As an historic nuclear weapons treaty is reached, G20 leaders miss the mark on North Korea



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In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.
Reuters/KCNA

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Over the weekend, more than 120 countries adopted a treaty at a UN conference that prohibits the production, stockpiling, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Australia was a notable absentee. So were the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons.

While the UN conference was taking a major step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, the US and its allies – notably Japan, South Korea and Australia – were hoping to use the G20 summit in Hamburg to focus attention on the danger North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose.

However, the declaration issued at the end of the G20 does not even mention the issue. We can now expect a UN Security Council resolution that condemns North Korea’s latest missile test and applies slightly tougher sanctions.

The glaring contradiction between the boycott of the nuclear ban negotiations and the preoccupation with the North Korean nuclear threat does not seem to have dawned on the US and its allies.

Kim’s misguided provocation and Trump’s futile bluster

In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.

North Korea’s apparently successful intercontinental ballistic missile test last week is widely seen, and portrayed by the regime itself, as part of a relentless drive to develop a reliable long-range nuclear weapon capable of striking the US.

The US responded to the latest test by declaring the policy of “strategic patience” is now over. In a speech delivered in Poland prior to the G20, US President Donald Trump warned he is considering “some pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s “very, very bad behaviour”.

Donald Trump’s pre-G20 speech in Warsaw.

Yet America’s options are limited. In the first five months of his presidency, Trump’s strategy was to cajole China into taking a more confrontational stance with North Korea. But there are limits to what China is able or prepared to do.

Trump then intimated the use of tougher sanctions against North Korea, possible financial or trade sanctions against China for failing to do more, and even the direct use of military force.

However, resorting to these coercive tools is unlikely to have the desired result. History tells us harsh economic sanctions are often counter-productive. They impoverish economies, strengthen dictatorships, and drive dissent underground.

As for a military strike on North Korea, it could well lead the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to launch a devastating strike against America’s allies, – notably Japan and South Korea. This might include the use of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Such a turn of events may even drag China into the conflict.

More promising is the policy of strategic caution advocated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, which they reiterated in their separate meetings with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Both Russia and China argue North Korea can be persuaded to halt nuclear and missile tests if, in return, the US and South Korea suspend their joint military exercises. This would be a prelude to the resumption of talks involving the US and North Korea that could lead to undertakings for all sides to refrain from the use of force or other aggressive measures.

This more pragmatic stance is close to the position of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who argued in Hamburg that the focus should be kept on further sanctions and dialogue.

Why the treaty?

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis, for it is but a symptom of a deeper ailment.

The US and Russia, which between them account for 92% of the world’s nuclear weapons, are clearly intent on preserving and modernising their nuclear arsenals. They and other nuclear-armed countries have steadfastly resisted repeated calls for nuclear disarmament – even though Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires them to do just that.

The nuclear weapons treaty that has just emerged is a direct response to the morally and legally culpable inaction of the nuclear-armed countries – something the G20 summit did not and could not do.

Put simply, the treaty is a comprehensive effort to bring the rule of law to bear on all aspects of the nuclear assault on the planet. It designates a nuclear-weapon-free world as “a global public good of the highest order”, on which depend:

… human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.

The treaty’s provisions are robust and thorough. In addition to prohibiting production, possession and deployment, each party to it undertakes never to test, transfer or receive from any recipient any nuclear weapons or explosive devices, and never to assist anyone or receive assistance from anyone to engage in any such activity.

Countries are further prohibited from ever allowing nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to be stationed, installed, deployed or tested in their territory, or anywhere under their jurisdiction or control.

But there’s more to the treaty than this. It specifically acknowledges the unacceptable suffering and harm caused to the victims by nuclear weapons, as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons, in particular indigenous peoples.

The treaty also reinforces the legal obligation of relevant countries to provide appropriate remedies to the victims of nuclear testing, and effective repair of environmental damage.

Those who have been busy drafting and redrafting the treaty have taken great care to make room at a future date for those countries that have not participated in the negotiations – in particular nuclear-armed countries and their allies. A well-crafted set of procedures allows for the progressive, transparent and carefully verified dismantling of their nuclear activities.

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis.
Reuters/Kay Nietfield

Australia’s negative role

The dramatic events of the last week raise troubling questions for the future direction of Australian foreign policy. Why is it that Australia has been absent from the negotiations leading up to the adoption of this treaty?

More than that, why has it done all in its power to thwart the initiative?

