Two Versions Of Denuclearisation
Hira Bahadur Thapa
Despite euphoric beginning of talks between the US and North Korea last year, both sides are stuck to their own versions of denuclearisation. President Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim have displayed their desire to meet for the second time to advance the process of denuclearisation in Korea. Contrary to 2017, there is an environment of exchanging good wishes between these two leaders. President Trump has indicated that he is interested to meet Kim in the near future.
The two leaders’ willingness to hold second summit is positive although the results of Singapore meeting have been disappointing. Following that meeting in June 2018 president Trump announced that the nuclear threat has been eliminated. He was prompted to make this statement by his meeting with Kim as the latter had agreed to pursue denuclearisation in his country. The problem lies in how both sides perceive the issue of denuclearisation. To president Trump it is complete, irreversible, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. For North Korea it is not so. Kim Jong-un prefers gradual approach to denuclearisation. It is a long process depending on how quickly the other side reciprocates to North Korea.
Though in the immediate aftermath of Singapore meeting, the world witnessed an environment of fruitful negotiations leading to concrete progress on the issues of Korean peace and denuclearisation, there is hardly any positive outcome so far. A few rounds of high-level talks were held in Pyongyang to devise means to facilitate dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. One may recall that North Korea had won some applaud when it invited the journalists to watch the events of dismantling the facilities at Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and key missile facility in 2018. The US side has not given much importance to this as it believes that such action can be reversed in a short period of time. Of late, it has started accusing North Korea of enrichment of nuclear fissile materials and resumption of nuclear weapons production, reversing its position.
This is symptomatic of increasing loss of confidence in the commitment of North Korea to abandon the nuclear weapons. However, president Trump’s response to Kim Jong-un’s January first speech raises some hope as reflected in his commitment to engage with North Korea diplomatically. Against such background one has to ponder over the indirect warning contained in the speech, which Kim uses to signal that he may be forced to take a new “path” if negotiations get stalled and sanctions campaign is on. His indication of taking other steps in case the sanctions are not reduced should be considered serious as he has pressured the other party to listen to his country’s demands in the past. Kim has been notoriously conducting nuclear tests whenever he deemed necessary to embolden his negotiating position.
Last year we saw some reciprocal initiatives from the two sides beginning with US postponement of its joint military exercise with North Korea. Then North Korea demonstrated its desire to cooperate by dismantling Punggye-ri nuclear testing site. Moreover, North Korea has suspended any new missile and nuclear test for the last 13 months, which is certainly its good gesture. From the perspectives of North Korea’s push for its economic development, which is a legitimate concern, it has faced injustice as no respite has been given by reducing sanctions that have crippled its already dilapidated economy. In slamming the sanctions campaign the position of North Korea is right as it is committed to abandon the nuclear weapons.
In this regard the words of an expert on North Korea, Vipin Narang of Massachusetts Institute of Technology are worth-recalling (Reuters). He has said, “Kim’s message was “we have done what we said we would do at Singapore, but the US has done very little in return”. Similarly, Harry Kazian of Washington-based Centre for National Interests has noted optimistically that despite an implicit warning in the New Year’s message Kim is unlikely to go for another nuclear test in the foreseeable future. His analyses point that Kim is trying to shift focus from broad denuclearisation as viewed by Washington to action-for-action commitment.
The South Korean Unification ministry has noticed positive elements of Kim’s message and has expressed the view that North Korea is still showing clear resolve to abandon the nuclear weapons. One possible scenario of making progress in denuclearisation in the opinion of professor Kim Jong-hyun of Hondong Global University is North Korea’s dismantling of Yongbyon nuclear complex. According to him North Korea offered this concession in return for eased sanctions at an Inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September.
One of the most reasonable demands of North Korea is a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, the wounds of which deserve to be healed and for this it backs multilateral talks. It wants China and other countries besides the US to be involved in such talks. China’s role in persuading North Korea to denuclearise remains vital considering its leverage over the latter. Furthermore, China’s sensitivity to its strategic future in case denuclearisation succeeds and Korean unification is materialised, also deserves careful consideration. Against this backdrop Kim’s recent meeting with president Xi carries added significance as he has been consulting with his benefactor whenever North Korea and the US prepare for talks.
That’s why a former US Treasury Secretary James E. Rubin has observed that Sino-US cooperation is also needed to address the spread or possible use of nuclear weapons. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is the case in point. He criticises North Korea’s continued development of fissile materials after Trump-Kim summit.
The issue of denuclearisation in North Korea is intrinsically linked to peace in the Korean peninsula and Kim’s emphasis on multilateral forum to discuss about a possible treaty to end the Korean War is justified. Its demand for sanction relief is logical. Both the US and North Korea should narrow down their differences on their approach to denuclearisation in Korea for international peace and security. To believe that Kim will denuclearise without being incentivised is just impracticable.