North Korea and the Voyage to a Nuke-Free World


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Frederick N. Mattis*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

ANNAPOLIS, USA (IDN) - Of all states, North Korea as it presently exists and is governed is probably seen by many other states as the most potentially problematic with respect to its ongoing compliance with a nuclear weapons ban.

This, of course, is assuming North Korea joined a nuclear ban treaty [convention] along with all other states – and incentives for North Korea to do so would be primarily freedom from the nuclear threat or perceived threat from another state or states, plus widespread praise for the decision to join.

At present, North Korea regularly points to the vast U.S. arsenal as the prime peril and justification for North Korea's own, relatively very small arsenal; but such rationale by any state would vanish under worldwide nuclear weapons abolition.

The various past sessions of nuclear "six-party talks" amongst the USA, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan have often produced more heat than light. But in all these encounters it is solely the prospect of North Korea's elimination of its nuclear weapons that has been on the table.

Considering, instead and in contrast, a here-posited worldwide nuclear ban, a fundamental reason to envision North Korean fealty to it would be, as with all states, the unprecedented geopolitical, legal, psychological, and moral force of unanimity of accession by states before the treaty takes effect.

The Agreed Framework

The collapse in late 2002 of the 1994 U.S.-North Korean "Agreed Framework" is frequently cited as "proof" that, ultimately, North Korea is duplicitous in its nuclear intentions and therefore would decline to join a prospective, worldwide nuclear weapons ban, or would join but not abide by it.

But North Korea did comply with the Agreed Framework – by freezing plutonium production and related nuclear facilities. However, North Korea was apparently, during some latter part at least of the Framework's eight-year sway, working on uranium enrichment (necessary for nuclear reactor fuel but also the path, other than plutonium, for a nuclear weapon).

The plutonium-centered Framework, for its part, did not address uranium enrichment, which is an entirely different process than the Framework-forbidden separation of plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel (which North Korea abided by).

With that said, the U.S. umbrage toward North Korea for its uranium enrichment was at least somewhat understandable; but it was the USA and North Korea that signed the Framework, with its sole focus on plutonium.

In any event, in late 2002, shortly after official U.S. broaching of North Korean enrichment activity, the USA cut off oil supplies to North Korea (a prime part of the Framework). Thereupon North Korea, viewing the Framework as caustically abrogated by the USA, abandoned its Framework freeze on plutonium production and other weapons-usable work – and later twice conducted nuclear explosion tests with plutonium weapons. Given, then, these highlights of the total picture, the collapse of the Framework cannot be fairly held up as a mirror or example or proof of North Korean perfidy.

Nuclear abolitionist President Ronald Reagan famously said, "Trust but verify." A nuclear weapons ban will surely have a worldwide verification regime, including "challenge" inspections analogously to today's Chemical Weapons Convention.

The inspection issue actually terminated the last round of "six-party talks," when the USA presented its list of exigent inspection modalities to ensure a nuclear-free North Korea – but without, of course, the USA offering any inspection of its own military-related nuclear facilities, much less elimination of U.S. nuclear weapons. (Understandably, though, U.S. weapons elimination can only be realistically envisioned under a nuclear ban treaty that requires unanimous accession by states before entry into force.)

North Korea as a Nuclear Ban Party

Assuming a worldwide nuclear ban is indeed in force, there would still be assertions that North Korea is an unreliable treaty party because it would "lose little" by breaching the treaty – with North Korea being "so isolated anyway."

But North Korea has commercial and diplomatic relations with over 130 countries, all of which would be vehemently opposed to a North Korean "breakout" from a nuclear ban that North Korea has joined along with all other states. Also, the nuclear ban's fairness (equal treatment of states) would militate against any inclination toward treaty violation by North Korea or any state.

"Condition-Free Accession to a Nuclear Ban"

The voyage of humanity to a nuclear weapons-free world will surely experience disparate events and currents. North Korea, for example, might see fit to aver at least initially that before it agrees to sign and ratify a prospective, worldwide ban, there must be a "peace treaty" officially ending the Korean War, or other blandishments for North Korea.

But no state should feel or be in the least obliged to comply with any such pronouncement, despite its ostensible roadblock (but potentially only temporary) to nuclear ban unanimity and entry into force.

North Korea, for its part, has a right to say whatever it wishes regarding its potential accession to a nuclear ban; and other countries, including the USA, have the right to say, "Although we are always evaluating our relations with North Korea, and hoping to discern improvement in their human rights and other areas, the nuclear ban treaty, which benefits all states and which all must join before it enters into force, stands on its own merits."

Overall, in regards to the Korean Peninsula and other longstanding divides (such as the Kashmir problem between nuclear-armed states Pakistan and India), the introduction for signature of a nuclear ban treaty will surely bring more world focus, and likely more-productive dialogue, on ameliorating the issues at hand.

But whatever the progress – or lack thereof, if so – on these matters, when North Korea and all other states have joined a nuclear ban treaty and it enters into force with compliance of all states due to the unparalleled impact of fairness and unanimity, then all states and people will be freed from the possibility of experiencing nuclear war or attack (such as escalation of a border conflict), and from possible "false-alarm" nuclear missile launch, and possibility that terrorists could acquire a bomb from a state's nuclear arsenal.

*Frederick N. Mattis is the author of “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction” (ABC-CLIO/Praeger Security International; ISBN: 978-0-313-36538-6). This article first appeared on (IDN-InDepthNews/07.06.2011)

Copyright © 2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: North Korea war monument in Pyongyang | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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