Prospects for Preventing Nuclear Proliferation
Bush and the Bomb: Undermining Non-Proliferation
Natalie J. Goldring
Navigating the Second Nuclear Age: Proliferation and Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century
C. Dale Walton
A Cloak for Proliferators? The Suspicions that Impede a Nuclear Weapons Convention
Understanding and Stopping Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism
Charles D. Ferguson and Joel O. Lubenau
Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction: How to Prevent the Deadly Nexus
Iran and the West: The Path to Nuclear Deadlock
Seyyed Hossein Mousavian
Rhetoric for War: First Iraq, Then Iran?
The Korean Conundrum: A Regional Answer to the Nuclear Crisis
Wade L. Huntley
Israel’s Open Secret: Time to Confront the Taboo
Nuclear Favouritism: Bush, India, and Pakistan
Raju G. C. Thomas
Britain’s Trusty Trident? Neither Independent nor a Deterrent
A. Q. Khan’s Nuclear Hubris
Proliferation: A Global Survey
Middle Eastern Women and the Struggle for a Public Voice
Valentine M. Moghadam
Imperialism and Globalism
Volume 8 ● Number 1–2 ● Winter/Spring 2006—Nuclear Perils
The Korean Conundrum: A Regional Answer to the Nuclear Crisis
Only through a comprehensive negotiated settlement can the Korean Peninsula be kept non-nuclear peacefully. The 19 September 2005 agreement emerging from the fourth round of the “six-party talks” on the North Korean nuclear issue was a hopeful step in this direction. But the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the agreement saw a sequence of national statements dampening this hope, and the six-party talks involving the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia have now stalled again.
This article first reviews the recent evolution and current status of the North Korean nuclear crisis. It next focuses on the impact this crisis is having, and will continue to have, on the vitality of the NPT regime. The article then considers the terms, meaning and implications of the 19 September agreement. It concludes that the agreement served as much to highlight obstacles as to promote progress, and that a lasting resolution will require bolder action to institute a regional security co-operation that addresses tensions beyond those generated by North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.
Evolution of a Crisis
North Korea’s nuclear programme has been problematic since the country first joined the NPT in 1985. By the time it reached a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1992, it was already suspected of having extracted enough plutonium from its research reactor at Yongbyon to produce one or two nuclear weapons. Rising confrontation over the inability of the IAEA to verify North Korea’s non-nuclear status was resolved only by direct US intervention, culminating in the 1994 United States–North Korea Agreed Framework, which froze North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear-power programme.
From 1994, the Agreed Framework did successfully freeze North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear programme, but it never succeeded in resolving the discrepancies of past North Korean activities or in removing known spent fuel from the country as ultimately intended. These shortcomings loomed when, in October 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with charges that it was undertaking a second, uranium-based, nuclear programme. Escalating iterated reactions led eventually to North Korea ending co-operation with IAEA safeguards, commencing the reprocessing of plutonium stored at the Yongbyon site, and withdrawing from the NPT, marking the collapse of the Agreed Framework.
By early 2005, just months before the 2005 NPT review conference, North Korea for the first time stated explicitly that it possessed nuclear weapons. In April 2005, North Korea shut down the research reactor at Yongbyon—which it had restarted when the Agreed Framework collapsed at the end of 2002—suggesting that it is preparing to collect a new supply of spent fuel to reprocess into additional weapons-grade plutonium. The six-party talks had appeared to be going nowhere until the fourth round—convened in August 2005 after a year’s suspension—produced the 19 September agreement. Should this process collapse entirely, the United States and its regional allies will probably focus on more aggressive non-military options, including potential action by the United Nations Security Council.
The New Status Quo
The disintegration of the Agreed Framework in 2002 is a critical watershed. Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were largely contained. The worrisome spent-fuel stockpiles, while still in the country, were under IAEA safeguards, and the Yongbyon research reactor was shut down. By most public accounts, the suspected uranium-based programme was (and remains) not nearly as close to producing usable fissile material as Yongbyon.
Since 2003, there have existed no direct restraints on North Korea’s plutonium-based programme. By withdrawing from the Agreed Framework and the NPT essentially without meaningful sanction, North Korea has successfully moved the “line in the sand” considerably in its favour. Today, North Korea is probably pushing its programmes as hard as it can, with manufacture of a nuclear explosive device probably within its technical competence. The rates of expansion of its fissile material stocks and progress on other enabling technologies are more open questions.
