Six-party legacy emboldens North Korea
By Joseph R DeTrani
As 53 international leaders were meeting in the Hague for the third Nuclear Security Summit on March 24-25, an absent North Korea was demanding their attention by launching over 50 short-range ballistic missiles. This was followed by the launching, reportedly from mobile sites, of two mid-range Nodong ballistic missiles which are capable of reaching Japan.
As the international community makes measured progress in securing nuclear materials from terrorists, North Korea continues to threaten its neighbors and the international community with nuclear tests, missile launches and other provocative acts that defy United Nations resolutions.
In both April and December 2012, North Korea also launched
missiles, with the later date seeing a small satellite put in orbit. This was followed by a February 2013 nuclear test and frequent threats to the US and South Korea of pre-emptive nuclear attacks.
Other incidents in the past two years highlight the lack of progress on both military and human-rights issues.
During this period, US missionary Kenneth Bae was arrested and imprisoned for an unknown offense and an 85-year-old US veteran of the Korean War was summarily removed from an airplane in Pyongyang after touring the North.
In December 2013, Kim Jong-eun's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was arrested, publicly humiliate, then executed for so-called offenses against the regime. Jang was a confidant of Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, and the vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission. When Kim Jong-eun took over in December 2011, it was Jang who arranged a smooth transition of power.
Human rights standards are also falling, with a United Nations Human Rights Council report comparing North Korea to Nazi Germany in terms of its use of torture, starvation and killings. Among the allegations made in the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, released on March 17, is that as many as 120,000 political prisoners are being held in internment camps.
The human-rights situation in the North, especially at the major political detention camps, was previously addressed bilaterally with the US through six-party talks negotiations. It was placed in the context of issues that would require transparency and progress before the US would establish normal diplomatic with North Korea. The first condition was the country verifiably dismantling all of its nuclear weapons and facilities and returning to the Non-Proliferation Treaty .
Since North Korea walked away from these talks in 2008, however, there has been no progress with its nuclear and missile programs or its human rights abuses.
Most critics would agree that there needs to be a dialogue with North Korea to convince the leadership to halt further missile launches. An implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement, which commits North Korea to comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization in exchange for security assurances, economic assistance and eventual normalization of relations, would be a welcome development.
Without this, it seems likely that North Korea will continue to launch missiles, conduct nuclear tests and foment tension with maritime firings in South Korean waters near the Northern Limit Line.
It's unfortunate, but the fact is that the six-party powers conditioned North Korea to believe that this type of escalation and intimidation eventually would succeed in getting the US and others in the process - South Korea, China, Russia and Japan - to capitulate and return to negotiations with minimal consequences.
When Banco Delta Asia was sanctioned in 2005 by the Macau authorities for permitting North Korea to use of the bank for money laundering purposes, with its US$24 million account frozen, the North walked away from negotiations and refused to implement the September 2005 Joint Statement. Pyongyang then proceeded, in 2006, to launch short-range, mid-range and long-range missiles and to conduct its first nuclear test.
After a few months, Macau returned the $24 million, with no consequences for the North. When North Korea was confronted with proof that it had an illicit uranium enrichment program, the North denied it and threatened to escalate tension.
When it was shown evidence that it was building a nuclear reactor in Syria, it again defiantly denied it. In each instance, there were no consequences for thecountry's actions and negotiations proceeded. Finally, when the US removed North Korea from the State Department list of nations supporting terrorism, in exchange for a nuclear verification protocol, North Korea refused to commit to a written verification protocol that contained language it promised orally.
When the US insisted on a written protocol, North Korea walked away from negotiations in 2008. To date, negotiations have not resumed.
Recent United Nations Security Resolutions sanctioning North Korea, after the December 2012 missile launch and the February 2013 nuclear tests, should have been wake-up calls for the North, clear signals that intimidation, threats and escalation will no longer be rewarded with a pretense that nothing had happened and negotiations would continue.
The current impasse with the North makes it clear that the international community, especially countries participating in to the six-party talks, will no longer appease a North Korea that threatens, escalates and intimidates. The North needs a new play book; one that incorporates confidence-building measures, building trust and appreciating the value of meaningful collaboration with those countries engaged in the six-party process.
The question now is: How to resolve the current impasse with North Korea? It is obvious something has to be done to halt North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and ensure that it will never proliferate nuclear weapons or materials, as the 53 heads of government discussed at the Nuclear Security Summit.
Some form of meaningful engagement with North Korea is in the interest of the international community. The recent reunion of separated families between North and South Korea was a positive development that hopefully will continue, despite the North's threats to halt these reunions.
Japan's decision to meet with the North to discuss bilateral relations and the abductee issue hopefully will develop into further substantive discussions. And if the North is serious about reconstituting the six-party talks, then it should release Kenneth Bae and commit to a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests while negotiations proceed, in line with its stated commitment to implement the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement. Movement in this direction will benefit North Korea and its people and the international community.
Joseph R DeTrani, president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit organization, was the Special Envoy for six-party talks with North Korea from 2003-2006. He was the ODNI North Korea Mission Manager from 2006-2010 and until January 2012, Director of the National Counterproliferaton Center. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not representative of any US government department, agency or office.