North Korea and Nuclear weapons




What has caused the crisis?

  1. North Korea’s ICBM Hwasong-15 (13k km range) has brought US mainland in its striking range. 
  2. With nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missiles in its arsenal, and with hardly any workable U.S military options to disarm Pyongyang, nuclear North Korea is now an inevitability and here to stay.
  3. Pyongyang’s neighbours, namely Japan and South Korea, and the international community, the U.S. in particular, however, have not reconciled to this reality provoking a nuclear crisis in the Korean peninsula.


Kim Jong-un’s Strategy

  1. Given the fate of Saddam Hussain and Muammar Qaddafi, Kim Jong-un won’t give up his nuclear weapons.
  2. His policy of taking on the entire international community is seemingly premised on the classical military strategy of escalating to de-escalate — to initially escalate to unacceptable levels so as to force one’s adversaries to make concessions in areas they otherwise would not.
  3. Being recognised as a nuclear weapon capable state would be the foremost objective; survival of his regime and an eventual removal of sanctions would be the natural consequences of such a recognition.


Why Kim seems to be succeeding?

  1. A determined N.Korea that doggedly pursues its goals + The finesse with which N.Korea has played the big boys against each other, outwitting them all.
  2. The differing great power endgames and their unwillingness to commit sustained political and diplomatic capital, individually and together, to the Korean peninsula


Fallouts of Kim’s success

  1. Fatal blow to the NPT-led nuclear non-proliferation regime
    • Japan and South Korea will develop nuclear weapons (given their advanced technological prowess, security concerns and Trump’s America First policy)
  2. Great power buck-passing
    • The failure of the great powers to arrive at a workable consensus in crisis situations is perhaps a sign of the times to come.
    • Crises get further intensified by the deal-breaking tendencies of Mr. Trump.
  3. Isolating states that “misbehave” does not resolve conflicts.
    • Be it Pakistan, Iran or North Korea, isolating states in the international system can only further complicate existing crises.
    • The reason why we have been able to restrain the development of Iranian nuclear weapons is precisely because the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) reached a historic nuclear deal in 2015 despite pressure from within the U.S. and countries such as Israel to use force against Tehran.
  4. The disarmament platitudes of the N-5 (or the five nuclear weapon states) and no progress on their disarmament commitments have eroded the faith of the nuclear have-nots in the global nuclear order.
    • In an indirect but relevant way, such erosion of a normative global order has contributed to the North Korean crisis.


Way forward

  1. Now that Pyongyang has crossed the nuclear threshold, international sanctions and the use of force against North Korea will not yield the desired results.
    • It will lead to immeasurable human suffering within North Korea and in its neighbourhood.
    • We are way past tactical solutions, and, therefore, only a comprehensive, sustained and diplomatic solution will work.
    • The most unpleasant part of such a comprehensive solution would involve according de facto “recognition” to North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
  2. The operational aspect of this approach would involve taking on board North Korea’s historical grievances, involving the regional powers including China and South Korea to reach out to Kim, and reviving the dormant Six Party Talks at the earliest.
    • Revival of the Six Party talks is important precisely because entrusting China and or Russia to solely deal with North Korea would be unwise.
    • Moreover, multilateral engagement would also prevent anyone from engaging in underhand dealings with Pyongyang.