Seungmin P. Jung
Incremental Negotiations and Deterrence to Contain North Korean Nuclear Hostilities over Preventive War and Sanctions
16 October 2017, President Robert L. Galluci of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was invited as the main lecturer for the William J. Perry Lecture Series at Yonsei University to speak on “Dealing with North Korea: Defence, Deterrence, Diplomacy and Alliance.” Galluci as “Ambassador-at-Large and Special Envoy for the U.S. Department of State, dealt with the threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. He was chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, and served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs and as Deputy Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission overseeing the disarmament of Iraq following the first Gulf War.”
In his lecture, Galluci stated that initiating “incremental negotiations” is the solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis and discussions on preventive war in Washington is premature, “absent reasonable assessment to support it.” He claimed that the credibility of the threat posed by the recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests to U.S. has largely been exaggerated in its presentation as a “crisis” in that (i) the rise of another nuclear state – as was the case of Soviet Union and China – is not a new or foreign source of threat and (ii) blackmailing, appeasement, and containment are all available alternative foreign policies – not just sanctions and preventive war. In conclusion, U.S. needs to open itself to “a new vulnerability” of neighboring another nuclear state and focus on containment rather than resort to aggression or hostilities. Ex-Ambassador cited the following reasons to support his statement.
- Despite North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear capabilities, it’s asymmetrical balance in military arsenal and force in comparison to that of U.S. is astronomical. U.S. still can and should negotiate from a position of strength.
- North Korea was not the only Party that “cheated” on the Agreed Framework signed between U.S. and DPRK on 21 October of 1994, the conclusion of which Mr. Galluci as Ambassador had contributed to. U.S. also had failed to act in consistency.
- North Korean regime is not suicidal: there is little to no chance of an outbreak of nuclear war for U.S. has far superior second striking power and military force operable in foreign soil. A nuclear strike would indicate definite although not immediate, however ultimate collapse of Kim’s regime.
- As it has not been so during the Cold War, the credibility of U.S. extension of nuclear deterrence/umbrella is not undermined by North Korea’s newly acquired capabilities. Major cities in South Korea and Japan are not truly taken “as hostage.”
- Sanctions have little effect in delaying or stunting North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in that it has already acquired the resources required for building its arsenal and is thoroughly skilled via experience in circumvention of such sanctions.
Therefore, the initiation of incremental negotiations ultimately leading to normalized relations with a nuclear North Korea is the proper course of response; not preventive war or increased sanctions. Notice how Mr. Galluci interestingly takes for granted North Korea’s nuclear state status without objection. He argued that U.S. should open itself up to a “new vulnerability” rather than consider options of aggression.
Granted, the results of war are always catastrophic and inhumane, therefore, unnecessary aggression should be avoided whenever possible. However, at what cost? If the exceptional effectiveness in human destruction of nuclear weaponry is the reason we must approach this “crisis” with caution, why risk the rise of another state that openly flaunts to use this force? In my opinion, here are two of the more pertinent points Galluci failed to clarify in his lecture, thereby making his optimistic portrait of future U.S.-DPRK relations a dangerous fairy tale.
What does a Normalized Relations between U.S. and DPRK (one attractive to DPRK and acceptable to U.S.) that can transcend or be maintained over leadership changes look like? Does it exist?
Ex-Ambassador admitted that he himself does not know what the end game of North Korean regime is in acquiring nuclear weaponry. This is a quizzical comment being offered from an expert well-known for his capabilities to think from DPRK leadership’s perspective. However, since DPRK is claiming to want normalized relations with U.S., Galluci argues that this should be offered at the negotiation table. However, it is my contention that there is no form of normalized relations between the two states that is attractive to DPRK and acceptable to U.S. that can transcend or be maintained over leadership changes. Galluci is wrong in claiming that permitting a nuclear North Korea is merely “a new vulnerability”: it is in fact opening doors to numerous potential threats and U.S. has a lot more to lose in the grand schematic.
North Korea will not surrender it’s nuclear weaponry for it has become clear that the political, economic, and military independence of its regime cannot be ensured in any other way.
North Korea has watched other states such as South Africa, former members of the Soviet Union, and Iran suffer the consequences of forfeiting their nuclear capabilities. It has also watched changing leadership in the U.S. invade and restructure former allies based on fabricated evidence and propaganda in the Middle East. This was indeed a demonstration of military might, but also U.S. versatility in foreign relations when her interests are seemingly at stake. President Bush’s attack on Iraq and President Trump’s threat to terminate the Iran Deal is a paramount example. From the North Korean leadership’s perspective, U.S. is incapable of providing assurance that a normalized relationship that ensures the continuation of Kim’s regime; in contrast, the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology most certainly will. Normalized relations cannot be traded for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Whether Normalized Relations is truly Kim’s End Game is highly questionable.
There are credible scenarios in which normalized relations with U.S. can be in fact unattractive for the continuation of Kim’s regime. Politics and Governance are two separate beasts. As several succeeding U.S. Presidential candidates during their campaign have promised to conduct extensive investigations into the former President’s illegal acts committed in office, but completely abandoned this position once they have been sworn in, North Korean leadership also sells one story to its own people and another to the international community. One principle justification provided to North Koreans for the succession of oppressive military dictatorship by Kim’s family is the continuing conflict between itself and the evil foreign superpower, U.S. Despite it’s glaring discrepancy from reality, North Koreans are being sold the propaganda that South Korea has been illegally occupied and controlled by foreigners whom have enslaved Koreans waiting for their rescue from continued suffering. The ongoing confrontation against the U.S. is the pillar that holds Kim Jeong Eun’s regime in the eyes of the public as legitimate. Increased sanctions by U.S. are the main culprit for North Korea’s stunted economic growth and therefore, military expansion is necessary to achieve independence and avoid colonization as the South has been succumbed to. The continuation of conflict and intermittent tales of victory against U.S. and her puppet state South Korea serves as fuel of national pride and evidence of success for Kim’s governance. Currently, the nuclear weapons development serves this role. If North Korea normalizes relations with U.S.,where is the legitimacy of mass imprisonment of political rivals and public executions? In the people’s eyes, where is the justification for the continuing suffering and tragedies other than poor governance by Kim? There is a strategic vantage for Kim’s reign in U.S. remaining as an adversary. As are immigrants to Trump, U.S. is to Kim.
