Should we accept North Korea’s nuclear program?

What can the world realistically do on North Korea’s nuclear program? What should be the best possible reaction after the third test?


Charles ArmstrongProfessor of History, Director of the Center for Korean Research, Columbia University

The UN Security Council is meeting now and will certainly call for strong measures against North Korea for this nuclear test
(update: UNSC condemns “clear threat” from North Korea after nuclear test), meaning most likely tougher economic sanctions. But based on recent history, it is unlikely that this will have any affect, for two reasons.

First, China has never strongly enforced UN sanctions because they do not want to destabilize North Korea.

Second, North Korea has never been influenced by international sanctions to change its behavior. In my view the best response is to bring North Korea into an international dialogue that would include positive inducements, not just sanctions, to get North Korea to stop its nuclear development. But this probably cannot happen for some time, as much of the international community must carry out its threat to impose sanctions. I expect that sanctions will be announced, not much will happen in the short term, and eventually the relevant parties (North Korea, the US, South and China, perhaps Russia and Japan as well) will return to negotiations aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear testing, establishing a more stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula, and improving the economic situation in North Korea. In the meantime, there will be continued tension and a war of words between North Korea on the one side, and the US, UN, South Korea and Japan on the other. China will join in criticizing North Korea but less harshly than the others.

Virginie GrzelczykSenior Lecturer in International Relations, Nottingham Trent University

I think that we are in a rather unstable tit-for-tat situation now, as North Korea is reacting to sanctions imposed by the UN following its December rocket launch, which in itself was a results of previous year’s tensions, sanctions, and mistrust. Further condemnations and warnings from the United States, Japan, South Korea or the UN are unlikely to change North Korea’s testing strategy, at this point, and will only exacerbate the situation further.

A potential, more peaceful avenue is one that would be (politically) costly for the United States, the UN and the rest of world: accepting that North Korea is a nuclear weapons state at this point, and move into a strategy of assisting in the management of North Korea’s nuclear weapons (control regarding stockpile, security procedures and the likes) through a transparent system of control.

The international community should of course be firm and condemn the test as it indeed violate a number of obligations, and perhaps this third test could be used as a way to engage into a dialogue on weapons control once again…


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