Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga: Bargaining over North Korea

Pyongyang

Tensions have subsided on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang withdrew its Musadan missiles from its east-coast launch site earlier this month, and the US and China have turned their attention to more pressing issues.

But the next time North Korea increases tensions, the United States will again look to China to rein in its ally. And Beijing might look for concessions in return, writes IISS’s Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga for the China–US Focus website.

‘China is able to wield North Korea as leverage because the Obama administration has outsourced its North Korea policy to Beijing,’ he argues.

The Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed to accomplish its intended goal of curbing North Korean provocations. Making Pyongyang’s cessation of hostilities a condition for direct US–North Korea contact leaves the United States no choice but to court Beijing for solutions.

It could be time for the United States to approach Pyongyang directly, particularly because Beijing may no longer be interested in bargaining.

‘The US “rebalancing” to Asia has increased Chinese suspicions of US intensions in the region, and thereby reduced Chinese goodwill to cooperate on resolving the North Korea issue, leaving Beijing seeking compensation for cooperation,’ he adds.

‘The United States can decrease the value of North Korea as a Chinese bargaining chip by increasing dialogue with China on US intensions in the region and by reclaiming its North Korea policy through reviving direct talks with the Kim regime.’

Read the full article.


Yongbyon restart: North Korea’s new threat

Siegfried Hecker examining lathes from Yongbyon machine shop Phot W Keith Luse via Stanford University

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Among Pyongyang’s recent inflated threats, the announced intention to ‘readjust and restart’ its nuclear facilities is the most worrisome.

If implemented, North Korea will be producing both kinds of fissile material that can create nuclear explosions: plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

The handful of nuclear weapons – from four to 10 – that North Korea presumably already possesses are based on plutonium that was produced at the small 5MW reactor at Yongbyon prior to mid-2007.

Whether it also has uranium weapons is unknown.

Why North Korea abandoned the plutonium programme and instead prioritised uranium enrichment has been a mystery.

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Can China end the DPRK’s nuclear blackmail?

Then Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie addresses the 2011 Shangri-La Dialogue

By Dr William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security

Members of the United Nations Security Council, including China, have strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear test last week, and that rare unanimity could be useful for regional security. If China were to put pressure on North Korea (an historic development that looks possible) while the United Nations Security Council tightened the vice of sanctions, perhaps Pyongyang could be pressured to at least suspend further tests?

This, however, is probably not to be. North Korea has maintained its missile and nuclear programmes as a going concern for years, despite a growing raft of sanctions. In addition, sanctions have done little to change the decision-making of other worrisome countries such as Iran.

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US must overhaul North Korea policy: expert

06 02 13-005 (3)

By Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Research Assistant for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The United States needs to push North Korea straight to the top of its policy agenda, says academic Joel Wit (above), saying that Pyongyang might already possess 25 nuclear weapons and may have deployed a prototype road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Speaking at the IISS several days before Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test on 12 February, the former State Department official and Visiting Scholar at the US–Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) said he thought the passive policy of ‘strategic patience’ during the Obama administration’s first four years had failed.

As the administration entered its second term, he suggested, the White House should take a more proactive approach to North Korea – especially given President Barack Obama’s recommitment to Asia and his outspoken advocacy on nuclear issues.

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North Korea’s third nuclear test shows military still first

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a  Secretaries Of Cells meeting

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

North Korea has again shown with today’s nuclear test that it marches to its own drum – and a decidedly militaristic drumbeat it is. The sole country to have pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and indeed, probably the only one to have signed the treaty with the clear intention of violating it, North Korea has been alone in the past 15 years in defying the international norm against nuclear testing.

Defiance might be called the national trait, and North Koreans may be proud to be described that way. In conducting its third nuclear test, Pyongyang not only defied warnings from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, but also the cautions of its friends in Beijing and Moscow. In recent weeks, selective Chinese state media had been unusually blunt in threatening consequences if North Korea went ahead with its planned test. Now it is likely that China will allow additional Security Council sanctions. It may even apply selective sanctions of its own, as it reportedly did in 2003 in disrupting the flow of oil during the first North Korean nuclear crisis.

The test shows yet again North Korea’s priority for guns over butter, and that its policy of ‘Songun’ (‘military first’) is much more than a mere slogan. In addition to risking a cut-off of Chinese aid and oil, Pyongyang has also made it difficult for South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye to follow through on her election promise to resume humanitarian aid to the North.

Likewise, the new team that US President Barack Obama is assembling for his second term will be disinclined to pursue any new engagement policies with North Korea. Instead, new sanctions will be applied, especially to try to prevent North Korea from helping nuclear-weapons aspirations elsewhere.

