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How Should We Come to Terms with "North Korea"?
The Quest for a Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula

Ken'ichi Okubo, Secretary General
Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms

Theme
On September 19, 2005 representatives of the People's Republic of China (below, "China"), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (below, "North Korea"), Japan, the Republic of Korea (below, "South Korea"), the Russian Federation (below, "Russia"), and the United States of America, below, "US") unanimously reaffirmed the "verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner." Behind this was the "spirit of mutual respect and equality," and the desire for "peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia at large." If the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized in a peaceful manner, it would surely make a major contribution to the peace and security of Northeast Asia. I too sincerely hope to see this happen.
But since that time not only has this denuclearization process made hardly an progress, it seems as though we are regressing. North Korea has carried out nuclear tests and has launched a "flying object." Meanwhile, the US and South Korea have conducted large-scale military exercises, which has rubbed North Korea the wrong way. In Japan, even the mainstream media present the argument that Japan cannot remove the US "nuclear umbrella" as long there is the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles.
If this situation remains unchanged, Korean Peninsula denuclearization, the Northeast Asia nuclear weapon-free zone, and other initiatives will never come to pass. In this consideration, the question becomes what kind of thinking and action are required of us in order to resolve this negative situation and make progress in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
This paper will examine North Korea's rationale for clinging to nuclear weapons and missiles. It will also survey the logic behind the "North Korean threat," and give a rough overview of what we must do for Korean Peninsula denuclearization and achieving the Northeast Asia nuclear weapon-free zone.

North Korea's Rationale
1.Concerning its 2009 nuclear test, North Korea stated, "The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the region around it with the might of Songun [military-first policy]." In other words, even if the six-party talks stop and even if the denuclearization process fails, the might of the Songun will protect the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula. In this statement we can see a posture of protecting the "sovereignty of the country" and the "dignity of the people" with nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea has made nuclear weapons into the trump card for its national security.

2.Additionally, North Korea has a special concern: US policy views North Korea as an enemy. The US has termed North Korea a "rogue state" or the "axis of evil." It has also attempted a first strike against North Korea, which sees the US as its greatest threat. Is the US threat a groundless fear to North Korea, or is it a real threat that demands a specific response? It is perhaps natural that North Korea perceives the US as a threat because if it is marked as dangerous by the US, it will be accused of having WMD even if it does not, declared to be a "hotbed of terrorism," its government might be toppled by overwhelming military force for being an "undemocratic dictatorship," and the country placed under US occupation. This fact is known to everyone.

3.North Korea, which is aware of US power, holds that if submitting to IAEA inspections as told, it will then be a war sacrifice, a lesson learned from the Iraq War. Another lesson of the Iraq War is that strong international public opinion, the opposition of major powers, and the UN Charter were all unable to stop the US war on Iraq. As long as physical deterrents are not enough, that is, as long as North Korea lack a deterrent that can completely turn back even attacks with the most sophisticated weapons, it is impossible to prevent war and to defend national sovereignty and national security.

4.In North Korea's thinking, it's national security is not viable even if it believes in international public opinion and the UN Charter. It does not believe in the UN Charter because despite the Charter's provisions, it is impossible to stop the use of force by the US. The UN Security Council, which operates under the Charter, and the six-party talks, which cannot escape US influence, are even more undependable. North Korea knows that international society cannot restrain the US use of force, and therefore it cannot entrust its own fate to international society.

5.Incidentally, after having discerned US policy trends since inauguration of the Obama administration, North Korea see that there is no change at all in the hostile policy toward itself. Nothing can come of interacting with a country hostile to oneself. At the base of US Korean policy is that North Korea should abandon the thought and institutions that it has itself chosen. The US carries over without modification the hostile statements of previous administrations, such as calling North Korea a tyrannical system or a troublemaker. Even though President Obama speaks of things like a "world without nuclear weapons," North Korea's assessment is that there is no change at all in US policy toward itself. That led to the revival of the "doctrine of nuclear deterrence." North Korea's thinking and actions are that possessing nuclear weapons is essential for its national security.

6.Incidentally, the US and Japan have also adopted this policy of nuclear deterrence. Although President Obama speaks of working toward a "world without nuclear weapons," but the US says it will have a deterrent force until nuclear weapons are phased out, and Japan has asked the US not to remove its "nuclear umbrella." The US, Japan, and North Korea all share the same posture of giving nuclear weapons the role of national security "trump card" for their countries. Can countries which recognize the necessity and effectiveness of nuclear weapons tell other countries not to possess them? At the least, such logic would not pass among equals. Therefore what emerges is the argument presented below, that North Korea may not have nuclear weapons because it is an unpredictable dictatorship.

