(By Morton H. Halperin, Nautilus Institute, January 3, 2011) If the international community is seen to accept North Korea as even a de facto permanent nuclear power there would be a very serious deterioration of the security situation in East Asia and globally. Notwithstanding the current consensus in both Japan and South Korea against developing nuclear weapons, I believe that a nuclear North Korea would eventually compel South Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons and the danger of an armed conflict in which nuclear weapons might be used would significantly increase. This would pose a serious threat to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Until and unless it becomes absolutely clear that reversing North Korea’s nuclear program is not possible, Western security policy in the region must be directed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons and commit to a verifiable regime to insure its permanent compliance.
There is no prospect of that happening unless the United States also pledges not to threaten the North with nuclear weapons. An agreement would be more likely if Japan were included in a treaty creating a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWF zone) for Northeast Asia. The prospects for such an agreement would be increased if it were embodied in a more comprehensive agreement on peace and security in the region.
Therefore, in order to break the current impasse that has prevented any real negotiations for several years, the parties to the Six-Party talks should seek to negotiate, initially through bilateral channels, the text of a comprehensive treaty that would end the state of belligerency from the Korean War, establish a security organization for the region, commit all parties to normalization of relations with no hostile intent, and establish an NWF zone. Once an agreement on the text was reached, the parties could negotiate the process for bringing it into force…
The elements of the comprehensive Treaty on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia would include:
1. Termination of the state of war This is clearly a major objective of North Korea. This section of the treaty should be adhered to by the armistice nations and by South Korea. It should provide for the normalization of relations while providing support for the eventual unification of the Peninsula. The agreement should provide for opening the border between the North and South and the pulling back of military forces in the demilitarized zone. The territorial disputes between the North and South, including at sea, should either be settled or the two parties should commit to a peaceful resolution of the disputes.
2. Creation of a permanent council on security The treaty should transform the Six-Party talks into a permanent council and support organization to monitor the provisions of the treaty and to provide a forum to deal with future security problems in the region. In addition to the six parties to the treaty, other states from the region could be invited to join as full participants or observers.
3. Mutual declaration of no hostile intent This is a key objective of North Korea, which put great stock in getting such a statement from US President Bill Clinton’s administration. It was flummoxed when the administration of President George W. Bush simply withdrew it and when President Barrack Obama’s administration continued this policy. To be credible, this commitment must be embodied in the treaty and affect all the parties’ relations with each other.
4. Provisions of assistance for nuclear and other energy The right of all parties to the treaty to have access to necessary sources of energy including nuclear power will need to be affirmed. Any limitations on North Korea will need to apply equally to the other non-nuclear parties to the treaty. A new multilateral framework might be appropriate to deal with the fuel cycle. North Korea will also want assurances that its energy needs will be subsidized. Beyond a general commitment this will probably need to be negotiated as a separate agreement.
5. Termination of sanctions/response to violations of the treaty The parties to the treaty will need to commit to refrain from the use of sanctions on any other party to the treaty and to remove them from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The parties would reserve the right to collectively impose sanctions on any state that violates its commitments under the treaty.
6. A nuclear weapons-free zone Finally, the treaty would contain a chapter that would create a nuclear weapons-free zone in Northeast Asia…
… De-nuclearizing the Korean Peninsula must remain a high priority of the international community. Failure to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear capabilities will lead to further proliferation and to a more dangerous world. The outline proposed here, with a flexible NWF zone, is a way forward that deserves careful consideration.
*Morton H. Halperin served four US presidents and is currently a Senior Adviser at the Open Society Foundation. Halperin notes that, as the Six-Party talks aimed at eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program remain stalled, a fresh approach incorporating the concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone in Northeast Asia should be considered as a way of ensuring peace and security in the region.