How can US, NK avoid a head-on collision?

By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/28 23:43:39

Which side will apply brakes: Pyongyang or Washington?

Despite vehement opposition and debilitating sanctions by the international community, North Korea has launched ballistic missiles several times this year and conducted its sixth nuclear test. After UN Security Council Resolution 2375 was adopted on September 11, the North Korean Foreign Ministry refuted the US-led resolution as "illegal and unreasonable" and vowed to accelerate nuclear and missile development.

On September 15, North Korea launched another ballistic missile that flew over Japan, covering a distance of 3,700 kilometers, the 19th missile launch in 2017. 

According to the US, the longest distance a North Korean missile can fly is 8,000 kilometers which can cover most areas of the US west coast. It is still unclear whether North Korea has the capability to make a small nuclear warhead.

The frequent missile launches by North Korea demonstrate its strength and are a response to the US-South Korea joint military drill. In addition, they are an indication that North Korea's missile program has entered the final stage. 

North Korea's nuclear test has also made the US, Japan and South Korea come closer. On September 4, the US agreed to lift restrictions on the combat load of South Korean ballistic missiles and announced its intention to sell sophisticated weapons to Seoul and Tokyo. The move is likely to cause an arms race in East Asia.

Due to a lack of trust for the North Korean regime, the White House refused to hold talks with Pyongyang. US President Donald Trump even referred to South Korean President Moon Jae-in's attempt to promote negotiations with North Korea as "appeasement."

It will be hard for the US to staunch North Korea's nuclear ambitions by economic sanctions alone. Curbs on North Korea have cut off 90 percent of its trade and 30 percent of oil supplies. Further sanctions will hurt people with less power to survive.

It is also futile to persuade Pyongyang to return to the negotiation table. The deadlock in Washington-Pyongyang ties cannot satisfy the latter's security concerns. Confronted with the threat to its regime, North Korea is convinced that having a nuclear weapon is more important than having a modern military army to ensure its security.

Twenty years of nuclear development have made North Korea the international community's common enemy. Facing continuous political pressure, military deterrence and economic sanctions, North Korea will not accept mediation without Washington's security pledge.

Washington has also showed its willingness to lower the threshold to have a dialogue with North Korea but insisted that Pyongyang first show its true will to abandon nuclear arms. Not long ago, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a "Four-no" strategy against North Korea, which is that the US "does not seek a regime change, does not seek the collapse of the regime, does not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, does not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel," aiming to strengthen the peace offensive against Pyongyang while putting extreme pressure on it.

However, North Korea's determination to run along the nuclear path is making Trump lose his patience. America's priorities for its own security and those of its allies are increasing international concerns about a military option.

In order to live together on this planet, the urgent task is to ease tension and reduce confrontation. 

The US should consider changing its policy toward North Korea and avoid too much interference by hardliners in its government. For North Korea, the need for survival and the continuous external pressure will sooner or later cause internal weakening and bring about change, although the process may be slow and arduous.

The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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