“North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that the country has realised the great historic cause of completing a state nuclear force”–this according to a statement from national television in the DPRK. Now that North Korea has successfully tested both a modern hydrogen bomb and the Hwasong 15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which both the government of the United States and the DPRK say can strike anywhere in the US, it is officially game over for those trying to disarm North Korea.
North Korea further confirmed that the missile was launched not from a stationary pad but from a vehicular based launcher and that a warhead affixed to the missile could withstand the pressure upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Donald Trump’s uncharacteristically muted response to the launch is further proof that the nature of North Korea’s history changing launch, has forced the entire world to take serious notice.
North Korea is now in a small club of nations capable of deterring a US attack due to its ability to deliver nuclear weapons to US territory. While North Korea’s missiles are still far less powerful and its nuclear weapons far smaller than those in the arsenals of Russia, the US or China, for anyone with a sense of common ethics, running the risk of provoking any nuclear strike is a step too far.
In an era where the US recklessly invades, destroys and occupies nations who do not have a full scale military deterrent, the DPRK has effectively responded to the events of the last 20 years in US military policy, just as Russia warned they would do.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin while always critical of North Korea’s weapons programme, has said that because of the precedent for destroying nations that fall out of favour with the US, precedents that were established most notably in Iraq and Libya, North Korea did what it would inevitably do in such a circumstance. Furthermore in to a country which stresses self-sufficiency, high educational levels and a highly disciplined work ethic as part of its official Juche ideology, it shouldn’t be surprising that North Korean missile and nuclear technology advanced as rapidly as it has done.
While North Korea still has fewer nuclear weapons than India, Pakistan or Israel, it has achieved a nuclear deterrent more independently than the aforementioned nations. As Pyongyang has stated that its nuclear deterrent is designed only to intimidate the US, the reality of Pyongyang’s commitment to its weapons programme ought to elicit caution and maturity from Washington, rather than rage, threats and blackmail. It now would appear to be a matter of global safety for the US to not enrage Pyongyang with childish provocations.
This is not to say that weapons make the world safer, but in a world where nuclear weapons and accompanying ICBM delivery systems are a fact of life, one must deal with the world that is, rather than a nuclear free world that exists only in well-meaning, but ultimately impractical minds.
In this sense, the new reality of North Korea’s full-scale nuclear deterrent was inevitable. I previously wrote about the only pragmatic, peaceful and sensible way to address it, just over a month ago:
“The question as to whether the DPRK is willing to engage in broad dialogue with potential international partners, has been answered. Last week, the DPRK sent an open letter to multiple governments, including the US ally, Australia, in which Pyongyang asked to form a united front against Donald Trump’s aggressive stance towards Pyongyang. Australia, in taking an overly literal reading of North Korea’s letter, threw away a chance to reply to Pyongyang. Had Australia engaged with Pyongyang, this would have literally been the beginning of dialogue between North Korea and a stanch US ally in the Pacific. The short-sighted attitude of the Canberra, demonstrates that when North Korea does reach out to countries in an unexpected way, this attempt to establish lines of dialogue is essentially met with a cynical and obstinate attitude that doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Dialogue is never easy in such situations, but all countries owe it to the wider cause of world peace to try. Australia foolishly read North Korea’s letter as a kind of ‘geo-political prank’, where in fact it was a thorny olive branch.
While North Korea has recently stated that they will not negotiate their nuclear programme until Pyongyang possesses the ability to strike all of the US mainland with nuclear missiles, the reality behind such dramatic remarks is far more mundane.
All negotiations in difficult situations have a cat and mouse element to them, with the roles of feline and rodent, often swapping by the day, if not by the hour. North Korea’s actions are often far more reasonable than their words. The fact that the DPRK did reach out to a US ally, demonstrates that they are ready for dialogue now. The fault here, therefore lies with those who refused to respond.
Furthermore, with North Korea months away from reaching the final stage of its nuclear development, by Pyongyang’s own admission, the treat to refrain from dialogue until such a state is reached, is becoming increasingly moot in any case.
