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The Summit on nuclear weapons and the North Korean issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Currently the strategic and global nuclear balance develops on the basis of three factors which are closely interwoven. The first one is related to Europe, which is marginalized after the end of the Cold War and will remain so for the years to come.

Today the European Union, both the Euro area and the EU-28, has not an overall strategy for the future. It has no credible nuclear weapons outside NATO, not even for the French-British duo, which stems from well-different considerations and interests.

Europe is destined to bad integration, because it lost the particular “third world war” called globalization, with the Middle East and the Maghreb region which will be for the EU the equivalent of what Southern Europe’s economies and societies were at the beginning of the unification process of the Eurasian peninsula, which was functional only to put pressure on the USSR and its military pact.

Indeed, President Barack Obama’s new geopolitics, which will certainly be maintained and followed by his successor to the US presidency, is to encircle the Russian Federation – hence the new strategic alliance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – and finally China.

In fact, China will be the next global competitor for the United States, both at Euro-Mediterranean level and in the Pacific region, which will be increasingly important for the United States.

NATO shall be rethought in this context, because it can no longer be the coalescence point of two strategic axes which are progressively distancing each other, namely the European Union and the United States.

Rethinking the Atlantic Alliance means, above all, to reformulate its nuclear threat.

This means NATO, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations themselves, namely all the pillars on which the post-war world peace has been based so far.

NATO was designed for a final nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact, thus playing a defensive role in relation to a wide invasion from the ground.

At the beginning there was no linkage between the Central European defense and the protection of the link between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Nevertheless the Warsaw Pact has always considered nuclear weapons as an effective weapon system as any other, in relation to the magnitude and goals of the struggle for conquering Europe – the action that Raymond Aron called the “battle for the large Central European plain”.

The second factor of geopolitical renewal regards Asia, where the regionalization of geopolitical tensions and theories is growing.

China wants the security of its near seas and full control over the terrestrial area stretching from Xingkiang to Afghanistan and reaching up to the point of contact between the Heartland and the largest regional sea in the world, namely the Mediterranean, which will be the pivot of future global development.

In China’s logics, Land and Sea – the two axes of Carl Schmitt’ strategic thinking – are a continuum, not an opposition between Anglosaxon Thucydidean “thalassocrats” and European and Roman-Germanic chthonic forces.

Furthermore China will have ever more serious conflicts with Japan, which has started a timid rearmament, still scarcely effective at theoretical level, which, however, is a way for Japan to put an end to the mindset imposed on it by the winner MacArthur, after the end of World War II.

Both Russia and China have turned the “world without nuclear weapons” proposed by US President Obama during the current Summit held in Washington into the idea of a world without non-US nuclear weapons.

China wants either full security towards the Taiwan area, with a military projection onto the Pacific, or the de facto integration of the Republic of China into its region.

This will inevitably lead to very strong tensions with Japan, but we do not know to what extent it can acquire the US support in this new Asian scenario.

As already mentioned, the third factor of the global geopolitical transformation is related to the Middle East.

It is military divided between Sunnis and Shiites after the Cold War leaving it deprived of safeguards and controls. Nevertheless none of the two regional powers of reference, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, is able to manage a unified geopolitical project for the whole region on its own.

Integrating the Middle East chaos into an area without global geopolitical guidance, except for the oil blackmail, and with now obsolete weapons, as is currently the case for the EU, is an invitation to wage war, not to reach peace.

Moreover, today oil is causing tensions on world markets both because its price is driven by sectoral futures and because the costs of the Sunni or Shiite armed projection cannot be managed by the same actors, due to the ever smaller oil reserves and the need for internal social stability within the two countries.

If Iran and Saudi Arabia expand themselves, they acquire new energy sources, but precisely in doing so they destabilize the market of their buyers and depress the oil barrel price to pay military expenses.

Not to mention the US and Canadian shale oil and gas industry, which is currently undergoing a deep crisis because of the oil price, but which, in the future, could at least support the North American domestic market consumption.

Hence tensions which, in the Greater Middle East, are bound to remain so for a currently unpredictable lapse of time.

Furthermore, the United States have recently increased the funds for updating the nuclear arsenal by over 1 billion US dollars. This implies inserting nuclear weapons in high-precision carriers, in a strategic perspective which sees the new nuclear weapons operate in correlation with conventional military structures.

For example, the US Ohio-class submarines, which are the most efficient ones at nuclear level, will be fully renovated in 2012.

The newly designed non-nuclear US weapons are already being tested on the ground.

And this happens both in the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as in China.