Beyond technological limitations, the only meaningful restraint on North Korea’s nuclear programme is China. Beijing holds several coercive instruments, if it chooses to wield them. But there are limits to North Korea’s sensitivity to Chinese coercion, and limits as well to China’s willingness to utilise the tools it does have on behalf of the US priority to deny North Korea a nuclear explosive, when Beijing’s own priority probably is to prevent the country itself from exploding.
Basing Policy Correctly
For over a decade, the central question bedevilling many policymakers has been whether North Korea is prepared to reach an agreement entailing surrender of its nuclear capability. Advocates of engagement tend to answer “yes”: North Korean belligerence is mainly manoeuvring for bargaining position. Advocates of confrontation usually answer “no”: North Korean accommodation is merely a tactic to assuage neighbours and buy time.
But this is the wrong question, because the regime’s internal motivations are essentially unknowable. It may actually be the case (as is true of any government facing a complex decision) that North Korea’s leadership has not made up its mind, and won’t until a choice is at hand. Hence, assumptions of any specificity concerning motivations in Pyongyang are a poor basis for other countries’ crucial policy decisions. Instead, policy should be premised on shaping the international environmental conditions within which North Korea must promulgate its own actions. Engagement (or confrontation for that matter) should be supported not because of the expectation that North Korea will respond predictably, but on the basis of a strategy aimed at producing the best (or least worst) outcome regardless of Pyongyang’s disposition.
In addition, policy must reckon with the fundamentally shifted status quo. Now that North Korea has had time to disperse reprocessed plutonium to hidden locations throughout the country, use of force is less feasible than ever. But a 1990s-style engagement of North Korea is no longer enough. North Korea’s strengthened position will make a new deal harder to reach. Achieving a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula now requires rolling back an existing capacity, and many prior strategies to curtail North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development are not up to this qualitatively more difficult task. Even if Pyongyang wants an accord, the advancement of its programme will make verification of its compliance much more difficult—and consequently reaching an accord harder as well.
The international community should rigorously pursue rolling back North Korea’s nuclear-weapons capacities, but also take measures to prevent their development from fuelling nuclear proliferation elsewhere. Both these goals point to building better co-operation among key interested parties and to enhancing mechanisms of regional security co-operation and global non-proliferation compliance. A fully comprehensive overture must both genuinely aim at achieving a broad negotiated solution and substantively bolster regional security co-operation to mitigate the impact if a negotiated solution is not forthcoming.
The Bush administration has instead, until very recently, exhibited rigidity and paralysis, basing its North Korea policy on simple assumptions about the regime’s character: confrontation will impede “bad behaviour.” As those assumptions have proven specious, its North Korea policy has floundered.
The importance of generating policy on the basis of prospective outcomes rather than assumptions about the Pyongyang regime brings the issue of North Korea’s impact on the NPT squarely to the fore.
North Korea and the NPT
North Korea’s ongoing NPT non-compliance has shown the limits, technical and political, of the NPT regime’s existing verification and compliance mechanisms. At the same time, a political accommodation absolving past NPT non-compliance in order to induce North Korea to come back into compliance with NPT obligations as a non-nuclear state would also serve to undermine those mechanisms: letting North Korea off the hook may encourage other NPT states to flout their similar obligations. Thus, there is a potential tension between, on the one hand, resolving North Korea’s nuclear challenges through a political “grand bargain” and, on the other hand, preserving and strengthening the credibility of the NPT regime by refusing to treat North Korea as an “exceptional” case.
But this tension over the problem of North Korean “exceptionalism” should be reckoned in its broadest context. North Korea’s proliferation activities threaten the wider regime of norms and expectations surrounding the NPT, a regime which has become as important to global arms control and non-proliferation as the treaty itself. In this broader context, there are three areas of consequence regarding North Korea’s nuclear-weapons ambitions: deleterious regional responses, proliferation of nuclear materials and expertise, and the corrosive impact on the NPT itself.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions already fuel regional dangers and uncertainties. A steadily (if slowly) growing arsenal of nuclear weapons in North Korea would aggravate tensions and uncertainties in East Asia, in some cases potentially past breaking point. If North Korea’s actions trigger a nuclear proliferation domino effect in East Asia, the viability of the NPT regime would be shaken to its foundations.
