Could a preemptive strike to North Korea be a
viable option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear crisis?
No, because it would not necessarily achieve the desired military and
political objectives. Destroying North Korea’s nuclear assets (nuclear
facilities, materials, and warheads) that are concealed in various places, as
well as its mobile missile-launching sites, will not be easy. Given the heavily
fortified command-and-control system, targeting and decapitating the country’s
political leadership will be virtually impossible. Meanwhile, North Korea’s
massive retaliatory capabilities and subsequent escalation of military conflict
would entail grave human casualties in the south.
Removing the North Korean leader will also be extremely difficult, and
even if he is removed, another dictator is likely to take over. The same can be
said of regime change. The collapse of the Kim Jong Un regime does not
necessarily mean the end of DPRK as a sovereign state. The military or
military-party collective leadership can easily replace the Kim regime, and the
would-be new leadership is likely to reveal the same behavior. Mass uprising
could bring about an abrupt end to the regime, but at present seems very
Have sanctions against North Korea been effective?
Despite the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, North
Korea shows no signs of compliance. On the contrary, its behavior has become
more defiant, conducting a fifth nuclear test and additional missile tests. Since
North Korea is still a closed society and very much accustomed to sanctions, an
Iranian model of comprehensive sanctions would not work effectively.
Given that over 90% of North Korea’s trade is with China, international
sanctions cannot be effective without Beijing’s full cooperation. China has
been complying with measures mandated by UN Security Council resolutions but
would not want to go ahead with any sanctions that would undermine stability in
the North and lead to regime collapse. At the same time, Beijing is unlikely to
comply with a secondary boycott which U.S. Congress is currently discussing.
Will the US THAAD missile defense shield help slow
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development? What have been the reactions to
THAAD in South Korea?
THAAD will not help slow
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. It is a defensive system without
any deterrence or offensive defense functions. It cannot compel the North to
change its behavior. On the contrary, its deployment will make the North more
provocative and seek ways to avoid or defy it more actively than ever.
South Korea has been divided over the issue of THAAD. A poll from late
December showed 61 percent of South Korean respondents either opposing its
deployment or preferring to delay deployment until the new government is
Conservative forces led by the ruling Saenuri Party have argued that
the THAAD deployment is the right decision. They regard it is an unavoidable
self-defense measure to cope with nuclear and missile threats from North Korea
and a concrete sign of the U.S. alliance commitment. Meanwhile, liberal and progressive
forces led by opposition parties have taken a much tougher stance calling for
the immediate relinquishment of the decision. This faction argues that THAAD
has limited military utility and believes its deployment will not only harm
relations with China, South Korea’s vital economic partner, but also pit China
and Russia against South Korea while strengthening their ties with North Korea.
Opposition groups see the deployment of THAAD as a prelude to Seoul’s joining a
U.S.-led theater missile defense system, which could in turn revive a new Cold
War structure in Northeast Asia. Given such formidable domestic political
opposition, the scheduled THAAD deployment might not be smooth.
What is China’s approach to dealing with North
China is an important player in the North Korean endgame not only
because it is a legal party to the Korean armistice agreement, but also because
Pyongyang depends heavily on Beijing in the economic and even security domain.
Beijing’s behavior will be guided by its three core objectives on the Korean
peninsula: peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, denuclearization of the
Korean peninsula, and resolution of pending issues through dialogue and
negotiation. China will play a proactive and cooperative role when and if those
three objectives are satisfied. But Beijing will be extremely defiant over
American moves to precipitate escalation of military conflict or to undermine
stability by fostering regime collapse in the North.
If the United States were to suspend its opposition
to a nuclear Japan or South Korea would this enhance security for these
countries and the region?
No, such suspension would further complicate the security dilemma in
Northeast Asia by not only precipitating a nuclear domino syndrome, but also
deepening strategic distrust among countries in the region. Moreover, South
Korea, Japan, and Taiwan will find an easy excuse to develop nuclear weapons if
the U.S. lifts its opposition. They have
technology and capital to do so.
A growing number of analysts in South Korea argue that Seoul should
develop an indigenous nuclear arms program to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear
threat and urge the government to go nuclear if the United States does not
redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. But as soon as South
Korea declares its intention to pursue this course it will face strong
headwinds. The nation’s nuclear power industry would be ruined, as would the
country’s traditional alliance with the United States. The South Korean economy
would risk being dealt international sanctions that could send it into a
tailspin. Moreover, South Korea going nuclear could be a tipping point that
leads other countries in Northeast Asia, namely Japan, to develop their own
Would the U.S. benefit from a nuclear armed Japan
or South Korea?
A nuclear armed Northeast Asia will not benefit the United States.
Judged on the overall public sentiments in Washington, D.C., it will be extremely
difficult for the U.S. to maintain alliances with a nuclear Japan and/or South
Korea. Such a development will likely lead to a loss of American allies in the
region. More importantly, the U.S. will lose its ‘hegemonic’ influence over the
region. Japan and South Korea armed with nuclear weapons are not likely to
comply with American demands. They would comply only when extended deterrence
and American provision of nuclear umbrella remain valid and operational.
How could a diplomatic approach to North Korea be
First, the diplomatic approach must be practical and realistic. Goals
for negotiations must be adjusted to changing circumstances. We must face the
reality that we cannot make North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear
weapons and facilities in the short term. Instead, we should seek a moratorium
on its nuclear program to prevent further production of nuclear materials.
Pyongyang repeatedly said it would cease nuclear activities if terms were met.
In this regard, Siegfried Hecker’s step-by-step approach of “freeze, roll-back,
and verifiably dismantle” might provide us with a viable exit strategy.
Practical ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear conundrum might be found in
existing agreements that emerged from the six-party talks.
Second, frankness, two-way understanding, and trust-building should be
the basic guiding principles of a diplomatic approach. We must speak our minds
and also hear out Pyongyang in order to find mutually acceptable solutions.
Being deaf to the North and insisting on unilateral preconditions won’t lead us
to an exit. Portraying the North as an untrustworthy rogue state will only
reinforce the perception that relations are asymmetrical, hindering meaningful
dialogue and negotiation.
Third, flexible negotiations should be another guideline. We must put
all possible cards on the table, including a temporary halt to joint South
Korea–U.S. military drills, replacement of armistice with a peace treaty,
allowance of North Korea’s peaceful use of atomic energy and space/satellite
program, and normalization of diplomatic relations between North Korea and the
United States. We must not exclude these options just because they are being
demanded by Pyongyang. While addressing issues through dialogue, we could probe
Pyongyang’s intentions and demand responsibility for any breach of faith.
Finally, a mechanism for dialogue should be restored. In this regard,
the six-party talks are still the best venue for negotiation. Concerned parties
can have bilateral, trilateral, four-party, and five-party talks within the six-party
framework. In addition, the September 19 joint statement is still the best
diplomatic document for denuclearizing North Korea. Deliberating on alternative
mechanisms for dialogue and negotiation will be time-consuming.