Today we have reached the “second nuclear age” and it is almost useless to talk about old nuclear arsenals without connecting the reductions to the new geopolitical and technological environment which, like it or not, today is multipolar in itself.

Therefore the Chinese fears of a new arms race are well-grounded.

The new arms race, however, would take place in a context which is strategically diversifying itself, whereas the traditional global contact points are de facto obsolete.

Nevertheless the fourth Nuclear Summit of 2016, with more than 56 participating nations, excluding Russia, which did not accept the invitation, is a turning point for redesigning the nuclear potential.

Yet it is worth recalling that the world has really changed.

Russia has regarded President Obama’s proposals and the US policy in the Middle East as potentially hostile actions against its security, not to mention the new deployments of North American weapons and soldiers at the European borders of the old Warsaw Pact.

Russia does not want to be regionalized and China suspects that the new NATO and US encirclement of Russia is the second line of a forward defense, the primary goal of which is China’s containment along the terrestrial axis.

An encirclement which would reach South Asia’s regional seas, up to the US, NATO and even EU defense lines, as well as Japan’s (and South Korea’s).

But, within this framework, how can we regard the North Korean nuclear issue and its inclusion in global equilibria?

North Korea has nuclear capacity for many reasons: 1) to raise the price of its possible reunification with South Korea, but also 2) to ensure its autonomy after the definition of borders inside its peninsula, and finally 3) to marginally support both Russia’s and China’s defensive nuclear potential.

North Korea has never really relinquished the idea of an “anti-imperialist” linkage with Russia and China, but now the situation has changed and the two former big Communist countries operate on their own.

Furthermore Russia has freed for itself the axis between Ukraine and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

It is well-known that North Korea carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and even in January 2016, although it is unlikely for the device to have a thermonuclear nature, as maintained by North Korea.

Therefore, North Korea cannot reasonably use its nuclear arsenal for security in the North, where China continues to support Kim Yong Un’s regime, albeit in an ever more lukewarm way.

North Korea does not need to secure its regional sea, where the only hypothetical threat is connected to a linkage between a South Korean ground offensive and a US missile action.

Such an action would immediately trigger off the reactions of China, Russia, India, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, threatened in its areas of reference by the warheads responding to the US ally’s attacks against North Korea.

It is an option which, for the time being, has to be certainly ruled out.

The Kim Yong Un’s Nodong missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometres and the Musudan missiles have a range of 4,000 kilometres,while the Taepodong 1 and 2 missiles have a range of 2,000 and 8,000 kilometers, respectively.

A global threat from a country like North Korea is not a real threat, but rather insurance on the long life of that regime.

If the regime melts in the globalization of its “capitalist” South, Kim Yong Un will be willing to retain the role of armed contact between South Korea and the Central Asian landmass.

Conversely, if North Korea remains a sort of Marxist-Leninist Shangri-La, its nuclear potential will be useful to obtain better economic and political treatment and conditions from China and Russia, which would have an interest in integrating a reluctant North Korea into their continental set-up.

In a not too distant future it would not even be impossible to think of “fluidifying” the North Korean Armed Forces in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which could eventually be useful also for some Western countries.

As is well-known, the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States started in 2003, immediately after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The finalization of talks and the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula are no longer an effective project.

Moreover, unlike what happened in 2003 – and this implies a specific North Korea’s interpretation of US actions against the jihad in Central Asia – today all participants in the talks have nuclear diversified, and sometimes conflicting, strategies.

China has an all-out military nuclear capacity, which will gradually be extended in view of protecting its economic and strategic expansion.

The United States, too, have a comprehensive nuclear system which, however, does not sufficiently differentiate between high-risk areas and areas in which a reduction of the US military pressure would be useful, because this nuclear system is the result of the Cold War and of a sort of compulsion to repeat it.

Russia wants a nuclear system to protect its South and its oil areas, as well as to project its power onto the orphans of the Warsaw Pact and design a new strategic, but peaceful, expansion towards the Mediterranean basin and the Indian region.

Hence, with a view to reducing the North Korean threat, it is useless to unite the so called “six parties”, which reach an agreement at night and then quarrel during the day.

Furthermore nuclear talks should be combined with the talks on chemical and biological weapons, as well as with any discussion held at the Summit on the new weapon systems being tested.

If North Korea accepted a curbing of its nuclear potential, it would immediately be tempted to expand – covertly or not – its research and actions on the rest of non-conventional weapons.

We must avoid so by creating comprehensive talks.

So global talks, but with a basic idea: we must, first and foremost, ensure the sovereignty of North Korea, an old useless remnant of the Cold War, namely the post-war period in which the USSR decision-makers thought they could wage and spread many regional wars.