The reasons are not hard to find. There is within Australia a firmly entrenched but dangerous mindset that America’s military might, including its nuclear arsenal, underwrites Australia’s national security.

The Australian government’s opposition to the nuclear ban treaty is the logical consequence of its subservience to US strategic objectives and priorities. It is the extension of longstanding policies that have led Australia to entanglement in protracted, costly and unwinnable wars – in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria.

It is the result of Australia’s psychological insecurity, and the tendency of governments to try to demonstrate at every opportunity that we remain America’s most faithful ally.

Yet there are other options. Australia has much to gain from actively supporting efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, and from collaborating with like-minded countries and international organisations to develop an effective long-term nuclear disarmament agenda.

Such a process would create immense possibilities for easing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region – not just in the Korean peninsula, but in China-US and China-Japan relations, and in the South China Sea.

The ConversationPublic support for such a transition is greater than many would think. The nuclear ban treaty is the beginning, not the end.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is ballistic missile defence – and would it stop a missile from North Korea?


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The US and several of its allies currently deploy several ballistic missile defence systems that would be used in the event North Korea actually launched an attack.
Reuters/KCNA

James Dwyer, University of Tasmania

North Korea’s test this week of an intercontinental ballistic missile has reignited interest and debate on the feasibility of ballistic missile defence systems, and whether countries such as Australia should seek to acquire them.

But what are these systems, and how do they work? How effective would they be in providing a defence against a potential missile attack?

How do they work?

All ballistic missile defence systems consist of a network of tracking and guidance radars, and the interceptor launchers.

On detecting a ballistic missile launch, the radars track the missile’s trajectory, fire an interceptor to shoot it down, and prepare further interceptors to be launched if the first one misses.

This is referred to as a “shoot-look-shoot” strategy, as opposed to a strategy of saturation – where the defender simply shoots as many interceptors as possible in the hope of achieving a kill.

Modern defence systems use interceptor missiles carrying kinetic kill vehicles. These are warheads that are non-explosive and designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles by simply crashing into them.

All of the systems mentioned below are intended to work in conjunction with one another. They are integrated to provide the ability to shoot down ballistic missiles throughout their flight path. However, they are also capable of operating independently, although with less effectiveness than if operated in conjunction with other systems.

Missile defence systems in the region

The US and its allies in the Asia-Pacific currently deploy several ballistic missile defence systems. These would be used in the unlikely event that North Korea decided to actually launch a ballistic missile attack.

The first and most prominent is Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, which the US has deployed in South Korea. THAAD is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of flight – that is, as the ballistic missile is re-entering the atmosphere to strike its target.

The second relevant system is Patriot PAC-3, which is designed to provide late terminal phase interception – that is, after the missile has re-entered the atmosphere. It is deployed by US forces operating in the region, as well as Japan.

THAAD and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors at work.

Perhaps the most capable system currently in operation in the region is the Aegis naval system, which is deployed on US and Japanese destroyers. It is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in the mid-course phase of flight – that is, when the missile is outside of earth’s atmosphere and transiting to its target.

The Aegis system in action.

What all of these systems have in common is they are theatre ballistic missile defence systems, designed to provide protection against short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as the one tested by North Korea this week, fly too high and fast for these systems to engage with.

Aegis has demonstrated some limited capability to engage targets similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was used to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite in 2008, but has never been tested against an actual intercontinental ballistic missile target.

The only system expressly designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles is the US Ground-based Midcourse Defence. However, this has a very patchy record in testing. By the end of 2017 it will only have 44 interceptors deployed.

How effective are they?

None of these systems is 100% effective, and most have an iffy record in testing. Aegis has succeeded in 35 out of 42 tests, while Ground-based Midcourse Defence has had only ten successes in 18 tests. However, THAAD has been successful in 18 out of 18 tests.

Tests are conducted in favourable conditions – and it is reasonable to expect the success rates to be lower in actual combat use.

The true difficulty lies with intercontinental ballistic missiles. An intercontinental ballistic missile can attain altitudes well in excess of low earth orbit. Those fired on a typical long-range trajectory can exceed 1,200km in altitude. The high-trajectory, short-range test shot North Korea conducted this week attained an altitude of 2,700km.

By way of comparison, the International Space Station orbits at an altitude of around 400km.

However, the altitude intercontinental ballistic missiles attain is only part of the problem. The other major challenge facing ballistic missile defence is the truly enormous speeds that missiles attain during the terminal phase. They often hit or exceed 20 times the speed of sound.