An immediate concern is that North Korea’s ambitions would spur Japan to obtain nuclear weapons of its own. Japan has a peaceful nuclear-power programme that generates enriched plutonium, a space-launch capacity sustaining advanced ballistic-missile capabilities, and the technical expertise to reorient these activities into a sophisticated nuclear-weapons development effort if it chose to do so. A North Korean nuclear test, much discussed in 2005, would dramatically emphasise the specific threat to Japan that many Japanese increasingly perceive North Korea to pose, and would certainly fuel incipient Japanese opinion favouring an independent nuclear capability.
However, a Japanese decision to go nuclear would be harder than some imagine and would not follow reflexively from North Korean behaviour. For one thing, it is not at all clear how, strategically, a Japanese nuclear capability would counter the North Korean threat. So long as US nuclear-girded security guarantees to Japan are considered credible, a Japanese nuclear capability would add little to the deterrence of North Korean nuclear attack. For another, nuclear acquisition by Japan would strengthen North Korea’s nuclear incentives, making any accord that much harder to reach, while also aggravating Japan’s relations with South Korea, China, and other states near and far that have not forgotten the Second World War.
Thus, there are impediments to the nuclear proliferation domino effect North Korea might trigger in the region. But even an increasing foreboding of proliferation is bad news for the NPT. If these points of resistance do not hold, and East Asian nuclear dominos begin falling, that’s worse news for the NPT.
This black cloud has a small silver lining. As the six-party talks evince, the North Korea situation is spurring greater collaboration on non-proliferation in the region, especially between the United States and China. If this collaboration were linked more tangibly to the NPT regime, rather than emerging as an independent alternative process, such regional collaboration could serve to strengthen the regime globally. Thus, the future relevance of the NPT regime is linked to the manner in which the current North Korea crisis is handled.
But this linkage is secondary to the outcome of the crisis. The worst case—an accelerating regional nuclear arms race eroding all semblance of regional security co-operation—would become a permissive cause of nuclear proliferation worldwide, undermining the NPT regime fundamentally. The only sure way to prevent that is, of course, to achieve somehow a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s reinvigorated nuclear programme gives it the potential to export fissile materials, nuclear-weapons development technologies and expertise, or even completed operational weapons. This potential is highlighted by the depth of North Korean involvement in the nuclear network of Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan and by the possibility that uranium discovered in Libya might have originated in North Korea.
The Bush administration’s principal response to this threat is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) of 2003, a coalition of countries aiming to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through preventive interdiction of shipments of concern by land, sea, or air. The PSI can impede, but cannot with certainty prevent, North Korea from smuggling small containers of fissile material onto the global black market if it is determined to do so.
As an ad hoc “coalition of the willing”, the PSI initially lacked international accountability and legitimacy. Its legitimacy has grown as it has gained more national adherents and the endorsement of the UN Secretary-General and of the “Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction”, launched by G8 leaders in June 2002. However, the PSI (like similar initiatives) remains disassociated from the NPT regime, sidestepping rather than reinforcing its compliance mechanisms.
More direct linkages could enhance the accountability and effectiveness of those initiatives, whose responsiveness and flexibility in turn could help prioritise achievement over process in multilateral compliance mechanisms. This synergy would have two positive impacts. Practically, it would strengthen the world’s available tools to keep proliferation problems from growing. Politically, it would enhance the non-proliferation regime’s role as the locus for international co-operation on nuclear non-proliferation.
Impact on the NPT
North Korea is the first state ever to withdraw from the NPT. North Korea also released itself from the 1992 agreement with South Korea to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free as well as from the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States. There currently exist no formal international legal constraints on North Korea’s nuclear activities.
North Korea had the legal right to leave the NPT on ninety days’ notice. While some NPT countries refuse to acknowledge North Korea’s withdrawal, the UN Security Council has not acted on the referral to it of Pyongyang by the IAEA in 2003 (largely because of Chinese opposition to such a course), and the 2004 NPT preparatory conference and the 2005 NPT review conference sidestepped the issue. In the eyes of the non-proliferation community, North Korea remains responsible for its NPT non-compliance prior to its withdrawal.