Japan's Logic
1.Here I shall examine the view of the Mainichi Shimbun, a major newspaper. Its January 4, 2010 editorial makes the following statements. It begins by saying, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still the starting points for the desire to phase out nuclear weapons," and "When will the day come when peace comes to the whole world?" It then continues with, "Behind the 2001 terror attack in New York was the hate for the US and Israel. That strong hatred could also lead to the use of nuclear weapons or attack on nuclear power plants by terrorist organizations," "North Korea's dictator clings to nuclear weapons development, and keeps violating the rules," and "We cannot gainsay the possibility of nuclear technologies and nuclear materials being taken out of Japan," in this way pointing out a "danger that is fundamentally different from that of the Cold War era." It then goes on to say, "President Obama's proposal for a 'world without nuclear weapons' includes a realistic desire for dealing with a new threat," then says of President Obama that one can discern "the highest-priority objective of preventing nuclear terrorism, and the will to simultaneously move forward with nuclear disarmament." It then encourages Obama by saying, "In particular, nuclear disarmament can be welcomed as a concrete step toward abolishing nuclear weapons. Although there will likely be obstacles, we want him to doggedly persevere." It then continues: "The NPT cannot escape the criticism that it is an 'unequal treaty.' The obligation imposed on nuclear powers for nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith has been ignoredc This year's conference should set a definite international coursec If the nuclear powers do not display a sincere attitude, it will be impossible to get an international accord, which is indispensable for preventing nuclear terrorism. More important than anything else is rebuilding an international accord aimed at a nuclear weapon phaseout."

2.Up to this point, the editorial says nothing problematic or past the normal expected. After this comes the problem: North Korean nuclear capability must be eliminated. The substance of the argument is that although the mainstream US argument is that North Korea is unlikely to give up nuclear weapons for a time, an outcome in which North Korea still has nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Although the newspaper supports President Obama's nuclear disarmament initiative, as long as the North Korean threat actually exists, it only makes sense to have the protection of the US nuclear umbrella. Japan does not want to hear "Let's give up on having North Korea abandon its nukes" from its ally. Just preventing nuclear proliferation from North Korea leaves the root danger. The first step toward a "world without nuclear weapons" is none other than having North Korea completely abandon nuclear weapons.

3.To sum up the editorial's points: (1) Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the starting points for the desire to phase out nuclear weapons. (2) Unlike the Cold War era, the current international situation "a danger different in nature" and "a new threat." One is nuclear proliferation to terrorists, and the other is the obsession of North Korea's dictator with nuclear weapons. (3) A sincere attitude by nuclear powers is needed to prevent proliferation or nuclear weapons to terrorists. This year's NPT RevCon should show the way to nuclear disarmament. (4) The demand to North Korea should be complete abandonment of nuclear weapons, not nuclear nonproliferation. In our wish for the abolition of nuclear weapons we support President Obama's effort for nuclear disarmament, but the necessary first step toward a "world without nuclear weapons" is the complete abandonment of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

4.The position discerned here can be characterized thus: Having used the Hiroshima dna Nagasaki atomic bombing experience as the lead-in and assumed a posture of working toward abolishing nuclear weapons, it expresses support for nuclear disarmament efforts to achieve President Obama's "world without nuclear weapons," and says it has expectations for the sincere response by nuclear powers, but in conclusion it says that without the "complete abandonment of nuclear weapons" by North Korea, Japan needs the nuclear umbrella of its ally, the US.

5.This means that unless North Korea totally abandons nuclear weapons, Japan cannot cooperate with President Obama's nuclear disarmament. This statement saying that complete nuclear abandonment by North Korea is the prerequisite for nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons has at least two problems. First, it pressures North Korea to lay down its nuclear weapons while doing nothing about the threats that North Korea perceives from the US, Japan, South Korea, and other countries. Second, as long as North Korea does not listen, Japan will do nothing, and distance itself from efforts to take the initiative in abolishing nuclear weapons.