A common comparison used is that ballistic missile defence is akin to shooting a bullet in flight with another bullet. The reality is even more extreme.

For example, a .300 Winchester Magnum (a high-velocity hunting and sniper round) can achieve a velocity of 2,950 feet per second as it leaves the barrel. This equates to 3,237km/h, or 2.62 times the speed of sound. An intercontinental ballistic missile can achieve speeds almost eight times faster than this. As a result, it is almost impossible to reliably defend against such missiles.

This is not necessarily a problem for countries such as Japan and South Korea. Any ballistic missile used by North Korea against them would be a shorter-range ballistic missile that these systems could engage.

The ConversationHowever, countries should be mindful that these systems provide limited-to-no capability to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles. In Australia’s case, the only missiles capable of reaching this far from North Korea are intercontinental ballistic missiles. Thus, even if Australia decided to invest in ballistic missile defence, it would provide little-to-no protection from a potential North Korean nuclear attack.

James Dwyer, Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate, Politics and International Relations Program, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The West’s hyperbole on North Korea will only fuel Kim Jong-un’s propaganda



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Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric and action against the US and others is framed domestically as the heroic defiance of an evil enemy.
Reuters/KCNA

Nicholas R. Smith

After a fairly quiet couple of months on North Korea and its self-styled madman leader, Kim Jong-un, the international community is again on high alert.

On Tuesday, North Korea undertook another missile test. This time it tested an inter-continental ballistic missile, which it claims can reach anywhere in the world.

On paper, North Korea represents a sizeable threat to the international community. It is a totalitarian state; it has nuclear weapons; and it is ruled by a megalomaniac leader. Even to the most self-assured deterrence theorist, North Korea must elicit some dark fears.

Fuelling North Korea’s propaganda

The potential destruction of a nuclear attack and the likely repercussions is so grave that it is understandable that most are prepared to take Kim’s rhetoric and actions at face value. This is smart, in one sense, because it is arguably not worth poking a deranged animal about what he should rationally do by using international relations theory.

However, in another sense, it is giving Kim exactly what he wants: fuel for propaganda.

Kim’s rhetoric and actions are a carefully crafted strategy of brinkmanship, designed mostly for maintaining his domestic grip on power. The biggest challenge in his position as supreme leader – one all autocrats face – is how to maintain his authoritarian rule.

Unlike leaders in democracies – where elections give a clear popular mandate to rule, and institutions have legitimacy in the eyes of the people – autocrats face an ongoing domestic conundrum of how best to cultivate legitimacy. Two strategies are commonly used: repression and propaganda.

Repression (often involving terror) is an obvious tactic that leaders and elites in authoritarian countries utilise to solidify their grip on power. Weakening people’s belief that collective action can bring about positive change is an important prerequisite for authoritarian rule.

Ironically, it is often when authoritarian states undertake some form of liberalisation that people are able to rise up and topple the incumbent regime. Two such examples are the French Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Propaganda is a similarly noticeable tactic that leaders and elites in authoritarian countries use to justify and explain their harsh rule. Such propaganda usually has two aims: discrediting dissidents, and blaming external actors.

Under this propaganda, which becomes more potent when a state has a monopoly on the dissemination of information, domestic dissidents and opposition movements become wreckers or terrorists. Overseas adversaries become meddlers or imperialists.

Can China contain the threat?

Of importance to the international community right now is that, in a similar fashion to Vladimir Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Kim has consciously used an external adversary for domestic propaganda purposes. In this case, it is the US and its proxies – especially South Korea.

To this end, Kim’s rhetoric and action against the US and others is framed domestically as the heroic defiance of an evil enemy. As the Putin example shows, standing up to a perceived evil enemy – especially a more powerful one – garners a lot of domestic support.

Kim Jong-un, like his father Kim Jong-il, has been able to pursue this strategy of brinkmanship with great success, at least for domestic purposes. This is mainly because despite all the international repercussions to date – ostracism, sanctions, and threats of intervention – China has been willing to prop up North Korea.

China’s interest is simple. It sees a potentially unified Korea that would place US military bases on its border as untenable. So, propping up North Korea is of clear strategic value.

China probably sees Kim’s toppling as something that cannot be allowed to happen. However, it still has the best chance of managing the North Korean conundrum with the least amount of fallout. Given its own authoritarian – and previously totalitarian – structure, China probably understands Kim’s strategy of brinkmanship better than the West does.

