pyongyang is intent on maintaining its brinkmanship – this was only the third missile test to over-fly Japan within the past two decades. However, this may perhaps be brinkmanship only to a point.

It is noteworthy that North Korea did not make good on its threat to direct a missile towards the US Pacific territory of Guam – something that might well have precipitated a US military response.

But equally clearly it shows that the Trump administration’s assertions earlier this month – after a round of escalating threats between Washington and Pyongyang – that the North Korean regime was now pausing for thought, were premature.

So here we are again, facing the question of what to do about North Korea as it moves rapidly forward with its linked ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Or, to put the question another way, if these programmes cannot be stopped, and Pyongyang eventually gets the ability to target the continental USA with a nuclear-armed missile, can the US and the world live with a nuclear-armed North Korea?

There are five declared nuclear weapons states: Britain, France, the US, China and Russia.

They mostly developed their nuclear weapons arsenals in the aftermath of World War Two, which had seen a frightening demonstration of the power of “the Bomb” with its use by the Americans against two Japanese cities. China was a relative latecomer to the nuclear “club”, joining in the mid-1960s.

Since then, efforts to prevent the spread or proliferation of nuclear weapons have been remarkably successful. The Non-Proliferation Treaty – which entered into force in 1970 – made the clear distinction between the declared nuclear weapons states and everyone else.

The deal was that the declared nuclear states would seek to cut – and eventually eliminate – their arsenals, while the rest would get the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology by agreeing never to seek nuclear weapons.

Either through the Non-Proliferation Treaty, by military threat – as in the case of Iraq and Libya – or by additional agreements – such as the understanding with Iran – very few countries have sought to develop nuclear arsenals.

Some, who had relatively advanced weapons programmes, like South Africa, abandoned them altogether.

Three countries who never signed up to the NPT deal did develop nuclear weapons arsenals: Israel, India and Pakistan.

But, while their programmes remain for some controversial, they are only seen as a threat in a regional context, though Pakistan’s nuclear security and its proliferation activities in the past have rung alarm bells more widely.

So what would it mean if North Korea joined this trio?

Indeed, for practical purposes, it already is a nuclear-armed state. It is its capacity to strike US cities that is still in doubt………

  • A clear diplomatic pathway

Diplomacy under the Trump administration has got a bad rap. Look at his opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran.

But just imagine if there was a similar deal in place with Pyongyang. That is not really a feasible proposition but the point remains that in a substantially deteriorating situation even an agreement that slows or delays North Korea’s progress might be better than nothing.

Former US diplomats have cautioned that past diplomatic engagement with “the hermit kingdom” is often unfairly written off.

True, the deal that froze North Korea’s nuclear activities in the mid-1990s eventually collapsed. But Pyongyang’s nuclear progress was frozen for several years. Another agreement in 2000, freezing North Korea’s long-range missile programme, similarly collapsed.

But the key takeaway here is that the record shows it was US actions as much as North Korea’s that ended these deals.

The North Korean regime, many analysts argue, is not quite as crazy as it seems. There is a logic behind its behaviour and there are things that it wants. A peace deal on the Korean peninsula; economic development; a commitment by the US not to seek regime change; these are all the potential currency for diplomatic exchanges in the future.

This, as ever, is a problem with few good alternatives on offer. The goal needs to be to avoid the very worst outcomes and to favour the least bad. Diplomacy, coercion, sanctions, deterrence, all have a part to play.

The question remains whether this US administration is capable of rising to the challenge and whether the North Korean regime is prepared genuinely to bargain if it were to receive tangible gains.


August 30, 2017 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international

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