Ultimately, whether or not North Korea is pressed on its pre-withdrawal NPT non-compliance through formal mechanisms such as the UN Security Council will be a political rather than a legal determination—which in and of itself forges precedents corrosive of the treaty regime. The greatest concern is that, if North Korea’s withdrawal is not reversed and the country suffers no serious consequences, a precedent will be set that erodes current NPT compliance norms. At the same time, making allowances to gain North Korea’s reaccession to the NPT, especially absolving past non-compliance, would also set a precedent inducing other NPT parties to bend the rules. Hence, both potential courses pose risks.
The Bush administration rarely expresses worries over the impact of North Korea’s NPT withdrawal on the health of the non-proliferation regime. The silence is particularly striking insofar as the erosion of the regime is the medium through which Korean Peninsula developments affect the Iranian situation, with which the Bush administration is now keenly concerned. More broadly, however, the nonchalance is hardly surprising. The administration’s lack of faith in both non-proliferation and international treaties is palpably expressed in policy documents such as the Nuclear Posture Review of January 2002 and the National Security Strategy of September 2002. Moreover, the United States’ own legal commitment to nuclear disarmament under the NPT’s Article VI contradicts the administration’s ambitions to expand US nuclear capabilities and nuclear deterrence. Thus, the Bush administration approached the 2005 NPT review conference actively seeking to roll back the disarmament commitments of the 2000 conference.
The indifference of the Bush administration to North Korea’s NPT withdrawal, and its antipathy to the NPT underlying that indifference, underscore the significance of North Korea’s NPT withdrawal to those concerned for the vitality of the NPT regime.
Making an Exception?
The apparent tension between resolving North Korea’s nuclear challenges and upholding the credibility of the NPT presents a dilemma. But the NPT is not merely a set of formal obligations. It is also a symbolic centrepiece of a now much wider global effort to stem proliferation and advance disarmament. Taking together the three sets of corrosive consequences outlined above suggests that North Korea’s nuclear-weapons acquisition poses a far greater threat to the NPT regime than any unique provisions needed to reverse that acquisition. However unseemly such precedents might be, the priority is to find a way to a peaceful non-proliferation solution in Korea.
Indeed, in this broader context, treating North Korea exceptionally is not so exceptional. North Korea did not accede to the NPT until 1985 and did not reach a safeguards agreement with the IAEA until 1992. North Korea withdrew from the NPT the following year; although it agreed to “suspend” that withdrawal, it did so exempting itself from many NPT obligations, and henceforth viewed the Agreed Framework, not the NPT, as defining its nuclear responsibilities. In short, North Korea has never been in full compliance with its obligations under the NPT; it has always been an exception. Treating North Korea uniquely in the current impasse hardly diverges from practices that have prevailed for the last twenty years, and simply reflects reality.
This conclusion does not mean ignoring the impact on the NPT of proposed resolutions to the North Korean nuclear crisis. The concern over setting legal and symbolic precedents that could weaken prospects for future NPT compliance is real. But emergence of a de facto nuclear-armed North Korea will in the long run do more damage to the NPT regime than whatever “exceptionalism” is required to forestall that outcome. Any unique treatment of North Korea should stem from a shared global goal of curbing nuclear proliferation. If this goal is kept paramount, and because the North Korean case has always been exceptional, the detrimental setting of precedents can be mitigated. The threat that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose to global peace and security would exist whether Pyongyang had signed the NPT or not. To allow complications from the fact that it did sign the NPT to interfere with remedying the problem would be wholly counterproductive.
The 19 September Agreement
Nuclear non-proliferation advocates worldwide welcomed the joint agreement aimed at denuclearising the Korean Peninsula issued on 19 September 2005 by the participants in the six-party talks. The agreement not only contained a commitment by North Korea to end all nuclear-weapons development, but also constituted the validation of a negotiated approach to the current Korean nuclear crisis, which both North Korea and the United States have at various times resisted.
