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25 maj 2018

Rapid Analysis - Diplomatic Solutions or a Military Pre-Emptive Action: What Should the International Community Do in the Face of a Threat from North Korea

A number of nuclear tests conducted by North Korea has changed from 3 to 6 during the past two years. There also have been more missile tests carried out in 2017 than ever before in the history of North Korea[1]. Therefore, it is not surprising that international community started to worry about the security and stability of the current status quo. As the situation is getting worse, some of the international actors – including superpowers like the United States – start to consider a more emphatic approach, without excluding a military pre-emptive action. In my opinion it is not the wisest idea. The world history reveals that pre-emptive action against autocratic regime could bring dangerous instability – not to mention about possession of a nuclear weapon. That is the reason why I am convinced that it would only make things worse and escalate tensions between North Korea, its neighbors and the rest of the world. I believe that word leaders should consider diplomacy as the most effective tool to solve the current issue. Coordinated recall of diplomatic representatives, as well as other types of punishment, i.e. more effective arms embargoes or stronger economic sanctions – also could be considered.

Some of the arguments presented in the public discourse speak for strengthening the means of deterrence. However, considering the latest actions of Kim Jong-un, we should restrain ourselves from violent response. First and foremost, despite the most recent nuclear test, we cannot ignore the fact that the foreign policy of North Korea is going through a process of visible changes. The most significant evidence of it was the arrival of Kim Jong-un’s sister in South Korea during the Winter Olympics in February this year. She was the first immediate family member of North Korea's ruling dynasty to set foot in South Korea’s soil. During the games, Kim Yo-jong invited South Korean president to Pyongyang[2]. In a meantime the leaders of North and South Korea agreed on removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953[3].

Secondly, we cannot ignore the first foreign trip – held in secret – of Kim Jong-un and his wife to China in the late March. They travelled by an armored train in the same way as Kim’s deceased father did years ago. Even though North Korea did not want to confirm this visit, according to the later reports from China, we know that the unofficial meeting took place[4]. Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping met again at the beginning of May. Kim was quoted as telling Xi that North Korea remains committed to denuclearization and has no need to possess nuclear weapons if a "relevant party" drops its "hostile policy and security threats" against it – a clear reference to the United States[5].

The most surprising evidence of the transformation of North Korea’s foreign policy is an upcoming Donald Trump - Kim Jong-un summit, which will hopefully become an important step towards rapprochement. It is too soon yet for any declarations, however the Pyongyang’s invitation shows clearly that North Korea is finally ready to talk and negotiate. Such an optimistic scenario was unthinkable just a few months ago. The summit was set up on June 12 in Singapore, however is open to doubt, because – repeating after president Trump – the United States sanctions would only be lifted after Kim gives up his nuclear arsenal. The White House insisted that hard-hitting economic sanctions would remain on the country unless Kim attended the meeting. As the response to that and to the annual jointly military maneuvers of the United States and South Korea, North Korea threatened to not attend the meeting[6].

In conclusion, international environment should strive for reconciliation rather than conflict and take all the necessary action to prevent further increase in violence. Any demonstration of military force could result in the most serious crisis since Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which almost caused the World War III. To avoid such a black scenario, South Korea, China, the United States and other stakeholders should put more effort into trying out all diplomatic means available before even thinking about military mobilization.

Żaneta Dela, MA


[1] List of nuclear weapons tests of North Korea – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nucl ear_weapons_tests_of_North_Korea (21-05-2018)

[2] Winter Olympics: Kim Jong-un calls for further reconciliation – BBC News http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43040619 (21-05-2018)

[3] North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms – The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/world/asia/north-korea-south-kim-jong-un.html (21-05-2018)

[4] Why Kim Jong Un made a secret trip to China – CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/27/asia/why-kim-jong-un-would-make-secret-trip-to-china-intl/index.html (21-05-2018)

[5] North Korea's Kim Jong Un meets China's president ahead of Trump summit - Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-xi-kim-north-korea-china-meeting-20180508-story.html (21-05-2018)

[6] Donald Trump uncertain if Kim Jong-un meeting will happen as US warns sanctions will remain without summit – The Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/16/donald-trump-uncertain-kim-jong-un-meeting-will-happen-us-warns (21-05-2018)