While it is impossible to independently verify the DPRK’s internal nuclear timeline, there is no reason not to test the waters and begin attempts to negotiate in both good faith and more importantly, with pragmatism. This statement applies to all potential negotiating partners.
The truth of the matter is that North Korea is not going to forego its nuclear programme at this point in time, in spite of any attempted efforts by others to change this, even from traditional partners. The world must come to accept that a nuclear North Korea is a fact of life and rather than risk provoking a nuclear war in trying to change this, instead, one should approach North Korea under the assumption that it will be a nuclear power for the foreseeable future and all that can be established through negotiations is the nature of the DPRK’s nuclear reality.
In this respect, what North Korea needs is a regional peace treaty and additionally, negotiating partners should work with North Korea to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a nuclear country, but one which joins its nuclear neighbours Russia and China, in promoting the responsible maintenance of nuclear weapons.
This is the only peaceful and realistic solution to the crisis and it is one that can and should be augmented with the Russia offer to both Korean states to engage in tripartite economic cooperation with Russia. While Russia and China are opposed to North Korea’s nuclear programme, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in public that he understands its justification, based on the precedents of Iraq and Libya, two countries that were obliterated by NATO due to their lack of weapon of mass destruction. In this sense, Russia has tacitly admitted that there is a real deterrent value to the DPRK’s weapons, even while working to try and reduce tensions and reach an accord for a Korean peace process.
The world is reaching a point of no return with North Korea, just as it did in respect of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan and Israel, three countries that have a far more realistic chance of using their nuclear weapons than North Korea, because unlike North Korea which is in the midst of a frozen conflict, India, Pakistan and Israel have had decades long, hot conflicts with neighbouring states. If the world can learn to pragmatically live with three non-signatories to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) having nuclear weapons, than surely, a similar status quo could be reached with North Korea, a former signatory to the NPT and one which has in the past, shown signs that under certain conditions, it could return to the NPT.
Hence, all responsible countries should open up channels of communication to North Korea, without preconceived notions, dogmas or ultimatums. The penultimate understanding guiding such negotiations is that the DPRK should rejoin the NPT and no country should ever again threaten North Korea. In many ways, even China would have to go some way towards compromise on this as Beijing would like to see both sides of the Korean peninsula de-weaponised. However, China’s position here, while ideal, is also at this stage in time, unrealistic because of Pyongyang’s desire to maintain a deterrent to the very real threat of US aggression.
Whereas China feels betrayed by Pyongyang’s weapons programme, Russia, while condemning it, tends to take a more practical approach, one which if successfully put into practice, China could embrace as a partner. In this sense, it would help to see the NPT as a Korean gateway to One Belt–One Road and the overall spirit of One Belt–One Road is one of bringing peace to the wider world through mutual prosperity creating initiatives. There is no reason why either Korean state should ultimately not reap these benefits. If Russia can help to transform North Korea into a responsible nulear power, Russia could also convince China to join in a peace process which involves promoting a harmonious Korea through economic outreach in the form of a tributary of One Belt–One Road.
Once again, the US is the biggest obstacle to such a pragmatic peace process for the following reasons:
–the US is not interested in China expanding One Belt–One Road, nor is Washington interested in Russia expanding its commercial endeavours into East Asia.
–the US generates money by feeding its domestic weapons makers cash in order to then, ‘give’ expensive arms to South Korea
–the US sees a weaponised Korean peninsula as an opportunity to distract China from her peaceful economic activities by parking a nuclear frozen conflict on her doorstep
Now though, the US has taken its peace averse attitude a step further as the perpetually unhinged CIA director Mike Pompeo, has made another ludicrous and provocative statement.
In a recent statement, Pompeo talked brazenly about assassinating Kim Jong-un. The CIA director stated,
“With respect to … if Kim Jong-un should vanish, given the history of the CIA, I’m just not going to talk about it.
Someone might think there was a coincidence. ‘You know, there was an accident.’ It’s just not fruitful”.
Pompeo then ominously stated that the CIA is “going to become a much more vicious agency”.