The agreement represented the first significant progress in several years. But it was not a fully fledged resolution, akin to the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, only a first step. Obstacles to the successful negotiated denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula remained daunting. Indeed, some of those obstacles re-emerged immediately, as within days parties to the 19 September 2005 agreement began issuing conflicting interpretations of its meaning (particularly concerning North Korean retention of civilian nuclear facilities). The next round of talks in November 2005 produced no progress, and the entire process has now stalled following new US economic sanctions aimed at curtailing alleged North Korean counterfeiting of US currency.
So the immediate opportunity to build momentum offered by the 19 September agreement has now been lost. But the agreement still stands as the only significant accord since the collapse of the Agreed Framework and as an outline for progress that can be picked up again in the future. For this reason, its terms and implications are worth noting. In particular, the opportunities anticipated in the 19 September agreement for the six-party-talks process to engender broader improvements in regional security can still be pursued, and could strengthen the capacity of the parties to overcome the obstacles that once again block the process itself.
The 19 September agreement articulated consensus on a set of principles addressing both goals and means:
• North Korea committed itself to end efforts to produce nuclear weapons, to give up its “existing nuclear weapons”, to rejoin the NPT “at an early date”, and to resubmit to IAEA safeguards, including the readmission of international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.
• The United States affirmed explicitly that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea with either nuclear or conventional weapons and that it has no nuclear weapons deployed in Korea. South Korea also affirmed the absence of nuclear weapons on its territory and recommitted itself to the 1992 joint declaration on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
• The United States, along with the other four parties, “expressed their respect” for North Korea’s asserted right to maintain civilian nuclear-energy capabilities, and “agreed to discuss at an appropriate time” North Korea’s demand that it receive a light-water nuclear reactor for electrical power generation. This was an agreement to disagree: North Korea’s demand to be provided with light-water reactors as part of any ultimate settlement had threatened to scuttle the process, but the Bush administration opposes allowing North Korea any significant civilian nuclear-power capabilities, and few outside North Korea consider large new nuclear-power plants to be a viable solution to the country’s desperate energy needs.
• Both the United States and North Korea agreed “to respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalise their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies”.
• More fundamentally, the agreement promises that “the directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum”, thus linking resolution of the nuclear crisis to the creation of some type of security structure to replace the formal state of war that still prevails between the two Koreas.
• Finally, all six parties agreed “to take co-ordinated steps to implement the aforementioned consensus in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action’ ”. This language establishes a sequential approach that would see North Korea accrue some benefits before it had satisfied all its obligations, a softening of the Bush administration position that complete, verifiable and irreversible North Korean disarmament was a precondition of any further US actions.
Most provisions in the agreement had been previously articulated, in one form or another, by one or more countries independently. But the agreement, however ambiguous its language may be in places, at least brought all six parties to the talks into concord on a common language.
The US team reportedly did the final bending to make the agreement possible, acceding at the last minute to Chinese and South Korean urgings to accept inclusion of ambiguous language on the light-water reactors only a week after Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the head US negotiator, had stated that North Korea’s insistence on retaining a civilian nuclear programme was “a non-starter”. This language did not represent a relaxation of the US position, but did reflect the greater moderation that has characterised the North Korea policy of the Bush administration in its second term. Under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the United States has largely replaced the belligerent rhetoric of the administration’s first term with a willingness to work more closely with China and South Korea to fashion plans to address the range of North Korea’s security, economic and energy problems.
But the 19 September agreement points in the direction of an eventual settlement looking increasingly similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework that so many Bush administration principals so vehemently criticised. As the agreement began immediately to fray, these voices reasserted themselves, and the Bush administration has appeared to retrench.
The agreement represented vindications for China and South Korea. China, previously a target of some criticism for not doing enough to pressure North Korea, worked hard but quietly to entice both the United States and North Korea to continue meeting, and has an increasing stake in seeing the six-party talks bear fruit. South Korea’s stake in the success of that process is even greater, as recent governments in Seoul have sought to carve out an intermediate stance between Washington and Pyongyang that rejects both a nuclear North Korea and the use of force to prevent a nuclear North Korea. With the process now once again languishing, the pressures on the positions of China and South Korea have again risen.
The Road Ahead
The 19 September agreement may have kept the six-party-talks process from collapsing entirely; but in the short run it has done more to clarify differences than stimulate progress towards resolving the ongoing crisis. Fleshing out the principles of the agreement and resolving the trenchant divisions among the parties remain daunting challenges.
