Tag Archives: North Korean nuclear program

Dangers, Stakes of North Korean Conflict Are Vast

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government takes a two-part look at the enormous dangerous and stakes in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

The stakes and dangers of the crisis in North Korea are significantly larger than has been discussed in the media so far. Those dangers are not restricted to North Korea’s direct actions.

The realities of the crisis are deeply worrisome.  Hopes that the United Nations could rein in Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons program have been dashed.

In April, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement which noted: “”The members of the Security Council expressed their utmost concern over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance of the Security Council by conducting this ballistic missile launch in violation of its international obligations.” The move was ignored by North Korea.

38 North noted in 2016: “The evolution of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs has created a new strategic reality. In that reality, the current sanctions approach cannot lead to the denuclearization of North Korea and may not do much more to slow it.”

Contrary to public statements, it is evident that neither China nor Russia have exerted the decisive pressure they are capable of against Kim Jong-un.

There is the generally unspoken, but clearly distressing fact that Beijing and Moscow both gain from North Korea’s belligerence. It distracts from China’s unlawful aggression in the South China sea, and from Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory and its increased threats toward Eastern Europe. Both of those nations have also embarked on massive weapons programs, which have been jettisoned from the headlines by North Korea’s actions.

The unfortunate but all too relevant fact is that China, (while potentially suffering from a significant influx of refugees if fighting were to break out on the Korean Peninsula, and would not welcome a potential South Korean-led reunited Korean nation if in fact a U.S. led military action (or coup) successfully took place) would make major geopolitical gains if North Korea initiated a major military strike against American, Japanese, or South Korean forces in the region. Even if a U.S. led retaliation proved ultimately successful, the wearing down of those allied forces, and the inevitable exhaustion of their civilian populations, would clearly allow Beijing to fulfill its goal of becoming the nearly undisputed regional hegemon.

In the past, Russia has objected to some U.N. Security Council resolutions. China, while supporting some measures, has done so only after insisting they be watered down, rendering them useless.

While there are no direct links between Russia and China with the North Korean nuclear-capable missile program, there are disturbing ties. In February, the National Interest stated that:

“President Trump …said the U.S. has “a big, big problem” with North Korea. In fact, America may have a big, big problem with China…he needs to know where the [North Korean missile] Pukguksong-2 came from…Last August, two leading analysts—Tal Inbar, of Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, and Bruce Bechtol, of Angelo State University in Texas—noted the missile tested then looked like it was modeled on China’s JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Richard Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, in comments to the National Interest, also points out the similarities between China’s and North Korea’s SLBMs, as sub-launched missiles are known.”

The analysts quoted by the National Interest note that there is no specific evidence that either the Kremlin or Beijing directly provided the technology. They maintain that other nations that were the recipients of Russian or Chinese tech, including Iran and Pakistan, could also have provided the transfer.

That potential increases worries that North Korea could, in return, provide its nuclear technology to those nations, and, particularly in the case of Iran, to terrorist forces they support.

Several factors have become readily apparent. Diplomatic solutions have proven ineffective. North Korea is rapidly nearing the ability to blackmail any nation it chooses to with its nuclear capabilities. Pyongyang may also enable other forces wishing to harm the United States and other western nations by providing them with the weapons of mass destruction to do so.

The Report concludes tomorrow.

China Must Take Responsibility for North Korea’s Nukes

There is a great deal of debate on how to respond to North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons and ICBM development.  The irrationality and belligerent attitude of the “Hermit Kingdoms’” leadership make the issue all the more urgent.

The Congressional newspaper The Hill reports that “Senators from both parties are pushing for stronger sanctions against North Korea after the country said it detonated a hydrogen bomb.”

The problem with almost all the proposed responses is that they are aimed at the wrong target, or at the very least, a target that is beyond reasoning with.

A glance at the history of arms control deals with Pyongyang indicates that the North Koreans will only use negotiations as a bargaining chip to gain concessions, then violate the terms of any agreement after getting what they want. China is the only nation with any real influence in the matter, and it has absolutely no intention of using its position to stop the weapons program.