Pompeo’s statements will be seen by North Korea as yet a further sign that the US does not seek peace, but in fact seeks yet another illegal overthrow of a head of state. With someone like Pompeo engaging in Dr. Strangelove style rhetoric against North Korea, is it really unreasonable to assume that North Korea should want to expand its deterrent against a US which is openly promising acts of illegal violence against North Korea?
This is not the first ludicrous thing Pompeo has stated. He previously said that Russia and the Lebanese party Hezbollah are operating in Venezuela, in combined efforts to harm the US. He also stated that the publisher and peace activist Julian Assange would have supported Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s. Pompeo also said that Russia’s current Chief of the General Staff invented the concept of RT and Sputnik, one which relies on the power of the internet in 2017, in the early 1970s when he was in his late teens and still in the equivalent of high school. Finally, Trump’s CIA director stated that Russia not only rigged Donald Trump’s election but also did so with Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.
When it comes to being a danger to world peace and totally out of touch with basic facts in the process, Mike Pompeo fits this description far more than the North Korean leadership.
North Korea is looking for assurances and Pyongyang’s actions indicate it is also looking for dialogue in various forms. Mike Pompeo is looking to make the CIA even more aggressive and lawless than it already is. Against this backdrop, is it any wonder that the crisis on the Korean peninsula continues to smoulder?”
According to North Korea’s previous statements, the only time Pyongyang will begin negotiations is when it is fully capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to any location in the United States. According to many independent experts as well as the US and DPRK governments, that time is now. The question therefore remains, is North Korea now going to dive into discussions? The short answer is, not all at first and certainly not headfirst.
North Korea still feels threatened by the military exercises set to take place between the US and South Korean armed forces in the Republic of Korea beginning next week and now that North Korea has realised its goal of developing a full deterrent, the US and its partners should realise that this isn’t the time for further provocations. Brinkmanship has its limits and any further military exercises in the region, will be pushing Brinkmanship further than it should logically go.
The key therefore, is for Russia to begin intensifying its discussions with both Pyongyang and Seoul about the tripartite economic cooperation initiative that President Putin introduced in September of this year.
Both Korean states have responded positively to Russia’s proposals to bring peace through enhanced economic inter-connectivity, although Pyongyang stated it would wait until further assurances about its safety are met, before fully signing up to the initiative.
Russia has already stepped-up its contacts with Pyongyang and it is almost certain that Putin’s tripartite economic initiative will be part of these discussions. The key for Russia which is currently on far better diplomatic terms with Pyongyang vis-a-vis Russia’s close partner China, is to convince North Korea that its security interests will be accounted for in any future deals while also convincing South Korea that the future of a peaceful Korean peninsula lies in economic cooperation rather than in a protracted military standoff. South Korea’s increasingly warm relations with Russia make this a very real possibility.
As I wrote about Russia and also China’s overall approach to diplomacy with an emphasis on North Korea:
“The genesis of Russia’s North Korea policy is best apprehended through an understanding of Russia’s diplomatic and economic goals for Asia and the so-called wider ‘Global South’. Russia’s manner of achieving things in the diplomatic arena, is linked indelibly with Russia’s wider geo-economic style of diplomacy. For Russia, peace and cooperation are achieved through initiatives involving economic inter-connectivity. By establishing joint-economic projects, in areas including energy cooperation and the establishing of new trading zones (free trade or with substantial reductions in traditional tariffs), Russia aims to ease geo-political pressure points through the incentive of prosperity that comes through countries having mutual shares in multilateral endeavours.
One sees this in the Middle East where Russia continues to enhance cooperation with Syria, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon–all members of the geo-political northern bloc of the Middle East, while also maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia, it’s rival Qatar and America’s traditional ally in Tel Aviv, while also re-starting intensified good relations with Egypt.
In East Asia, Russia continues to expand relations with South Korea, in spite of Seoul’s ties to Washington. It is no coincidence that South Korea is increasingly responsive to Russian diplomatic measures at a time when trade between the two-countries looks set to rapidly expand.