Also, China has the leverage to assuage Kim, and ensure his rhetoric and actions remain mere brinkmanship and not active policy.

The ConversationThese facts, and the probability that China would not want any conflict between North Korea and the West, should provide confidence that – if US President Donald Trump can get out of the way – the North Korean threat is largely under control. But we definitely have not heard the last of Kim, or North Korea’s weapons program.

Nicholas R. Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and North Korea: military action will be a disaster, so a more patient, thoughtful solution is required



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North Koreans react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a military parade.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Pundits often cite the North Korean regime’s crimes against its citizens as proof of Kim Jong-un’s irrationality as a leader. These crimes, as exhaustively documented by former High Court justice Michael Kirby for the UN Human Rights Council, are monstrous and inexcusable. The Conversation

Grave as they are, they do follow a discernible logic from the perspective of Kim’s efforts to consolidate his regime’s hold on power. Perversely, US President Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling plays into Kim’s logic of domestic power that positions the US as a dire threat, justifying the regime’s political repression.

William Perry, US under secretary of state during the Clinton administration, has contended that Trump’s military brinkmanship increases the likelihood of coercing North Korea back to denuclearisation negotiations. This is the ground that a heightened threat of American attack will prompt Kim to recalculate the benefits of continued nuclear proliferation.

But this scenario is only credible if Trump intends following through on the threat. This now appears more questionable given the controversy over the exact location of the USS Carl Vinson.

Having established the foolishness of attacking North Korea in my previous article, I’d now like to prompt discussion on a couple of points.

The first is how the “irrational Kim” rhetoric limits our ability to understand the complexity of the crisis in North Korea. This creates risks that perversely would compromise human rights and humanitarian goals.

The second is to explore other options for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for North Koreans beyond the threat and application of military force.

There is much emotion in debates over North Korea, and rightly so. Many North Korenas have experienced much suffering and trauma, as well as the lingering anguish of the Korean War and the separation of families by the partition of Korea.

This is precisely why analysts need to carefully weigh up the risks and rewards of policy choices: to do justice to that suffering, and to ensure we do not recommend misadventures that could add further misery to the North Korean people.

First, don’t make things worse

Considering the risks to civilians posed by a war of regime change, it is difficult to mount a case for war as a vehicle for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for the North Korean people.

The discourse on human rights in North Korea has long been framed through the lens of national security. Policy issues become “securitised” when proponents of an issue area frame it as an existential security threat, of high priority, that requires extraordinary measures and rapid action to tackle.

Because such issues become framed in the language of security, military-based solutions often come to dominate policy prescriptions. The “crazy Kim” argument has been central to the security rhetoric around human rights in North Korea. This locks possible solutions into a narrow spectrum focused on military force and coercion.

Just as doctors undertake to “first do no harm”, so too should foreign-policy-makers be wary of strategic choices that carry a high risk of making things worse.

Many Korea analysts have pointed to Seoul’s vulnerability, and the risk to millions of South Koreans, posed by a cascading escalation of US military action into full-scale war. That risk also applies to people living in population centres north of the demilitarised zone.

As the Iraq example again illustrates, removing a dictator in a war of regime change is not a guarantee that human rights and humanitarian outcomes will improve.

According to the Iraq Body Count project, 119,915 Iraqi deaths were verifiably attributed to the conflict in that country from 2003 to 2011. Another study published in PLOS Medicine journal put the death toll at half-a-million Iraqi civilians.

Either way, this death toll and suffering escalated well beyond the scale of human rights abuses and deaths that occurred under Saddam Hussein’s regime. This is not to downplay the suffering of those persecuted under Hussein, but to recognise that the invasion of Iraq made a bad situation worse.

Could we see similar casualty numbers in a war in North Korea?

North Korea is an urbanised country. Approximately 60% of people are concentrated in larger urban centres. In the event of full-scale escalation, air strikes are likely to target critical infrastructure in an effort to weaken the fighting and logistical capacity of the Kim regime. Many of these targets will be in urban centres, exposing civilians to attack.

We should be mindful of the humanitarian cost of the damage of war to the North Korean economy, industry, agriculture and key infrastructure. Targeting of critical energy, transportation and sanitation infrastructure will no doubt weaken North Korea’s fighting capacity, but also eliminate those critical services for civilians. Food production and distribution networks are likely to be disrupted.