The issue lay in fomenting military clashes in the whole region stretching from Iran to northern Vietnam, so as to weaken NATO and US forces and de facto encircle, with a domino strategy, the European region and neutralize it against the Warsaw Pact.

Moreover, Indochina’s destabilization would directly threaten Japan, isolate US bases in the Pacific and finally bring the Communist threat up to California’s coast.

A pincer movement which succeeded only partially and only for Vietnam, which was the central axis breaking the so-called US “pearl necklace”, with the possible Communist control of the Straits of Malacca from the ground, from the “liberated” South Vietnam.

Thus ensuring North Korea’s national autonomy to dilute its N and BC potential at first along the Russian axis and then along the Chinese one.

In fact, the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea seem to mainly damage the Russian strategic interests.

Russia, however, is also fed up with North Korea’s nuclear actions and tests, which isolate the Korean peninsula and severely undermine Russian plans for controlling the routes from the Persian Gulf to China and South East Asia, where Russia still has wide interests which will be even wider in the future.

Furthermore Russia still regards South East Asia as the base for the military security of the Southern part of Siberia and hence has no interest in destabilizing the Korean peninsula.

Hence Russia’s interest in stabilizing North Korea’s NBC arsenal is very great and should be fully used.

Therefore no more six-party talks, but rather a tripartite mechanism between China, Russia and the United States, in which the United States would ensure North Korea’ safety from US attacks from the US soil or bases, while Russia could project part of its nuclear missile arsenal to protect the North, thus gradually defusing North Korean carriers.

Finally, China could back part of North Korea’s economic development, by ensuring its North-eastern borders and expanding the Korean “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), which have always been floundering in deep crisis.

The first North Korean SEZ was Razon, the first one built in the Raijn-Sombong area in 1991.

It is strategic because it could link the inland areas of the Chinese borders to the sea.

Sinuiju was founded in 2002 on the Yongbion river but, shortly after its creation, the Sino-Dutch businessman who ran it was put under investigation for fraud in China, while the SEZ project in the region is going on without great success.

The Kaesong SEZ, at the border between the two Koreas and spreading on the territory of both of them, is not yet operating in full swing and, at the time, the two leaders which created it, namely Kim Jong Il and Roo Moh Youn, were already planning a new SEZ in Haejou, along the coast.

Then we have the most recent SEZs, namely Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa, on the islands bearing the same name, with even fourteen new economic zones that the North Korean regime has planned to create.

The linkage is simple, namely the one between a transfer of N and BC potential and the expansion of North Korea’s old and new SEZs, mainly supported by China, while the Russian Federation, in a tripartite initiative with China and the United States, would support the North Korean uranium and plutonium cycle, with criteria similar to those adopted before and after the JCPOA with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Otherwise, the forgotten old Cold War between the two Koreas could overheat, ignite and set fire to the link between the Greater Middle East and the Central Asian Heartland – a disaster which is no good to anyone.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.

The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.

Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15  percent of its proven oil reserves, 22  per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.

The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.

Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.

The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”

China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.

Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.

Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”

Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.

China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.

Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.

Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.

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Sino-American Strategic Rivalry

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From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.

The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.

And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.

This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.

A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.

But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany.  The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.

America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.

America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.

Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.

America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.

As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!

This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.

While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.

Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.

While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.

While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.

Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.

But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.

And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?

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The 70th Anniversary of the Koreas

Gleb Ivashentsov

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Seventy years ago, the Korean nation was divided into two separate states. On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded in the south of the Korean Peninsula, and on September 9, 1948 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded in the north.

A Longstanding Confrontation

The Korean War of 1950–1953, which saw the United States fighting on the side of the South under the UN flag, was the bloodiest and most destructive conflict since World War II. De jure, the two Korean states are still at war. This is because the Korean Armistice Agreement signed on July 27, 1953 to stop the war is nothing but an agreement between the commanders-in-chief of the two armies to suspend military hostilities. Two powerful military contingents with cutting-edge weapons and equipment are still at the ready on both sides of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea. And these contingents are not just made up of Korean troops. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Korea, U.S. contingent of 28,500 troops is deployed in South Korea. When Pyongyang started to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to prevent the United States from intervening in the inter-Korean military conflict, this further exacerbated the situation.

“The Asian Tiger” and a “Rogue State”

Today, South Korea is referred to as the “Asian Tiger.” It is a highly developed and prosperous state: it is the world’s second-largest shipbuilder; the third-largest manufacturer of semi-conductors and displays; the fifth-largest automobile manufacturer; and the six-largest producer of steel. South Korea invests 4 per cent of its GDP into research, more than any other OECD member, and it has the fourth-largest number of patent applications for inventions, behind the United States, Japan and China. Seoul has its own space programme and has plans to send its first probe to the Moon’s orbit by 2020 and another to its surface by 2025.