Implicit in the burgeoning relationship between Moscow and Seoul is the prospect for the tripartite economic cooperation initiative between Russia and the two Korean states, that was first proposed by Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok shortly after this year’s BRICS summit.
Both North and South Korean officials, including President Moon Jae-in attended the meeting. Officials from both Korean states were responsive to Putin’s proposals for joint economic initiatives, including the possibility of energy and logistical transport corridors that would link all thee countries.
At the time and in subsequent statements, the North Korean government said that the only thing prohibiting Pyongyang from embracing the proposals immediately, was continued fears about threats to the DPRK’s security due to increased US military activities in South Korea.
This is why the double-freeze is crucial for the success of such joint initiatives and it is why Russia is in close contact with South Korea regarding the matter. According to the double-freeze, North Korea must halt the testing of new weapons, while South Korea, the US and Japan must do the same, while also ceasing with provocative military exercises in the region.
Russia is clearly attempting to convince South Korea to help and de-escalate joint US military activities in the region, something President Moon Jae-in has been receptive to in the past. In late October of this year, Seoul and Beijing reached an agreement whereby it would appear South Korea has agreed not to receive further US made and operated THAAD missile systems, a key demand from China. As a result, South Korea and China have quickly normalised economic and diplomatic activities, while the contents of the agreement have only been partly revealed.
A similar agreement will need to be struck with Russia, entailing further commitments from Seoul to de-militarise certain aspects of US made armaments in the country, in order for Russia to feel confident in further leveraging the DPRK to reciprocate.
Russia is perfectly clear about how seriously it takes the security concerns in both Korean states and it will certainly take intense negotiations with both sides to reach a point where the double-freeze can take shape.
In many ways, China is now in closer communication with South Korea than with its historic Northern partner. While China remains fully committed to the double-freeze and to joint regional economic initiatives as part of the One Belt–One Road project, China’s relations with Pyongyang are at an all time low. Under Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang and Beijing have failed to see eye to eye on numerous occasions. However, Russia’s relationship with Pyongyang is, if anything, growing stronger and China is happy for Russia to take the diplomatic lead in this area. In this sense, one should not over-hype the strains between Beijing and Pyongyang as the US under Donald Trump is often inclined to do. In reality, as long as Russia continues in its diplomatic discussions with both Korean states and with China, all parties will eventually be satisfied, as each party will be able to air its concerns to a receptive diplomatic partner.
The biggest stumbling block to the entire process is the United States and the reasons for this have everything to do with Washington’s approach to geo-politics and geo-economics. Contemporary US geo-politics, especially in the Trump era, appears to boil down to merely two things:
1. Attempts to create points of tensions along key areas of One Belt–One Road
2. Attempts to exploit as many traditional conflicts as possible, so as to sell more expensive military hardware to traditional partners
Increasingly, these two elements of US foreign policy go hand-in-hand. One sees it in respect of the US arming India and siding with India in its disputes with both China and Pakistan. One sees it in the Middle East where the US continues to sell expensive weapons to Saudi Arabia while encouraging Riyadh’s anti-Iranian rhetoric. One sees it in South East Asia where the US is openly trying to stand in the way of would-be rapprochement between Vietnam and China and of course, one sees it in East Asia where Trump has touted weapons sales to Japan as a means of ‘containing’ North Korea.
Far from de-escalating conflicts, the US model of geo-economics seeks to exploit conflicts for the sake of weapons sales. Nowhere is this more true than in respect of the Korean crisis, where one of the world’s longest standing frozen conflicts has heated up due to the US rhetoric against North Korea which seemed to spontaneously become highly aggressive starting in April of 2017.
Russia has far fewer economic ties to the United States than China. Russia’s goal therefore is to use diplomatic skill to try and convince the US to be a less obstructionist power in the aforementioned conflicts. As this is likely to fail, Russia looks increasingly to built its economic relations with traditional US partners and in doing so, show the United States that the zero-sum mentality which is implicit in its foreign policy, is not economically prudent and mutually beneficial in the long term.
