Photo: Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Pugswash - Photo: 2017

Disarmament Expert Proposes Kazakh Capital City Astana as Venue for Talks on Korean Peninsula

Interview with Jayantha Dhanapala*, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs

BERLIN | ASTANA (IDN) – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has done a great deal in terms of nuclear disarmament, and has offered Kazakhstan as a venue for dialogue on Syria, could propose Astana as a setting for the resumption of the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula, said Jayantha Dhanapala in a video interview with IDN on August 28, 2017 during the Pugwash Conference on Confronting New Nuclear Dangers in Astana. There are strains in the China’s relationship with the DPRK, and the Americans are “unfairly leaning on China,” as if China had a ‘magic wand’ to wave with regard to the Korean issue, he argued. Watch Video

“Kazakhstan can play a very, very important role. It has become a platform for international dialogue, and I think that President Nazarbaev has shown extraordinary vision and extraordinary leadership qualities, which is very rare among international statesmen today,” Dhanapala added.

Following is the transcript of the interview IDN-INPS Editor-in-Chief conducted with Dhanapala on August 28, 2017 in Astana

IDN: Confronting New Nuclear Dangers is the title of the 62nd Pugwash Conference here in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. What are the new nuclear challenges / dangers that the world is confronting?

Jayantha Dhanapala: The permanent challenges have still not been overcome, and that is the presence, in the world, of 15,000 nuclear warheads, owned by nine countries. 95 percent of those are owned by the two major nuclear weapons states, the United States of America and the Russian Federation.

What is new is the fact that the Cold War, which we thought was over, is now looking to re-start, with a reckless leader on one side and an equally indomitable leader on the other side, and new challenges arising from some of the other nuclear weapons states. There are tensions on the Sino-Indian border, over Doklam, there are tensions with regard to India-Pakistan, and of course, there is the new boy on the block, and that is the DPRK, with Kim Jong-Un, breathing fire.

IDN: Is he one of the reckless leaders?

JD: Well, his recklessness is matched by the recklessness of the major superpower, that is, the United States, because if there is some kind of example that has to be set, it is by the older nuclear weapons states. But Mr. Kim Jong-Un is doing something, which he thinks is in his own interest, and for his national self-preservation, because he has seen what happened to Iraq after they had their nuclear weapons abandoned; he has seen what has happened to Libya, after they abandoned their nuclear weapons program; and he still sees that Iran, in spite of having peacefully agreed to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between six world powers – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States], is being threatened, and is being undermined, by the United States of America, who recently had their Ambassador to the United Nations visit the IAEA in order to ascertain for herself if the IAEA had been truthful and told her exactly what the situation is.

She should abandon the reckless behaviour of her leader, and advise that he should allow the Iranians to do what they are supposed to do. Instead of which, they are stoking the fires, in the Middle East, at the behest of a very warmongering Israeli President, Netanyahu, who is, in fact, doing some enormous damage to the stability of that area, ostensibly in service of the security of the Israeli state, which is not at all true. So, we have a lot of old problems, mixed with the new problems, and that is a very potent and toxic mix.

IDN: So how do we confront these challenges, these dangers?

JD: We have to confront them; fortunately, the rest of the world is of a more constructive mentality, and we had 122 nations supporting the nuclear weapon ban conference that concluded with a Treaty on the 7th of July. That treaty will enter into effect as soon as there are 50 signatures. The Treaty is being opened for signature on the 20th of September at the UN General Assembly. Procedures for signature have already been notified to the member states of the United Nations, and of course, we know, because they have already declared so, that the nuclear weapons states are not going to be signatories.

But it’s useful to remind ourselves that in 1970, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] was opened for signature, only 94 countries signed on. But today, 189 countries have signed on, and that Treaty is the most widely subscribed-to Treaty. But the deficiency in that it is supposed to have three pillars: nuclear non-proliferation, and that has been effective, because all the countries who have signed it have adhered to that principle, and then those who are outside it, of course, like India, Pakistan, never signed it, and don’t – who decided to go nuclear. Then there is the peaceful use of nuclear energy pillar, and lastly, the weakest pillar of all, is the nuclear disarmament pillar enshrined in Article 6.

Despite the International Court of Justice ruling on this issue, we have still not had that pillar strengthened. So that omission has been now rectified, by having the nuclear weapon ban treaty. Unfortunately, it has not been signed by everybody. But like the NPT, we hope that there will be an accumulation of more signatures in the future, so that it will become a comprehensive treaty.

IDN: How do we tackle the North Korea-U.S. problem?

JD: I think the North Korea and the U.S. problem has to be tackled bilaterally. Because the Korean War has never formally ended with a peace treaty, and I think Mr. Kim Jong-Un and his father, and his grandfather all felt an acute sense of insecurity, because the United States has historically been a warmongering nation. It invaded Vietnam and Cambodia, it has invaded several other countries in the Middle East, and caused absolute havoc and mayhem everywhere it has gone.

Under Obama, things were better, because there was no actual invasion; he wound down some of the wars in which the Americans were involved, but not totally, because it’s not easy to escape the clutches of the military-industrial complex in the United States, which Eisenhower, himself a military man, warned us about in his farewell speech in 1961. So, the whole economy of the United States is geared to the arms production, and if there is arms production, they want a war in which those arms are used, so that there can be more and better arms manufactured, for their profit, and that is what is happening. Raytheon, Lockheed, all of these people are the big arms manufacturers. So, they need to be targeted, and there has to be a popular uprising against them, boycotting their products, so that they do not have the power that they have now.