6.If one's understanding is that nuclear weapons abolition, nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, and the like are matters for negotiation among equals, then no one should be thinking, for instance, that one side my keep its nukes but demand the other side divest itself of them. And instead of Japan just making demands of North Korea in its capacity as the only atomic-bombed country, it should consider what it can do itself. Yet, the reason for the logic underlying this position is an obstinate belief, as stated, that North Korea is a dictatorship that has "repeatedly broken the rules," and that its threat is real. In sum, while this position speaks of abolishing nuclear weapons, the hatred, enmity, and fear toward North Korea take precedence, and the role it plays is to bring new confusion and difficulties to the road leading to a "world without nuclear weapons." One feels disbelief that the newspaper could give it a title like "Now Is the Time to Embark on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons."

7.However, the editorial's position holds that our hopes for nuclear weapons abolition start with the reality of the bombing damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it point out the need for NPT-based nuclear disarmament efforts by nuclear powers, and as such shows the right direction to take as far as supporting President Obama's position goes. Accordingly, the editorial's problem is with how it says we should interact with North Korea.

How Should We Interact with North Korea?
1.People are no doubt divided on whether they like or dislike Chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim Jong Il, and on the matter of the North Korean people's livelihood and human rights. But what we must not forget is that North Korea is an independent sovereign nation, and a member of the United Nations. There are also perhaps a number of viable views on how to see the North Korean threat. Additionally, although the newspaper argues that North Korea "keeps violating the rules," there are no established international rules that totally ban nuclear-weapon development, testing, possession, deployment, transfer, use, or anything else (which is why we need such rules), and in reality the US and Japan both depend on nuclear weapons to assure their "security" (doctrine of nuclear deterrence). Neither the US nor Japan is in a position to criticize North Korea for making its national security dependent on nuclear weapons. To assert only what suits one's own country while showing no consideration for the circumstances of another needlessly amplifies antagonisms, and in the worst case might even lead to military clashes.

2.If this situation remains unchanged, a nuclear exchange could happen in Northeast Asia. US bombers relocated to Guam in the realignment of US forces would attack North Korea, and although the US would not be counterattacked because it is out of range of North Korean missiles, the anticipated worse-case scenario is that the US ally Japan would be targeted in a nuclear missile counterattack. In that scenario, North Korea would suffer a crushing blow. Although North Korea does not desire that, it would probably choose destruction if it were to lose its national independence the dignity of its people. That would likely leave deep scars on South Korea and Japan. One recalls the words "If it's death, let's all go together." Nations are truly practicing brinksmanship diplomacy. If North Korea is prepared for this, no amount of military force will function as a deterrent.

3.Another view that one hears is that a preemptive attack should be launched against North Korea. This is the "attack the enemy base" argument. It is the idea that one should smite before being smitten. There is also a "missile defense (MD)" plan to shoot down North Korean missiles before they arrive in Japan. The common element is to solve the North Korean problem with force. Ultimately, they lead to not ruling out nuclear war.

What We Must Do Now
I think we must absolutely avoid this worse case. What we must do is, first, have an approach based on "sovereign equality" and "equal rights and self-determination of peoples," which are fundamental ideals of the UN Charter. No matter what kind of government North Korea has, interference by other countries is not permitted under international law. Based on that premise, we should give up the hostile view of North Korea and remove its anxiety. Doing so will lead to elimination of the "Northern threat." Only when making this policy shift will it be possible to have talks as equals. Second, we must abandon the stance of solving problems with military force. This means pledging not to use military force against North Korea. The UN Charter prohibits the "use of force againstc the political independence of any state" (Article 2.4). The US should promise that it will not do to North Korea what it did to Afghanistan and Iraq. This means just that the US should respect the UN Charter. Additionally, throughout history it has always been the masses who are killed, injured, and forced to suffer great misery in war. Japan must endeavor to make Article 9 of its Constitution a norm for the international community. Third, if we are afraid of North Korean nuclear weapons, then we should immediately establish an international political and legal framework for abolishing nuclear weapons. Fundamental measures for preventing nuclear proliferation are complete nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. With these as our goals, we should for the time being declare that nuclear weapons will not be used in preemptive strikes, make Northeast Asia into a nuclear-free zone, and work toward the enactment of the "Nuclear Weapons Convention." Neither sanctions against North Korea nor dependence on military power can halt North Korea's nuclear testing and missile launch tests. Such responses would instead take the situation in a dangerous direction. Tackling this in a way that addresses the root problem would foster mutual trust by being able to assure "autonomy of the country and the dignity of the people," that is, "the security of the nation and its people" without resorting to nuclear weapons and missiles. Unless that becomes a reality, it will be impossible to rewrite the worst-case scenario. This issue requires compliance with the UN Charter and international law, and making Article 9 of Japan's Constitution into an international norm.