North Korea certainly lags behind South Korea in its economic development; however, statements about the country’s cultural and technological backwardness are largely the work of western media. And we are not only talking about the fact that Pyongyang would not have been able to develop its own nuclear programme that the world is so concerned about if it did not have a high level of scientific and industrial development. No one can deny that the new blocks of high-rise buildings in Pyongyang are practically indistinguishable from those in Seoul, that Pyongyang’s metro is a year older than Seoul’s, and that North Korea launched its artificial satellite before South Korea did.

Since North Korea has its own nuclear programme, the United States has declared it a “rogue state” and has not only imposed its own sanctions on the country, but has also managed to have very harsh sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council. It is curious, however, that the timing of the sanctions against North Korea (after the country carried out its first nuclear test) coincided with the North Korean economy emerging from the very severe economic crisis of 1995–2000, after it had overcome famine and started to show signs of economic growth. Even more paradoxically, economic growth in North Korea picked up pace significantly in 2012–2013, when the sanctions were tightened. This was primarily due to the fact that when Kim Jong-un came to power, he launched active, albeit quiet, market reforms in the country.

From Confrontation to Dialogue

The tension around Korea has been one of the greatest threats to international security in recent years. Today, the global community is focused on forcing Pyongyang to abolish its nuclear programme. However, this alone will not eliminate the threat of a new Korean war involving the United States, South Korea’s military ally. Shutting down North Korea’s nuclear programme requires, first, a reconciliation between the two Koreas and, second, solid guarantees to Pyongyang that the United States will not take aggressive measures.

2018 was marked by important positive events in Korean affairs. On April 27, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in met with the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom. Naturally, this summit between the heads of two Koreas (only the third ever) did not resolve all the problems that had accumulated in the bilateral relations over the decades of confrontation. However, it did open the way to move on to specific talks on trade and economic cooperation and a military and political détente.

We also saw the first ever U.S.–North Korea dialogue on the North Korean nuclear programme, with a summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un being held in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Even though the summit’s declaration contains nothing more than generic phrases, one thing is without doubt: no nuclear or conventional war will take place in Korea in the near future. The handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is a real contribution to the cause of peace in Korea and throughout the world.

A Complex Knot of Problems

The North Korean leadership is clearly interested in a détente on the Korean Peninsula. While the Byungjin line proclaimed by Kim Jong-un several years ago entailed building a powerful nuclear potential and creating a prosperous economy, in April 2018 the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea said that success in building the nuclear potential allowed North Korea to focus all efforts on building a socialist economy.

The proof of Pyongyang’s words is contained in its actions. Not a single nuclear test has been carried out for almost a year now, and missile tests have not been held for over six months. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has been shut down.

Pyongyang appears to have a precise step-by-step programme of possible bargaining with both Seoul and Washington on mutual security commitments. Kim Jong-un, however, is clearly dragging his feet in developing the positive work started at the summits with Moon and Trump. The reason appears to be that he is not confident that both his opponents will stick to the deals. Back in the day, the conservative President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak had no qualms about abolishing his predecessor’s “sunshine policy” in the country’s relations with North Korea, while George W. Bush did not hesitate to get rid of Bill Clinton’s “North Korea Appeasement Policy.” Is there any guarantee that in a couple of years, peace-loving Moon will not be replaced with some North Korea hater, or that Trump, Kim’s counterpart in Singapore, will not be impeached?

The nuclear disarmament of North Korea and the provision of security guarantees to Pyongyang is too complicated a knot of problems to be cut in a single stoke, and by the sole hands of the United States. The solution requires multilateral international efforts, and this cannot be done without the involvement of China and Russia, two countries that have historical and geographical ties with Korea. It would appear that both the Koreas are counting on the participation of Russia and China. This much is clear from the fact that Kim Jong-un has visited China twice over the past two months, and President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Yong-nam and President of South Korea Moon Jae-in have both paid official visits to Moscow.

The optimal way would be to go back to the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear programme: the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. The talks should be structured as step-by-step negotiations using the principle of “action in exchange for action.” It would be wise at the initial stage to propose that North Korea’s nuclear programme be separated from its missile programme. North Korea’s nuclear status is set forth in the country’s Constitution, and this subject currently appears non-negotiable for Pyongyang. At the same time, a freeze on the missile programme and guarantees of non-proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies can be negotiated. Given that Pyongyang has essentially introduced a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, the issue of lifting some sanctions from North Korea may be raised at the UN Security Council to stimulate Pyongyang to further roll back on its nuclear and missile programme. For instance, to get North Korea to stop developing ICBMs, freeze the production of nuclear materials and open its nuclear facilities for international inspections.