This strategy involves helping traditional US partners, who often act as though fully dependant on the US, to achieve and more independent and consequently balanced foreign policy, thus giving these states their own form of leverage to use against the authoritarian style of US foreign policy.
Russia’s relationship with South Korea is a demonstrative of such a policy. With this context in mind, the following are the key highlights from Igor Morgulov’s speech in South Korea.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that the apocalyptic version of developments in this region exists and I very much hope that there will be enough common sense among the regional community to prevent this negative scenario from happening….
…I do not think that the tightening of pressure would lead to the results, which the authors of such policy expect. I am sure that if the goal is to make North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons and missile programs, it would be the last thing which North Koreans will give up as a result … further strengthening of sanctions against North Korea may lead this country to the brink of humanitarian crisis…
…Does someone believe in illusions that the words of the US President on ’fire and fury’ attack or constant North Korean threats to turn magnificent city of Seoul into ‘sea of flames’, does someone really think that these threats could cut the knot, which for so many years have been tied around the peninsula? We would be naive to think that any of the sides in this confrontation is going to give in under pressure…
…What theme of talks could be proposed in the first place? It is very simple: the principles of peaceful coexistence. I’m sure that that the lack of such an agreement on principles of mutual coexistence sparks mutual mistrust and bad blood [between the United States and North Korea]…
…The alternative to dialogue and negotiations does not exist. But in order to start this dialogue, it is important to first of all slow down and breath out, as they say…
…A mutually negative influence of [North Korean missile] tests and [US] drills is beyond doubt…
…We have presented the points of this roadmap to both sides [North Korea and the United States], I want to note that this plan has not been dismissed right away, neither in Washington, nor in Pyongyang…
…Moreover, we have engaged in discussion of some elements of this plan separately with the United States and with North Korea, which shows that a discussion based on this suggestion is possible. The work began, but, unfortunately US actions in October-November, I mean the military drills, have seriously impeded our dialogue on settlement based on this roadmap…
…We believe that on the second stage of roadmap implementation the intra-Korean dialogue could be resumed. We know that our South Korean friends are ready for such work and hope that the North will also show interest…
…The gas project is at the most advanced stage of the implementation, but the political situation unveiling on the [Korean] Peninsula does not let [us] bring the project into life. We hope that the political conditions for the implementation of this project, which is beneficial for all three sides, will emerge in the foreseeable future”.
This speech represents Russia’s most clear indication that it indirectly, yet unambiguously blames the US for obstructing the joint-economic initiatives between the two Korean states and Russia and that the prolonging of such tensions can only be mutually detrimental to all sides. While Russia still must convince the US down from its obstructionist position, it is clear that when it comes to offering practical, workable and mutually beneficial proposals for East Asia, Russia is taking the diplomatic and economic lead”.
In this respect, the US approach to the Korean crisis has failed. Tensions remain high and North Korea has achieved a full-scale nuclear deterrent and associated ICMB capabilities. While the US has always been more interested in selling weapons in the region and disrupting One Belt–One Road than in bringing a lasting peace between Pyongyang and Seoul, now that the DPRK has reached the stage in its weapons programme that it has, it is time for the US to consider just how far it wishes to inflame tensions for the sake of the military-industrial complex.
The realities on the ground dictate that peace is the only sane solution and when it comes to peace, the Russian and Chinese proposals are there–simply waiting to be implemented. The US has nothing to offer but more provocations whether in the form of economic warfare or military manoeuvres in the region.
Shortly after North Korea’s ICBM test Konstantin Kosachev of the Russian Federation Council, stated,
“It’s a fact that during the past two months North Korea has been demonstrating restraint and did not provoke the international community by any means. Pyongyang, most likely, expected the same restraint in response on part of the West, both in judgments and actions”.
Until the US can accept the primacy of this reality over its increasingly juvenile narrative, things will get worse, even though the opportunity in the form of the tripartite economic initiative exists, which would make the most pressing problems in the region, vastly better.