By Richard Haas
President, Council on Foreign Relations
March 17, 2017
There is a growing consensus that the first genuine crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency could involve North Korea and, more specifically, its ability to place a nuclear warhead on one or more ballistic missiles possessing sufficient range and accuracy to reach the continental United States. A crisis could stem from other factors as well: a large increase in the number of nuclear warheads that North Korea produces, evidence that it is selling nuclear materials to terrorist groups, or some use of its conventional military forces against South Korea or US forces stationed there.
There is no time to lose: any of these developments could occur in a matter of months or at most years. Strategic patience, the approach toward North Korea that has characterized successive US administrations since the early 1990s, has run its course.
One option would be simply to accept as inevitable continued increases in the quantity and quality of North Korea’s nuclear and missile inventories. The US, South Korea, and Japan would fall back on a combination of missile defense and deterrence.
The problem is that missile defense is imperfect, and deterrence is uncertain. The only certainty is that the failure of either would result in unimaginable costs. In these circumstances, Japan and South Korea might reconsider whether they, too, require nuclear weapons, raising the risk of a new and potentially destabilizing arms race in the region.
A second set of options would employ military force, either against a gathering North Korean threat or one judged to be imminent. One problem with this approach is uncertainty as to whether military strikes could destroy all of the North’s missiles and warheads. But even if they could, North Korea would probably retaliate with conventional military forces against South Korea. Given that Seoul and US troops stationed in South Korea are well within range of thousands of artillery pieces, the toll in lives and physical damage would be immense. The new South Korean government (which will take office in two months) is sure to resist any action that could trigger such a scenario.
Some therefore opt for regime change, hoping that a different North Korean leadership might prove to be more reasonable. It probably would; but, given how closed North Korea is, bringing about such an outcome remains more wish than serious policy.
This brings us to diplomacy. The US could offer (following close consultations with the governments in South Korea and Japan, and ideally against the backdrop of additional United Nations resolutions and economic sanctions) direct negotiations with North Korea. Once talks commenced, the US side could advance a deal: North Korea would have to agree to freeze its nuclear and missile capabilities, which would require cessation of all testing of both warheads and missiles, along with access to international inspectors to verify compliance. The North would also have to commit not to sell any nuclear materials to any other country or organization.
In exchange, the US and its partners would offer, besides direct talks, the easing of sanctions. The US and others could also agree to sign – more than 60 years after the end of the Korean War – a peace agreement with the North.
North Korea (in some ways like Iran) could keep its nuclear option but be barred from translating it into a reality. Concerns over North Korea’s many human-rights violations would not be pressed at this time, although the country’s leaders would understand that there could be no normalization of relations (or end of sanctions) so long as repression remained the norm. Full normalization of ties would also require North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons program.
At the same time, the US should limit how far it is willing to go. There can be no end to regular US-South Korean military exercises, which are a necessary component of deterrence and potential defense, given the military threat posed by the North. For the same reason, any limits on US forces in the country or region would be unacceptable. And any negotiation must take place within a fixed time period, lest North Korea use that time to create new military facts.
USS Carl Vinson refuels USS O’Kane
Could such an approach succeed? The short answer is “maybe.” China’s stance would likely prove critical. Chinese leaders have no love for Kim Jong-un’s regime or its nuclear weapons, but it dislikes even more the prospect of North Korea’s collapse and the unification of the Korean Peninsula with Seoul as the capital.
The question is whether China (the conduit by which goods enter and leave North Korea) could be persuaded to use its considerable influence with its neighbor. The US should offer some reassurances that it would not exploit Korea’s reunification for strategic advantage, while warning China of the dangers North Korea’s current path poses to its own interests. Continued conversations with China about how best to respond to possible scenarios on the peninsula clearly make sense.
Again, there is no guarantee that diplomacy would succeed. But it might. And even if it failed, demonstrating that a good-faith effort had been made would make it less difficult to contemplate, carry out, and subsequently explain to domestic and international audiences why an alternative policy, one that included the use of military force, was embraced.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
All Eyes on China as U.S. Signals New Tack on North Korea
BEIJING — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson signaled on Friday that the Trump administration was prepared to scrap nearly a decade of United States policy toward North Korea in favor of a more aggressive effort to eliminate the country’s nuclear weapons program. Whether that means pre-emptive action, which he warned was “on the table,” will depend a great deal on how China responds.
North Korea relies on Chinese trade and aid to keep its economy afloat, and China has long been unwilling to withdraw that support. Up to 40 percent of the North’s foreign currency — essential for buying goods abroad — comes from a network of about 600 Chinese companies, according to a recent study by Sayari Analytics, a Washington financial intelligence firm.
Mr. Tillerson will be in China on Saturday, a day after saying in Seoul, South Korea, that the United States would not negotiate with North Korea on freezing its nuclear and missile programs. His interactions with his hosts in Beijing, and whether he takes a hard line with China over its support for North Korea, will be closely watched — as will be China’s response.
A sign of the administration’s stance came on Friday as President Trump criticized both North Korea and the Chinese government. “North Korea is behaving very badly,” he said on Twitter. “They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”
The Chinese leadership is likely to bristle at such criticism, but it may be reviewing its options, given the collision course that North Korea and the United States seem to be on.
Last month, Beijing showed a new willingness to punish its longtime ally when it suspended imports of North Korean coal, saying it had reached the annual limit allowed under United Nations sanctions. Customs figures later showed that China had in fact imported only about 30 percent of the quota for 2017.
Yang Xiyu, a veteran Chinese diplomat involved with North Korea, said Mr. Tillerson may be able to persuade Chinese leaders to do more when he meets with them in Beijing this weekend, particularly against Chinese companies that do business with the North.
Mr. Yang cited as a potential model the case that United States officials built last year against a Chinese executive accused of selling North Korea a chemical that can be used in nuclear-enrichment centrifuges. While Beijing was not happy about the case, it eventually accepted it. “It wasn’t easy, but it was the right way to push the issue to a solution,” he said.
Source/Read the rest: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/world/asia/all-eyes-on-china-as-us-signals-new-tack-on-north-korea.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fasia&_r=0
Tags: ballistic missiles, China, China's global gamble in era of Trump, Chinese companies, denuclearizing North Korea, ICBMs, Iran, Japan, Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Kim Jong Un, Korean Peninsula, missiles, North Korea, North Korea's nuclear, North Korea’s human-rights violations, North’s foreign currency, nuclear weapons, Rex Tillerson, Russia, Shinzo Abe, South China Sea, South Korea, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, Thaad, Trump administration, U. S., U.S. Antimissile System, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US-South Korean military exercises, USS Carl Vinson, Wang Yi, weapons of mass destruction, Xi Jinping