Stay cool-headed to break the NK nuke deadlock

By Zhu Feng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/22 20:03:39

US President Donald Trump praised his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un for a "wise" decision not to fire missiles toward the US Pacific island of Guam last week. Washington and Pyongyang are backing down from their aggressive rhetoric against each other. But the US-South Korea Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military drill that kicked off Monday is adding fuel to tension over the North Korean nuclear issue. If Pyongyang responds to the drill with a new round of intercontinental missile tests or nuclear detonation attempts, the nuclear crisis is highly likely to escalate to a tipping point.

Trump's verbal threats to North Korea are unacceptable. He claimed earlier that he would unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on Pyongyang, adding that "military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely." Bold rhetorical threats and provocations will not help solve the crisis.

Washington's anger toward Pyongyang is understandable. North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile tests have stricken a blow to the Global Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime and posed security threats to the Asia-Pacific region. However, a hard-line attitude or military strikes against Pyongyang would only provoke the country to take retaliatory measures.

Whether a war would result in a nuclear leak is another issue of concern. The possibility that Pyongyang's nuclear weapons be controlled and manipulated by extremists cannot be excluded either. Washington's preemptive military actions against Pyongyang will certainly jeopardize Northeast Asia's peace and security, and may even result in a nuclear disaster with unbearable consequences for the whole world.

The Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear leaks have caused great pain in the pursuit of peaceful nuclear development. Any accidental nuclear contamination in North Korea would be catastrophic for the whole Korean Peninsula and surrounding area. The nuclear threat is a harrowing challenge to peace and morality, and, be it Washington or Pyongyang, no country is allowed to threaten to launch a nuclear war, even rhetorically.

North Korea's nuclear ambition is rooted in its security concerns, the Cold War mentality and the hostility between Washington and Kim's regime. There are also political factors behind Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development. The country's political policy, which has attached too much importance to nuclear and missile capability, determines the nature and intensity of the nuclear crisis.

Although Pyongyang stressed that its nuclear missiles will only be used against Washington, the weapons, in the eyes of the US and South Korea, may also be manipulated by the Kim regime to blackmail the North's neighbors. The nuclear crisis is a ticking time bomb if tensions remain high on the peninsula.

An international non-governmental organization, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), warned of the rising risk of a nuclear war by moving the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe in January. It's now at two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight - the closest to a nuclear disaster in the past 60 years. The minute hand was moved because of Pyongyang's nuclear tests and Trump's remarks about enhancing his country's nuclear capability and maintaining an absolute advantage in nuclear deterrence.

Joint efforts are needed to break the deadlock. All parties concerned should stay cool-headed and avoid provocative remarks and actions, which are a prerequisite to negotiations. The UN resolution has decisively intensified sanctions against Pyongyang. North Korea must be aware of the fundamental changes in the international environment, and understand that abandoning nuclear ambitions is the only way to avoid an all-out confrontation with the international community.

The Trump administration should also realize that pressuring North Korea and distancing the country from China and Russia will only intensify Kim's resolution in pursuing nuclear weapons. Counting on the other side to make fundamental concessions or go through political upheavals to break the deadlock is never a solution.

Despite Trump's hard-line North Korea policy, the US State Department and the Pentagon are clear that Washington lacks effective proposals to launch preemptive military strikes against Pyongyang. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated that the US pursues diplomatic solutions and doesn't seek a regime change in North Korea.

The US cut the number of American soldiers in the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military drill this year, sending a clear signal that despite military preparations against Pyongyang, a military solution is not Washington's primary choice. South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised his citizens recently there "will be no war on the Korean Peninsula ever again."

China is a significant force in denuclearization, stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Bringing the nuclear issue back to the diplomatic and political track is a priority for the international community.

While insisting on necessary sanctions on Pyongyang, all concerned parties in Northeast Asia should try to negotiate with North Korea, and transform the crisis into an opportunity to peacefully address the issue.

The author is the director of the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies under Nanjing University. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


blog comments powered by Disqus