Photo source: CNN - Photo: 2022

US Remains Restrained Over North Korea’s Missile Tests & Nuclear Threats

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The US response to North Korea’s continued missile tests—and occasional nuclear threats—has been surprisingly restrained.

The reaction has been summed up in two words: dialogue and diplomacy.

On August 17, North Korea fired two cruise missiles toward the sea off its west coast. And, according to a report on Cable News Network (CNN), military officials from South Korea and the US have been analyzing the launch for “further details”.

“Tensions between the two Koreas have been building this year, with US military and intelligence agencies warning that North Korea appears to be preparing for a nuclear test—which would be its first in nearly five years,” said CNN.

At a press briefing on August 22, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that “over the course of many months now, we have conveyed publicly, we’ve also conveyed repeatedly privately, to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) that we are ready and willing to engage in that dialogue and diplomacy”.

The DPRK, he pointed out, has more recently heard that same message from the new administration in South Korea.

“We believe it is incumbent on the DPRK to respond, and to respond affirmatively to that, knowing that and believing that we can achieve progress towards what is a collective goal,” said Price.

In the meantime, he said, “we’re going to continue to stand by our treaty allies—the ROK (South Korea), Japan, other allies in the Indo-Pacific—and to ensure that we are postured appropriately through defense and deterrence against any threats or provocations we may collectively face from the DPRK”.

Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, told IDN if diplomacy is ultimately to be successful, it must be recognized there is a reason that North Korea has sacrificed to build its deterrent genocidal nuclear arsenal.

During the Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) and subsequent US-North Korean crises, Washington repeatedly prepared and threatened to initiate nuclear attacks against North Korea.

It is widely recognized that the Kim’s moved to create their nuclear arsenal primarily to preserve their dynastic rule and their country’s independence, said Gerson.

“True, North Korea is a brutal dictatorship. But as we saw in U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations during the Cold War, and in the decades of U.S.-Saudi partnership, prevention of nuclear war and realpolitik diplomacy have been constants in US foreign and military policies,” he pointed out.

“The Korean nuclear advances will only come to an end as a result of engaged diplomacy, beginning with a credible indication from the United States that it will be willing to declare an end to the Korean War, which was halted via an armistice agreement, and to negotiate a peace agreement seven decades after the guns while still loaded have fallen silent,” he argued.

Gerson said that with the priority being given to fighting the proxy war in Ukraine and to containing China’s rise, it will likely take more than predictable missile and nuclear tests to move the Biden Administration from the failed policy of benign neglect toward Pyongyang.

Neglect doesn’t remove a potential danger, he argued. But with its increasingly advanced missiles, South Korea, Japan, and ultimately the United States could be targeted with these genocidal weapons, and the history of the nuclear era is strewn with a record of miscalculations and nuclear accidents.

“Thus, we have had a series of UN resolutions and sanctions designed to lead to North Korean nuclear disarmament. The draft final statement of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference that calls for “the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and reiterates concern over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems programs,” said Gerson

Meanwhile, in a March 22 statement, Secretary-General António Guterres called the missile test  “another breach” of DPRK’s 2018 self-imposed moratorium that is in “clear violation of Security Council resolutions”.

North Korea has reportedly conducted 13 weapons launches this year, prompting concern in the United States, that leader Kim Jong-Un, is determined to make progress on developing weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the US mainland.

According to news reports, South Korean and Japanese flight data indicated that the long-range missile flew higher and longer (670 miles, or 1,080 km) than any of North Korea’s previous tests before crashing into the sea west of Japan.

Japanese authorities reportedly indicated that it appeared to involve a “new type” of ballistic missile, according to the UN.

Although North Korea had announced that it put its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear tests on hold, the country has since defended their use as weapons of self-defence.

“The launch of the long-range missile risks a significant escalation of tensions in the region,” the top UN official said, urging the DPRK to “desist from taking any further counter-productive actions”.

Guterres reaffirmed UN’s commitment to working with all parties “in seeking a peaceful diplomatic solution for the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.

In a statement issued August 17, North Korea’s Permanent Mission to the UN said the US has no right to single out Pyongyang when speaking about nuclear threats, since the country is in fact the “main offender in nuclear proliferation”.

“Given the fact that the US is the main offender in nuclear proliferation, the fact that it is making allegations about anyone’s ‘nuclear threats’ is the peak of audacity,the statement reads, as quoted by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The US keeps contributing in the proliferation of nuclear weapons as part of a strategy to ensure its “hegemony”, the North Korean statement said. It also noted that “the United States cannot deny it has transferred nuclear-powered submarine technology to Australia, nor that it has given its consent for Israel acquiring nuclear weapons”.

Gerson said: “We should learn from history, even recent history. Pyongyang’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006 followed the refusal of the George W. Bush’s government to embrace the comprehensive agreement negotiated in the final months of the Clinton Administration and in the wake of the implied threat to North Korea when President Bush labelled North Korea as the third member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ along with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Iran—both regime-change targets.”

“We should have also learned from the failure of the Obama Administration’s ‘benign neglect’ of North Korea, that Pyongyang will take provocative actions to gain U.S. attention in order to spur diplomacy. And, from the failed Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, it should be clear that all or nothing US ultimatums that North Korea completely abandon its nuclear arsenal before there can be an end to the sanctions-regime and normalization of diplomatic relations are bound to fail.”

Gerson argued that diplomacy can take many paths and can be the fruit of disparate initiatives. In addition to the urgent need for the US and China to pull back from the brink of an “avoidable war”, without their cooperation, existential threat of the climate emergency will not be addressed.

The two great powers, he said, also share a common interest in denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Rational actors would understand that these existential threats should trump the dangerous contest for Indo-Pacific hegemony. 

Similarly, scholars and leading political figures from Japan, South Korea and even Mongolia believe that the Korean nuclear crisis could be resolved by creating a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ), and models for such a treaty have emerged from serious study and numerous conferences and seminars.

“Whichever diplomatic effort is ultimately achieved, three things are clear. Nuclear weapons and humanity cannot indefinitely coexist. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can only be the result of mutual step by step diplomacy. And such diplomacy must begin with a U.S. commitment to finally end the Korean War,” he declared. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 August 2022]

Photo source: CNN

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

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