The most immediate hurdles concern the scope and nature of any peaceful nuclear programme that North Korea might retain. Beyond this problem lie the complex difficulties in verifying Pyongyang’s compliance with whatever stipulations may emerge for dismantling North Korea’s existing nuclear-weapons capabilities and eliminating all capacity for future development of such weapons. To achieve the agreement’s goal of “verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” will require North Korea to come clean on its alleged second, uranium-based, nuclear programme and to accept verification measures that are significantly more intrusive than it has experienced in the past. Putting aside the tremendous political resistance such intrusiveness is likely to engender, the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear programme presents new technical obstacles to verification. North Korea will have a hard time proving it is non-nuclear, even if it wants to.
Dramatically increased verification difficulties will make arranging the timing of other elements of any agreement harder as well. Under the principle of “commitment for commitment, action for action”, North Korea will insist that some benefits begin flowing to it before complete verification of its denuclearisation is achieved, particularly given the intrusive and time-consuming challenges that complete verification is likely to pose. This outcome would attract the criticism, as did the 1994 Agreed Framework, that North Korea could accrue enough support to stave off internal crises while never fully forsaking its nuclear programmes.
The challenges to resolving the nuclear issue itself, then, are formidable. More promising are the 19 September agreement’s provisions for reaching a regional accord wider in scope than the immediate nuclear crisis. US pledges to Pyongyang to normalise relations and provide “negative security assurances”—i.e., pledges not to use nuclear weapons against North Korea—probably carry great weight for a country subjected to cavalier talk of “regime change” since the advent of the Bush administration. Such minatory language has been reinforced in Pyongyang’s eyes not only by the US-led invasion of Iraq but also by the specific inclusion of North Korea in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review as a potential target for nuclear counter-proliferation strikes. Much would need to be worked out over the nature and limits of US negative security guarantees: the presence of US troops in South Korea and the compatibility of commitments to North Korea with existing positive security guarantees to South Korea and Japan would be focal challenges. But the costs of early and significant US moves towards normalising relations with Pyongyang are relatively cheap compared to the potential benefits in terms of smoothing negotiations on more contentious tangible matters.
In this context, the promise offered by the six parties’ joint commitment to negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula “at an appropriate separate forum” is particularly significant. The Peninsula remains technically in a suspended state of war defined by the terms of the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. A permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice and end the formal state of war would be a major step towards constituting an East Asian co-operative security regime that would supplant the threats of military force now making this region one of the most dangerous in the world. Symbiotically, independent efforts by East Asia’s principal states to forge such broader co-operative mechanisms would reinforce the six-party-talks process and bolster prospects to resolve conflicts specific to Korea.
Regional Security Co-operation
Genuine progress towards establishing a verifiably non-nuclear Korean Peninsula supported by a permanent peace regime would resolve one of the two major security tensions in East Asia (the other concerns Taiwan). Such a resolution would considerably relieve current pressures on the NPT and provide a major boost to non-proliferation efforts globally.
Some observers of developments in Korea have called upon the Bush administration to put forward a bold initiative—beyond a simple amalgam of carrots and sticks—to reverse the trajectory that has seen North Korea move ever closer to becoming a fully fledged nuclear-armed state. A breakthrough overture would aim to achieve a negotiated denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and a comprehensive peace settlement within a reasonable period of time.
Although ultimately anticipating such an achievement, the 19 September agreement fell well short of this mark. The agreement itself was tenuous and none of the parties to the talks, least of all North Korea and the United States, appeared ready to act boldly to advance the process. In this sense, the failure of the agreement to spur further progress is unsurprising.
But the agreement usefully acknowledged the relevance of addressing the wider context of the nuclear crisis. US president Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” The six-party-talks process, now stalemated, even at its best has produced agonisingly slow progress. The bold initiative now needed to address lasting peace in Korea must aim to create a sturdy East Asian security community as a priority goal. To hold out the prospect of such broader security co-operation as an outgrowth of the six-party-talks process is no longer sufficient. With the status quo now enabling North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal to the limits of its technological capabilities, increasingly imperilling regional security and global non-proliferation, comprehensive East Asian security co-operation must be pursued as a needed catalyst, not merely a hopeful consequence, of peace and security in Korea.