The Arms Control Organization notes that  “For years, the United States and the international community have tried to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology…The United States has pursued a variety of policy responses to the proliferation challenges posed by North Korea, including military cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, wide-ranging sanctions, and non-proliferation mechanisms such as export controls.

“The United States also engaged in two major diplomatic initiatives in which North Korea [agreed] to abandon its nuclear weapons efforts in return for aid. In 1994, faced with North Korea’s announced intent to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear weapon states to forswear the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Under this agreement, Pyongyang committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid.

“Following the collapse of this agreement in 2002, North Korea claimed that it had withdrawn from the NPT in January 2003 and once again began operating its nuclear facilities.

“The second major diplomatic effort [was] the Six-Party Talks initiated in August of 2003 which involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. In between periods of stalemate and crisis, those talks arrived at critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon ‘all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs’ and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement. Those talks, however, broke down in 2009 following disagreements over verification and an internationally condemned North Korea rocket launch. Pyongyang has since stated that it would never return to the talks and is no longer bound by their agreements. The other five parties state that they remain committed to the talks, and have called for Pyongyang to recommit to its 2005 denuclearization pledge.”

Writing in Space Daily, Giles Hewitt reports that “There is room to increase pressure by imposing the sort of extensive economic sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme. But to be effective, these would impact Chinese companies and financial institutions that account for the lion’s share of North Korea’s overseas business. China is likely to balk at any such move and Washington would be wary of pushing Beijing at an already sensitive time for relations between the two powers.” [Hewitt declines to note that the Iran deal fails to forbid Tehran from eventually getting atomic weapons, and that Iran has already violated portions of the agreement]… China, meanwhile, is unlikely to back any moves that could genuinely destabilise the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, given its overriding fear of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border.

‘China, no matter how strong the language it uses in its criticism on the North, will not join any Security Council punishment that may have a real impact on the North’s regime,’ said South Korea’s former national Security Adviser, Chun Young-Woo.’And North Korea knows that,’ he added.”

Ben Dooley, also writing in Space Daily, believes “China is unlikely to take strong action in response to North Korea’s claimed test of a hydrogen bomb, according to experts who say Beijing prefers the devil it knows to the uncertainty that could follow a confrontation. And whether Pyongyang would even listen is highly questionable, they say… Beijing’s support for Pyongyang gives it particular influence over the hermit kingdom.

“But that is ever less true, experts say… ‘China’s influence on North Korea is becoming weaker and weaker, the main issue is that the North’s leadership do not listen, they are very stubborn’, said Zhu Feng, an expert on international relations. Pyongyang, he added, may believe it can ‘exploit’ its relationship with its main diplomatic protector while Beijing is distracted by tensions with other neighbours and the US in the South China Sea. Beijing — which regularly calls for calm on the Korean peninsula — has become increasingly frustrated with its neighbour’s antics, a feeling undoubtedly exacerbated by its fourth nuclear test.”

Government officials, arms control experts and many pundits are too eager to give a pass to China in their belief that Beijing has no influence.  The facts clearly say otherwise. China could literally bankrupt and starve North Korea with ease, and that gives Beijing enormous influence. Claims that the Chinese leadership fears a unified Korea are accurate, but if that is what keeps Beijing from urging the North from stopping its nuclear program, that could be addressed by using its enormous influence to threaten internal regime change within the North’s Communist Party.

North Korea’s nuclear program helps China. First, it detracts from Beijing’s own enormous strategic weapons development program. Second, it makes China a wanted partner in arms control negotiations in the region. The third reason is speculative, but must nevertheless be carefully considered. If Beijing eventually chooses to damage Japan, the Philippines, or even the United States, a nuclear attack that comes from North Korea would achieve that objective while giving Beijing a way of avoiding blame—and retaliation.

While diplomatic attempts to halt Pyongyang’s atomic program should continue, the US must also strengthen missile defenses for itself and its allies. Further, Washington should inform China that any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea against America or its allies will be construed as an act encouraged, supported, and aided by Beijing.