Rising tensions on Korean Peninsula require consolidating efforts of world powers
20 March 2016. PenzaNews. Situation on the Korean Peninsula is aggravating against the background of continuing missile tests conducted by the DPRK, the last of which was held on Friday, March 18.
Previously, the UN Security Council imposed its toughest sanctions on North Korea, enhancing the economic isolation of the country after it carried out its fourth nuclear test and fired a long-range rocket. However, that has not stopped Pyongyang.
Despite the position taken by the North Korea leadership, Russia pointed out that the situation should not be used for worsening economic and humanitarian conditions in the country.
Thus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that the global community’s response should be tough and concentrate on blocking the access to supply chains that support North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. However, it is necessary to take into account the complex humanitarian situation in the country and to avoid aggravating Pyongyang’s legitimate cooperation with its foreign partners in civil industries.
Meanwhile, according to the observers, the new launch of two ballistic missiles is another provocative move by North Korea that requires consolidating efforts of world powers to stabilize the situation.
“The events of recent days and even hours, to our general disappointment, mean that North Korea’s leadership has learned nothing to date and has not heeded the voice of reason yet, having taken another step that cannot be called anything but provocative,” Russian Ambassador to China Andrei Denisov said.
Analyzing the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, The National Interest columnist, called it quite dangerous.
“No one has much of a plan to coax Kim Jong Un out of his dangerous patterns of behavior on the international stage,” he told PenzaNews.
Speaking about real objectives pursued by North Korea politicians, the leading US defense expert suggested that even they have not figured that out. In his opinion, a vague sense of maximizing national power and prestige are the underlying drivers of their behavior.
“[To stabilize the situation] I favor a two-step diplomatic process in which the first step would aim for the more achievable goal of a verifiable freeze on their nuclear program – and also their ballistic missile program – in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions,” Michael O’Hanlon noted.
He also questioned the North Korean claim of hydrogen bomb testing and agreed with the vast number of experts who share the view that the DPRK is exaggerating its technical capabilities. But even a fission bomb atop a missile is a very potent and serious threat, he stressed.
Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on US-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) also stressed that the DPRK has achieved quite good results in the improvement of its own nuclear technology and cannot be ignored by the world community as a potential threat.
“There is heightened tension in the atmosphere around the peninsula due to US-ROK exercises, North Korea recent tests and the UN Security Council Resolution that toughens sanctions against Pyongyang,” the US analyst said.
Speaking about the measures that could stabilize the situation, Scott Snyder said that the actions taken by the international community should ultimately make Kim Jong Un willing to accept normalization and integration as facets of security rather than nuclearization.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s real objectives, in his opinion, are all about regime survival and deflection of pressure from the outside world, including from South Korea’s success.
In turn, Rick Fisher, Senior Fellow at International Assessment and Strategy Center, noted that except the Kim Dynasty’s first and foremost goal to ensure its continuation, North Korea also wants to make as much money as possible from the sale of missile and nuclear technology.
“North Korea has been working on its nuclear missiles and nuclear weapons for over 25 years. They have some level of nuclear bomb and nuclear missile capability today and they are about to field an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach Moscow,” the analyst said.
According to him, China’s and to a lesser degree Russia’s diplomatic deceptions and interference have contributed to this situation.
“Russia has an historic obligation to stop the Kim Dynasty threat to the world, inasmuch as Josef Stalin was as responsible for the creation of this threat as any other. Russia also has a direct interest in preventing North Korea from becoming a province of China, thereby increasing the geostrategic options for Chinese forces to attack the Russian Far East. If Russia was truly serious about its own security it would leave the Six Party Talks, as they are a Chinese construct to do nothing, and join South Korea and the West in a far more intensive effort to impose a strict naval blockade on North Korea,” Rick Fisher said.
Meanwhile, Lisa Collins from Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested that Pyongyang is looking to build a credible nuclear deterrent and to develop enough nuclear weapons so that it can negotiate with the United States on acceptable terms, pursuing the goal of removal of all US forces from the Korean Peninsula.
“The US and its allies should continue to maintain a tough stance with a credible deterrent posture against North Korea. The countries in the region should also work together to develop diplomatic strategies that would help bring North Korea back to the table for multilateral negotiations. A mixture of sticks – pressure through sanctions – and carrots – offers for diplomatic talks and potential aid – should be used to help change the situation,” the analyst added.