For a country that is already chronically food insecure, any damage to food production and distribution systems will have immediate impacts on increasing malnutrition and starvation. Consider that estimates of deaths from North Korea’s “Arduous March” famine in the mid-1990s sit at approximately 600,000 after the collapse of the country’s food production and distribution system.

The elimination of services for civilians is likely to increase the risk of non-combat casualties from malnutrition, disease, and the elements – particularly during North Korea’s harsh winter.

If such a war ends quickly and an occupation force arrives in North Korea to restore security, casualty figures will be still be high. However, some of the longer-term impacts of human insecurity might be avoided.

However, in the event the post-regime environment is unstable, then casualty figures for North Koreans on a scale similar to Iraq become more likely.

Creating an environment for positive human rights outcomes

Removing Kim Jong-un as the head of the regime does not automatically translate into a win for human rights. A lot of post-conflict nation-building has to take place if a war scenario is to transcend the immediate humanitarian disaster and create an environment in which human rights for the North Korean people can be improved.

Human rights are best guaranteed by stable governance, strong political institutions, legal protections, active civil society, and broad material wellbeing. A post-conflict North Korea in which the Kim regime has been removed would effectively be a failed state. None of these facilitating conditions for human rights guarantees would yet exist.

It takes time and resources to cultivate the institutions of a stable state. It requires many years of patient networking, conversation and compromise to develop a social movement that could evolve into an active civil society. It takes even longer to cultivate a political culture in which the citizenry respects the integrity of the political system even when their faction is not in power.

Without this social infrastructure, Kim Jong-un’s removal is likely to lead to the disintegration of North Korea into a failed state, paving the way for the emergence of another authoritarian strongman.

In South Korea, it took more than 40 years after the conclusion of the Korean War, an ongoing American military occupation, and the development of a broad-based pro-democracy movement, for an imperfect democratic political system to evolve.

To suggest this process could be circumvented in North Korea does not accord with the findings of research into democratisation and social movements. These norms, rules and institutions should ideally be developed by the North Korean people over time, not impatiently imposed from outside by other powers.

It is doubtful that Trump – and, more importantly, his core political support base – has the stomach for the massive long-term, high-cost commitment that nation-building in a post-Kim North Korea would entail.

Where to from here?

One could be forgiven for observing the current US-North Korea standoff as a game played by privileged men in suits on either side, gambling with the lives of ordinary citizens. Millions of lives on both sides of the demilitarised zone and beyond are placed at unnecessary risk through such high-stakes brinkmanship.

It is easy for leaders to talk tough on non-proliferation and human rights enforcement. But it is quite another to bring about international norms in these fields in such a tricky strategic context as the Korean Peninsula.

Unfortunately, Trump’s penchant for military posturing does little to increase the likelihood of denuclearising North Korea, or improving human rights outcomes for its citizens.

Instead, the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric inadvertently legitimises North Korea’s justifications for its nuclear weapons program, along with the domestic coercive apparatus that persecutes North Korean citizens.

Guaranteeing human rights in North Korea will ultimately require new institutions, new laws, a domestic civil society, cultural change, and a process of justice for past abuses.

This is a project far beyond the scope of military action, requiring patience, innovative thinking and disciplined strategic restraint on the part of policymakers. And they must recognise the unique strategic circumstances of the Korean Peninsula.

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Learning to live with a nuclear North Korea?



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Reuters/KCNA

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

North Korea has been on a long march to acquire a usable nuclear weapon. Since 2011, when Kim Jong-un replaced his father at the head of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the pace of that march has quickened markedly. The Conversation

Contrary to claims made by Nikki Halley, the new US ambassador to the UN, North Korea’s leader is not crazy – he has decidedly rational motives. Kim wants nuclear weapons to provide security from a world that he believes threatens North Korea’s existence.

So far, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and two in 2016. The decision to acquire nuclear weapons was initially prompted by the perception that without such a deterrent, North Korea risked Iraq’s fate: invasion and regime change.

Although North Korea has one of the largest militaries in the world – its army alone has more than 1 million soldiers – it is an antiquated fighting force whose principal advantage is its proximity to South Korea. Its ability to win a fight against a technologically sophisticated opponent is widely questioned. Nuclear weapons offset that weakness markedly.

An independent nuclear capacity would also reduce the country’s dependence on China. Beijing has long believed that North Korea is a useful buffer between it and an American-allied South Korea. Pyongyang realises, however, that were Beijing to change its attitude then it would find itself dangerously exposed.