But with regards to Kim Jong-Un, there was a very inconsistent U.S. policy towards talks with Kim Jong-Un. At one stage, when the Security Council was getting ready to address the issue, the Americans decided to have a conciliatory approach, and they formulated an agreed understanding between the United States and the DPRK, which included funding for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in North Korea. Unfortunately, that was not implemented honestly, and you can’t blame one side, I think both sides were to blame, and so that failed.

Then you had a very aggressive behaviour on the part of the Americans. Clinton was ready to talk peace, and he even sent his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to the DPRK, and she visited them, and just as well, when this so-called Sunshine Policy was also being exercised by South Korea with North Korea. We then had a change of presidents, and we had Mr. Bush Jr. come into power. He put North Korea on the Axis of Evil.

Now you can imagine the reaction on the part of the DPRK, who are not, I think, very sophisticated observers of the global scene. On the one hand, they have an administration trying to be reasonable and engaging in their diplomatic offensive, and then suddenly, they are being accused of being an axis of evil! So that, you know, going hot and cold does not help with regards to dictators like Kim Jong-Un, and he then felt immediately threatened. And unfortunately, Obama did not change the Bush policy radically, despite all his liberal talk, it was – like, his promise of a nuclear weapon-free world, it was all talk and no action.

IDN: Not in his lifetime . . .

JD: Not in his lifetime. He was very careful to use that caveat, and unfortunately, he has paved the way for the continuation of an aggressive U.S. policy towards North Korea. Now, the six-party talks, in which China played a key role, is the only hope – could lead to a JCPOA in the same way as talks with Iran did – in which Europe played a very positive role, and I think that if Europe does not continue to play that positive role, Mr. Trump will achieve his own target of undermining the JCPOA, which was one great example of diplomacy for peace and for nuclear disarmament.

IDN: To what extent will the entry into force of the CTBT [the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty] be helpful in resolving this issue with the DPRK?

JD: Well, I think in the case of the DPRK it’s a much more complex issue than the signature of the CTBT, because the signature of the CTBT is, in fact, leading towards the removal of any danger of nuclear weapon development in DPRK. I think in general, the entry into force of the CTBT is very important, but we have to have a two-track approach, a combined approach, with regard to both the disarmament of DPRK and the solutions of the problems left over by the Korean War, so that there is peace. We know that the new president of the Republic of Korea, South Korea, is very, very anxious to prevent a war. His policies are, in fact, less aggressive than Mr. Trump’s policies. Ironically.

I think we should let the Koreans solve these problems out between themselves, with guarantees from the United States that they will not be aggressive towards the DPRK, because what DPRK fears most is American aggression, which they already suffered from once in the 1950s. Of course, it was in response to the invasion of South Korea by Kim Il-Sung, but that has now gone into the pages of history. We have to have new assurances; there has to be a reunification of Korea, there has to be a de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and these exercises that the U.S. and South Korea engage in must be revised, because it’s an act of aggression, and for a very simple-minded dictator, it’s a show of strength which they don’t appreciate.

IDN: What role would you envisage for Kazakhstan to face these challenges?

JD: Kazakhstan can play a very, very important role. It has become a platform for international dialogue, and I think that President Nazarbaev has shown extraordinary vision and extraordinary leadership qualities, which is very rare among international statesmen today, because everybody’s preoccupied with their own problems [. . .] In the South Asian world, we had Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, offering solutions to global problems, and he was respected because of his wisdom and because of his experience. Then we had Nelson Mandela, and we had others with vision.

Now I think, in this stage, Kazakhstan, which is already presiding over a prosperous economy, can address these issues, and President Nazarbaev has done a great deal in terms of nuclear disarmament, he has been at the forefront, he is one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council and a co-chair of the Article 14 conference to take further the implementation of the CTBT, and he has offered Kazakhstan as a venue for a dialogue on Syria. So, we have the Astana Process feeding into what the UN is trying to do in Geneva on the Syrian issue.

In the same way, I think, he could offer himself as a venue for the resumption of the six-party talks, because already there are strains in the Chinese relationship with the DPRK, and the Americans are, I think, unfairly leaning on China, because China has no ‘magic wand’ to wave with regard to the Korean issue. They have a proximity, geographically, but they have as much to suffer from what is happening as any other country, because if there is a breakdown of the North Korean economy, the surge of refugees will be into China, and China will have to bear the brunt of that. So, it is not fair to point the finger only at China. The only person who is being bellicose, and aggravating the North Korean problem is Mr. Trump!

IDN: Can you imagine an Astana Process in respect of the nuclear-free Middle East, the WMD-free Middle East?

JD: That is probably a step too far at this point of time. I have been very closely associated to the attempt to have the Middle East be a WMD-free zone ever since the 1995 conference of the NPT review and extension, which I presided over, came up with a package, which was, vital in order to have the objectives of that conference achieved, and we did satisfy the demand of the Middle East countries for that first step of having a conference, we discussed it.

Unfortunately, with the Americans also working at cross-purposes, the Finnish negotiator who was named was not successful in holding that conference. I think it was the obstructionism of both Israel and the United States, which was responsible for that.

You can revive it, I mean, the 2020 review conference is coming up, but well before that there can be negotiations. But I think that coping with the objections of Israel and the United States, once again, a very huge – a huge obstacle, and I think we have to take one step at a time.

It’s unfair, to Kazakhstan and its leader to ask them to undertake the chore, the task of the North Korean negotiation as well as the Middle East, so I think closer to their security is the issue of the DPRK and the nuclear issue. But as far as Israel is concerned, I must confess, I find Mr. Netanyahu one of the most retrograde leaders that we have in the world.

*Jayantha Dhanapala is a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs 1998-2003 and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA 1995-97 and to the UN in Geneva 1984-87. He was the President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs for ten years until end of August 2017. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 September 2017]

Photo: Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Pugswash

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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