Political Steps

Several purely political steps would also be useful. For instance, it would be good to correct the entirely unnatural situation in which the United Nations, as a party to the Korean War (in that war, Pyongyang’s enemy fought under the UN flag), is still officially at war with North Korea, one of its members. For that purpose, the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly could adopt a UN Security Council declaration stating that the Korean War is in the past and that the UN Security Council is putting an end to that chapter and, therefore, the UN Command is no longer needed in Korea.

To further promote the inter-Korean détente, it would probably be useful for North Korea and South Korea to conclude an agreement between commanders-in-chief of the two countries on preventing dangerous military activities; such an agreement could serve as a landmark on the road to concluding a Peace Treaty to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement. This would mean that any incidents that may arise due to dangerous military activities would be promptly stopped and settled through peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force. The document could be based on provisions of the 2015 Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Korean Affairs and Russia

The best way to diffuse tensions between neighbouring states and establish relations based on mutual trust is to run joint, long-term and mutually profitable economic or scientific and technological projects in. Russia could play a prominent part in such work on the Korean Peninsula.

The two Korean states are immediate neighbours of Russia, and Russia is interested in having good and mutually beneficial relations with both. And there is a good basis for this to happen. Historically, Russia has never had any disputes with either of the Koreas. Russians have never set foot in Korea as an aggressor. On the contrary, the country has always welcomed Korean people into its territory: 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of Korean resettlement in Russia. In 1945, it was the Soviet Army that liberated Korea from the colonial power.

There are no disputes between Russia and either of the Koreas today either. The leadership of South Korea, for instance, stresses its interest in taking its relations with Russia to the level of “strategic partnership.” It is noteworthy that, despite the persistent pressure of the Unites States, South Korea did not join the sanctions against Russia imposed after the events in Ukraine.

During his three meetings with Vladimir Putin over the past year, Moon Jae-in has unfailingly stressed collaboration with Moscow on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, establishing peace there and developing Eurasia. Economically, South Korea that has virtually no mineral or other resources and is highly interested in exploring the natural wealth of Siberia and the Far East. At the same time, Russia is a promising market for South Korea’s industrial products.

South Korea is also ready to collaborate with Russia in those areas where Russia has globally competitive technologies. This much is evident from the participation of Roscosmos in the construction of South Korea’s Naro Space Center, the flight of a South Korean astronaut with two Russian cosmonauts in a Russian spacecraft, the launch of the Russia–South Korea Naro-1 (KSLV-1) launch vehicle, and the fact that South Korea imports Russian uranium for its nuclear power plants to meet over a third of its needs. Bilateral humanitarian ties are also being developed. South Korea is the only country in Northeast Asia that has a visa-free travel agreement with Russia.

During President Moon Jae-in’s state visit to Moscow in June 2018, the parties agreed to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of civil aircraft building, automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding and the construction and modernization of shipyards in Russia. The parties intend to expand cooperation in space research, the exploration of the Northern Sea Route and the joint development of oil and gas fields. Concluding a Free Trade Agreement would be a landmark moment in the development of trade and economic cooperation.

As regards North Korea, Russia’s relations with the country were on a downturn in the 1990s. Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang in 2000, the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation in February 2000, and settling the issue of North Korea’s debt to Russia in 2012 all paved the way for the restoration a full-fledged partnership between Russia and North Korea. Such a development was intended to give a powerful impetus to trade and economic relations both in the Russia–North Korea bilateral format, and in a trilateral format with the participation of South Korea, thus contributing to building bridges in inter-Korean cooperation.

During the Russia–South Korea summit held in Moscow this past June, the two parties expressed interest in trilateral projects between Russia, South Korea and North Korea, such as: linking the Trans-Korean Main Line to the Trans-Siberian Railway; building a pipeline between Russia and North and South Korea; and connecting the power grids of the three countries. The problem is, however, that implementing these trilateral projects is currently hampered by sanctions imposed on Pyongyang due to its nuclear programme, as is the development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

Further dialogue on the matter is expected at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2018, to which Vladimir Putin has invited the leaders of both Korean states.

***

The two Korean states are celebrating their 70 th anniversaries while gradually retreating from confrontation algorithms formed by the Cold War. It is in the interests of everyone that a reconciliation of the two Koreas is achieved and a solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is developed.

North and South Korea should become full-fledged members of the comprehensive security system in Northeast Asia.

First published in our partner RIAC

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