At the same time, from her point of view, the humanitarian situation in the country does not appear to be affected much by the current tensions.
“There are conflicting reports, but it appears that market activity inside North Korea is rather normal and regular trade in food and goods is continuing across the China-NK border,” Lisa Collins said.
Bruce Bennett, Senior Defense Analyst at the RAND Corporation, on the contrary, pointed out the deplorable state of the economy in North Korea.
“The North Korean GDP per capita is probably less than 5% that of South Korea. The North Korean regime is losing control of its economy, the economic and other infrastructure is seriously dilapidated. The DPRK does not grow enough cereal crops to achieve even subsistence levels of consumption,” the expert said.
According to him, for the last six months Kim Jong Un has been working to prepare for the North Korean 7th Party Congress, the first party congress in about 35 years, and wants to appear a very powerful leader.
“But over the last six months, he has experienced many failures, including the propaganda broadcasts by South Korea, his failure to go to Beijing’s commemoration of the end of World War II, his failure to secure a summit meeting with China, two failed tests of submarine launched ballistic missiles, the failed H-bomb test, China’s denunciation of both the nuclear and missile tests, the passage of US HR 757 for enforcing sanctions on North Korea, and the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2270,” the analyst explained.
He also stressed that the primary actions taken thus far by the international community have been punishments for North Korea’s provocations.
“While such punishments are important, they are not nearly as important as establishing deterrence of future provocations. Since in this case Kim Jong Un is primarily seeking internal political benefits, the international community needs to threaten Kim Jong Un that they will do everything they can to undermine his internal appearance of power should he commit any further provocations,” Bruce Bennett said.
In his opinion, the international community needs to take new and innovative actions against North Korea, actions that will surprise it and thereby blunt any North Korean preparations before the provocation.
“Russia has played an important role in averting future North Korean provocations by condemning North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. Personally, I very much appreciate Russia’s responsible approach to dealing with the North Korean provocations,” the analyst added.
Meanwhile, Frank Feinstein, Former Chief Technical Officer, North Korea News, specialist in North Korean computer networks, stressed that the international community consistently underestimated potential threat of Pyongyang.
“Pyongyang is indeed exaggerating their technical capabilities. However once that’s removed, their technical capacity to harm other countries is still one of the highest in the world, and there is much established evidence to support this. Pyongyang is close to developing hydrogen, rather than fission nuclear weapons,” he said.
“My main expertise is around signals intelligence and international hacking expertise. North Korea exhibits a legitimate threat to Western cyber security,” the New Zealand expert added.
Analyzing the measures taken against North Korea, he noted that the international community does not do much to assure the stability of the North Korean regime.
“Very few Western countries are interested in stabilizing the situation, they are much more interested in their own leverage and making the peninsula as unstable as possible for their own foreign policy objectives,” Frank Feinstein explained.
According to Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at East-West Center, North Korea illustrates what happens when the ruling regime cares about nothing except maintaining its own position and is completely ruthless in pursuing that goal.
“North Korea is a terribly mismanaged country both politically and economically, resulting in poor living conditions and crushing ideological repression for most of the population and hellish abuses toward the segment of society the state condemns as political criminals,” the expert said.
In his opinion, beyond regime security, the DPRK wants to ensure that it is not vulnerable to absorption by South Korea or attack by the US.
“There are three general possible approaches to the problem. One of them is to accept North Korea as a legitimate state, which means for the international community to agree to its nuclear weapons, stop officially criticizing the regime, open normal diplomatic relations and see if this substantially improves the situation. The second approach is to begin working toward the overthrow of the regime, including the imposition of heavy economic and military pressure. The sanctions up to now have been basically symbolic. There are much more punishing things the United States and certainly China could do,” Denny Roy said.
The third possible option, from his point of view, is to continue with the status quo of light pressure and deterrence while waiting for the regime to either collapse or reform on its own.
“The current approach is not promising in the short or medium term. The situation is stagnant over the question of the DPRK’s de-nuclearization, and because China fears a regime collapse more than it fears North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The North Korean regime is much like ISIS: everyone fears and loathes it, but the governments that are best positioned to destroy it – China and South Korea – do not want to for their own reasons,” the analyst concluded.