Following its May 25, 2009, nuclear test, has North Korea blown up prospects for diplomacy--especially the six party talks--as a viable diplomatic tool for achieving denuclearization? The Washington Post reports that a tough draft UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's nuclear test is being circulated to capitals this weekend.
The draft resolution--content of which must gain approval by the Chinese and Russians--calls for the re-imposition of economic sanctions included under UNSC Resolution 1718 passed following North Korea's first nuclear test, a military embargo, and authorizes inspections of any suspicious North Korean cargo passing through airports and seaports or on the high seas. Essentially, these provisions provide UN Security Council authorization for the types of activities currently being conducted under the Proliferation Security Initiative. The provisions of the resolution probably go beyond what China is willing to support under a UN framework, but Deputy Secretary Steinberg's comments last week in Seoul also suggest a continuing convergence of Chinese and U.S. views on the subject. In addition to the imposition of sanctions, the draft resolution also "calls upon the DPRK to return immediately to the Six Party Talks without precondition . . . with a view to achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
North Korea announced last April that it would abandon the six party process in order to change the format and agenda of talks with the United States and to claim the prestige that would derive from international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Although many analysts believe that the six party process is finally dead, the other parties have all responded by stating their continued commitment to the six party process. The question is not whether such a process will continue but whether it will be empowered as an effective tool for addressing North Korea's nuclear challenge.
Effective Six Party Talks: Test Case for Capacity to Manage Global Issues?
Henry Kissinger has underscored the failure of six party talks in his recent New York Times opinion column while at the same time pointing to the need for effective multilateral coordination to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. Kissinger stated that the failure of the concerned parties to successfully handle the North Korean nuclear issue signals a broader failure of global governance. His argument turns on the question of whether the parties concerned will acquiesce to North Korea as a nuclear weapons state or utilize their collective will to "to assemble the incentives and pressures to bring about the elimination of nuclear weapons and stockpiles from North Korea." In the face of a North Korean challenge to the collective interests of the other parties, Kissinger recommends that parties respond through a "concert approach."
Thus, it is not North Korea's declaration that it will leave the talks but the failure of the other parties to utilize the six party process as an effective means by which to launch a strong collective response that would mark the end of the six party process. The six party process will be replaced by an alternative framework if it proves to be a means by which to temporize or tacitly accept North Korea's nuclear capacity.
Kissinger also calls for the United States to "clarify its own purposes to itself." The other concerned parties are scrutinizing U.S. policy developments very carefully for signals as to whether the United States may shift its focus to non-proliferation from denuclearization. National Security Advisor James Jones' statement at the Atlantic Council that "the imminent threat posed by North Korea is that of the proliferation of nuclear technologies to other countries and terrorist organizations" that North Korea's denuclearization is no longer a priority. The conventional wisdom in Washington that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons program reinforces this idea and plays into the hands of the North Koreans by suggesting that the United States has no choice but to settle for managing the North Korean problem rather than treating it with the level of urgency necessary to solve the problem.
Six Party Process: Symbol of Collective Commitment to North Korean Denuclearization
The United States should emphasize that it seeks both North Korea's denuclearization and nonproliferation. To achieve these objectives, the United States should continue to pursue a six party process both as a symbol of continued U.S. commitment to denuclearization and as a practical vehicle by which to collectively pressure the North Koreans to return to their denuclearization commitments. In sum, the six party talks will continue and should be revitalized for the following reasons:
- The six party talks are the only venue in which the North Koreans have made a public commitment to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The September 19, 2005 Joint Statement clearly states that the end goal of the six party process is "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." This means that any implementing agreements developed as part of the six party process should include naturally include elements designed to implement that objective. Conversely, the abandonment of the six party process might serve North Korea's strategic objective of promoting its acceptance as a nuclear weapons state, absolving North Korea of the denuclearization commitment it made as part of the six party process.
- The six party process continues to serve as an umbrella for bilateral discussions designed to implement the objectives of the talks. Among the objectives of the six party talks is the normalization of bilateral relations among all the parties; thus, the six party process naturally contributes to the achievement of this aim. The process implicitly underscores the principle that improved bilateral diplomatic relations among the main parties are a development beneficial to the promotion of regional peace and stability.
- The six party process has become an important means by which to pressure individual countries that attempt to resist or deny the agreed-upon objectives and regional consensus embodied in the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement. The commitment to the implementation of the Six Party Joint Statement has stimulated intensified consultations among members of the six party talks designed to implement the shared goals and consensus embodied in the six party process.
- The United States commitment to six party talks has become the primary tangible means by which the United States is able to demonstrate its continued commitment to North Korea's denuclearization in light of increasing skepticism that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons. In light of doubts and concerns across the region that the primary diplomatic objective of the United States may shift from denuclearization to non-proliferation, thereby tacitly accepting a nuclear North Korea as an acceptable part of a new regional status quo, it is particularly important that the United States remain committed to implementing the agenda of the six party talks.
- U.S.-China strategic understanding regarding the future of North Korea can best be fostered and supported in the context of an ongoing six party consultative process.
- A longer-term objective of the six party process along with denuclearization should remain North Korea's socialization, transformation, and integration as a normal part of Northeast Asia.
The challenge of reconstituting the six party process as a viable means by which to address regional security in Northeast Asia is a daunting one, in light of North Korea's nuclear test and the announcement of its withdrawal from the talks. But it is also important that the core regional commitments to denuclearization, peace, stability, and economic development of North Korea embodied in the six party joint statement not be abandoned. Any new process that takes the region backwards or unravels such a consensus will ultimately not serve the best interests of all parties to the talks. For this reason, renewed diplomacy must reconstitute the six party process as an effective framework for achieving North Korea's denuclearization.