North Korea perceives it is isolated in a world that is hostile to its existence. However loathsome the regime may be and however badly it misallocates resources to bolster the ruling elite, the reason for acquiring nuclear weapons is entirely rational: they are a vital means for North Korea to protect itself.

Kim has made the acquisition of nuclear weapons a core priority. It is central to government propaganda, figures prominently in nationalist iconography, and indeed the country’s nuclear standing is now enshrined in the constitution.

Most analysts believe North Korea has not yet mastered all three parts of the “nuclear trinity” required to make a usable weapon. This entails first developing a controlled nuclear explosion. The second is miniaturising and hardening that technology so it can work reliably while attached to a means of delivery. The final step is an accurate and reliable delivery system, such as a ballistic missile.

North Korea definitely has the first step and is getting close to both the second and third steps. Barring either a change in heart from the regime about its nuclear ambition or some kind of effective international intervention, North Korea is very likely to have a functioning nuclear weapon within a few years – if not sooner.

The acceleration of the nuclear program – three tests since 2013 compared with two tests between 2006 and 2012 – reflects most obviously the higher priority Kim has placed on it.

Development of missile technology – the third step in the nuclear trinity – has also increased in tempo, with more than 20 tests since January 2016. The recent acceleration is an attempt not just to “sprint” to the finish but also to take advantage of the sense of uncertainty in the region.

North Korea’s more adventurous tendencies are most effectively kept in check when the US and China are able to align their interests and policies. That has most assuredly not been the case over the past year or so.

During his “reassurance tour”, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the old policies toward North Korea had failed – and “everything was on the table”. Many interpreted this as a new appetite for strategic risk from the incoming administration.

As with other aspects of America’s Asia policy, Tillerson was light on detail about what new approach Washington might pursue. One assumes it was a major point of debate in Seoul and Beijing. But speculation abounds that pre-emptive attacks may be being considered more seriously than in the past.

The problem with managing North Korea’s nuclear ambition is that there are so few options, and none of them are appealing. As an isolated economy that cares little for international public opinion there are precious few carrots and sticks.

Sanctions have had some effect, but they largely punish the population and not the regime. And they are regularly flouted by China on an opportunistic basis.

Due to the compressed geography of the peninsula, military action would come at a heavy price – North Korea would retaliate by unleashing massive force on South Korea. Seoul is within 60 kilometres of the border with North Korea; pre-emption would be extraordinarily risky.

North Korea will be the most pressing issue at this week’s Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit. What can be done? There are three main options.

The first is to somehow convince North Korea to step back from its nuclear ambitions, possibly using the stalled Six-Party Talks framework. Given how important it has become to the leadership, both as a security goal and as a sense of national purpose and identity, this seems highly unlikely.

Many once assumed North Korea had started down the nuclear path as an elaborate means to receive international aid. That is, it didn’t actually want them as such, but sought them as a means to extort international financial support. This no longer appears to be the case, if it ever was.

The second option is to coerce North Korea into giving them up. This is equally fraught.

Not only is the risk of major war significant, but even short of war, more targeted and better-enforced sanctions seem unlikely to halt the run to the finish line.

The third and least-worst of the options is a tried and tested policy but one that is politically unsavoury. That is, to engage with the regime, bilaterally or in the Six-Party mode. The aim here would be to retard but probably not prevent its nuclear weapon development while devising ways of learning to live with a nuclear North Korea.

Well-managed deterrence can produce a more stable strategic environment in northeast Asia than has existed in recent years. Engagement could also lead to reduced tension, greater stability and possibly even economic reform in North Korea.

Of one thing we can be sure: North Korea acts rationally, and the one outcome above all it wants to avoid is its own demise.

Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

North Korea: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from North Korea (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://evangelicalfocus.com/blogs/1982/The_Irresistible_Grace_of_God_The_story_of_North_Korea
http://christianexaminer.com/article/persecution-watchdog-north-korean-christians-steamrolled-for-christ/51082.htm
http://www.christianpost.com/news/save-north-korean-refugees-day-24-chinese-embassies-face-protests-for-repatriating-defectors-to-their-death-170014/
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.hung.on.a.cross.over.fire.steamrollered.and.crushed.to.death.in.north.korea/96190.htm
https://www.mnnonline.org/news/north-korea-something-to-prove/

North Korea: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from north Korea.

For more visit:
http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2016/08/17/15/0401000000AEN20160817005500315F.html
http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2016/08/485_211638.html