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Hoping for good news from Pyongyang

Fireworks over Pyongyang. Photo Korea Friendship Association

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address earlier this week drew international attention both because it was the first in nearly 20 years that any North Korean leader had delivered in person, and because of its conciliatory tone towards South Korea. Kim said it was time to ‘remove confrontation between the North and the South’.

The new tenor has to be welcomed, given the vile invective that North Korean state media have heaped upon Seoul, and particularly President Lee Myung-bak, during the past five years . Whether the kinder words represent any real chance, however, remains to be seen. Like the North Korean agricultural reforms reported last summer, one waits for meaningful implementation.

The wait may not be long. Just a day after Kim took the high road in his speech, North Korea’s highest organ, the National Defence Commission (NDC), reverted to form in a threatening statement that condemned the ‘Lee Myung-bak group of traitors’ and called the South Korean president a ‘rat and an idiot’.

In language clearly directed towards President-elect Park Geun-hye, who takes office on 25 February, the NDC statement said ‘inter-Korean relations now stand at a crossroads’, and that ‘south Korean authorities would be well advised to make a responsible choice’.

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Engaging Kim Jong-un’s North Korea

© Korean Friendship Association

By Carolyn Mullen, Research Assistant and Programme Co-ordinator, IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

When I learned of Kim Jong-il’s death last December, many questions came to mind. Perplexed by the spectacle of Pyongyang’s public mourning, I wondered how his successor could hope to fill the shoes of the ‘Dear Leader’. Relatedly, would the power transition in North Korea be a stable process? If not, what sort of unrest, internal and external, could be expected? Or, if the transition did go smoothly, what impact might a new leader have in terms of the DPRK’s foreign policies – should we expect more of the same petulant behaviour, or prepare for something worse? Something new?

Since ascending to power 11 months ago, it has become apparent that Kim Jong-un – Kim Jong-il’s son and North Korea’s new ‘Supreme Leader’ – rules with a distinctly different style than his reclusive father did. He has given multiple public speeches, hobnobbed with soldiers and students, and even openly acknowledged the failure of the 15 April rocket launch – a concession that would have been unthinkable under his father’s purview. Kim Jong-un, sometimes accompanied by his fashionable and photogenic wife, Ri Sol-ju, has attended events that feature Disney characters, Rocky Balboa and Frank Sinatra – Western cultural icons that the DPRK’s leaders have never fully approved of. Last summer, analysts fixated on photos of women in Pyongyang wearing short skirts and high heels instead of their more traditional grey, drab outfits.

What are we to make of these colourful changes?

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Reading tea leaves in North Korea

Pyongyang (Photo: Korean Friendship Association)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The sudden departure of its top military official has given a boost to the art of tea-leaf reading on North Korea. ‘Illness’, as announced, surely was not the reason the now ex-Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho gave up all his positions. At age 69, Ri was young by the geriatric norms of the North Korean senior ranks, and he looked healthy enough just a week earlier. This past half year he frequently was pictured next to new leader Kim Jong-un in ceremonies and ‘guidance visits’ to military and industrial units.

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An opportunity for EU action in North Korea

North Korean Military Parade (Photo: Korean Friendship Association)

The bête noire of the global non-proliferation regime, North Korea has defeated every effort to rein in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and illicit arms trade, argues Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation programme, in a new paper for the EU-Non Proliferation Consortium.

Neither sanctions, incentives nor ‘strategic patience’ have succeeded in bringing about anything more than a temporary stall in the development of these weapon systems. There appears to be no prospect that North Korea would barter its nuclear arsenal for diplomatic or economic gain.

Having fewer stakes in North East Asia than the actors in the Six-Party Talks process, the European Union has played, at most, a supporting role, providing aid when incentives were called for and applying sanctions when that was in the script, while consistently promoting human rights.

Yet, suggests Fitzpatrick, if North Korea moves under new leadership towards market reforms, in order to overcome its poverty trap, there may be opportunities for a greater EU role. Whether in conjunction with the EU’s closer relations with South Korea or through finally establishing a delegation office in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a more direct application of European soft power would better position the EU to assist the Korean Peninsula in future crises and to benefit from any positive turn of events.

Read the paper

IISS Strategic Dossier: North Korean Security Challenges


Myanmar comes in from the nuclear cold (almost)

Myanmar Defence Minister Hla Min made headlines yesterday with his announcement that the country had abandoned all nuclear activity and suspended military cooperation with North Korea.

‘This is a good news story’ Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, told Alexander Nicoll, and he sketched out the background to international concern about possible nuclear proliferation in the country. However, he also cautioned that the General’s comment that was no need for the IAEA to visit Myanmar as there was nothing to inspect was ‘the wrong answer.’

IISS Strategic Dossier: Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia


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