U.S. cannot have normalized relations with North Korea that ensures the survival of it’s current regime due to the fact (i) of gross human rights violations within North Korea and (ii) that North Korea holds no economic, political, or military significance as an ally to U.S.
It is true that U.S. has tolerated many corrupt and dictator-run regimes in the past, however, all have one characteristic in common: that either they had a strategic significance as an ally to U.S. or had marginal significance. Ironically, North Korea offers no strategic advantage to U.S. as a non-nuclear state, and as a nuclear state, it poses a grave threat to her security and dominance in the Pacific region. North Korea’s willingness to seek political, economic, and military independence ensures us one thing about it’s foreign policy: it will oscillate between superpowers and not completely lean towards one as did South Korea or Japan. North Korea will never truly become an ally of U.S. against China and Russia in the Pacific Theater of War. As mentioned above, DPRK has come to master the art of exploiting this situation.
This situation may indeed change drastically if U.S. goes further to provide aid to North Korea as she did to the European states post World War II to ensure their economic prosperity. This arrangement can be sold to the North Korean public as a “victory” from Kim’s point of view and will definitely ensure the continuation of his reign. However, American citizens are unlikely to tolerate this form of a normalized relations with North Korea should it not abandon it’s human rights practices and this is not an attractive option for Kim. This is the very U.S. influence the ruling class of North Korea feels the need to be insulated from to preserve their elite status. Without having solved the human rights violations issue, any form of normalized relations between U.S. and DPRK will fall hostage every time to political campaigns of candidates contesting the government’s policy.
If Galluci is proposing such an arrangement and if it becomes a reality, it will be an unprecedented event in U.S. history of foreign relations. In any case, as was the case of the 1994 Agreed Framework, a non-binding temporary agreement that cannot survive change of political leaderships is hardly a normalized relationship beneficial to Kim’s regime.
Moreover, having to tolerate North Korea’s Nuclear State status not due to it’s strategic importance to U.S., but due to U.S. leadership’s failure to prevent it by taking timely necessary action is not an acceptable scenario for neither Americans nor South Koreans
U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists; or so it has been proclaimed. North Korea in its population, size of territory, resources, and allies are in no meaningful manner comparable to China or Soviet Russia when U.S. decided to not take action against their nuclear weapons development and resorted to containment. How is this not an unforgivable dent on “American Superiority”, a propaganda sold to the U.S. citizens to heighten national pride yet also a necessary impression the rest of the world must retain to ensure U.S. interests abroad?
Moreover, how is living under the direct threat of North Korean nuclear weaponry due to U.S. leadership’s lack of decisiveness tolerable to Koreans and even Japanese citizens whom consider U.S. as their trusted ally? Indeed, there will be little to no chance of North Korea utilizing its nuclear arsenal against U.S. territory, but there consistently has been military aggression and exchange of fire between North and South Korea throughout the years. Discussions of procuring independent nuclear weapons technology in South Korea is direct evidence of the diminishing credibility of extended deterrent by U.S. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to revise the pacifist Article 9 so that the Japanese Self Defence Forces (JSDF) may operate in overseas assaults and preemptive strikes is in line with this increased sense of threat in spite of U.S. assurance. It is Galluci’s argument that is unsubstantiated when it comes to the credibility of U.S. extension of deterrence.
Are all wars to be absolutely avoided at all cost? or are some wars unavoidable and a closing time window to take action exist?
Why permit the nuclear state status of a impoverished hostile state that threatens to use its capabilities when there is an option to prevent it? Did U.S. and U.K. not make a similar mistake of delaying intervention and engaging in use of force in World War II when Hitler’s Nazi Germany was making false promises of peace while preparing for war in secrecy? Negotiations and agreements were a hoax to buy much needed time. It seems that North Korea has been utilizing such strategy to advance this far, Galluci is unabashed in proposing to continue negotiations. Results of these negotiations are unclear except for one fact: North Korea will be guaranteed more time.
Even if we accept the premise that due to the fact that the North Korean regime is not suicidal and therefore, will not engage in war, how does succumbing to the threats of Kim Jong Eun not signal to the rest of the world that nuclear weapons development is indeed a viable option against U.S. intervention? How will U.S. ensure the prevention of leakage of nuclear technology from an impoverished North Korea? Is the proliferation of nuclear weaponry not credible enough threat to engage in war? Following this line of logic, is there ever a just cause for war or should delayed wars be considered good as well? is there a difference between delayed wars and prevention? Is not the “exceptional effectiveness in human destruction of nuclear weaponry” the very reason why we must intervene now and send a message of zero tolerance?
Of course an act of war in the Korean peninsula must not be an unilateral one made by the U.S. absent the consent of South Korean government. This is the only way to prevent the unfortunate categorization of South Koreans as “collateral damage.” In any case, having failed to clarify on the two issues above, Galluci’s proposal of continued negotiations in my opinion fits nicely into the description of a “dangerous fairy tale.”
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“Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere” – King, Jr.
Joining in 2010, Seungmin is a Founding Member of and Senior Partner at Yonsei ULS. Please be advised: the comment, writing, or column does not represent the official position of YULS.