North Korea’s nuclear program poses a threat to not only East Asia, but also the world as a whole. The level of potential destruction and the aftermath of a nuclear warfare (in case it comes to such extremes) are especially devastating. North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, have been the subject of many consultative meetings aimed at securing verifiable elimination of the threat that the weapons pose, in addition to strengthening the global non-proliferation regime (Wit, Wolfsthal and Oh i). With a proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons across the world, there are fears for the safety of the world, and therefore the need to reapportion resources towards other more progressive ventures (Wit, Wolfsthal and Oh i). With a focus on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, six countries initiated the Six-Party Talks in 2003, whose main purpose is to chat way forward in bringing security and stability to the Korean Peninsula (Shulong and Xinzhu 29). Whether these Talks are making any headway in the stabilization of the region is the subject of this analysis and discussion.
The aftermath of the fall of Soviet Union saw the establishment of an international effort on the reduction of the global threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) held by former Soviet states by the US. Known as cooperative threat reduction, disarmament and rapprochement, the approach was successful through cooperation by agencies, organizations and other governments in the identification, containment and elimination of WMD, with an extension to the equipment, materials and facilities (Wit, Wolfsthal and Oh 1). Additionally, the approach saw the redirection of scientists working in the facilities to more peaceful and progressive areas.
The success of cooperative threat reduction in former soviet states has led to advocating for the use of the method in other regions. East Asia, particularly North Korea became a prime candidate for the program given the potential danger that the research, enrichment, and making of the WMD pose to not only the region, but also the international community (Wit, Wolfsthal and Oh 1). North Korea’s threat with the WMD is multi-pronged in that it threatens the security of its neighbors, has the potential of instigating a regional arms race, in addition to the possible undermining of global efforts to stop the manufacture and spread of WMD (Wit, Wolfsthal and Oh 1). Worse, and the more reason for the program, is North Korea’s secrecy as a society and the hostile relations it has had with the rest of the world, particularly the United States, which spearheaded the cooperative threat reduction program after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In line with the threats, however, there was an initiation of the Six-Party Talks in 2003 aimed at subduing the threats posed by North Korea’s WMD. According to IINORCS, the Six-Party Talks, a cooperation of six countries, aims at identifying a course of action that would help bring security and stability to the Korean Peninsula (1). The talk’s participants include Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), United States, China, Japan, Russia, and Republic of Korea (South Korea). The major concern of the talks is the WMD in North Korea. The talks largely began after North Korea’s announcement of its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (IINORCS 1). The involvement of the other members became necessary due to North Korea’s breach of bilateral Agreed Framework.
As a leader in the talks, the Bush administration—that initiated the talks—had its own agenda in the talks. According to Nakato, the administration’s agenda was not to create a multilateral security framework in Northeast Asia, but rather form a joint force in pressing North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons within the framework of the six party talks (89). Thus, while the conception of the talks initiated by the American government seemed initially as a means to have multilateral talks in ending the tension in the Peninsula caused by North Korea’s nuclear program, in real sense, the American government intended to push North Korea. Yet it could not push its agenda alone, and thus the need for other members of the talks.
The formation of the six party talks with its eminent members was only one of the methods the US government adopted in pushing for North Korea’s disarmament. The US government’s other methods have included withholding reciprocal measures until such a time that North Korea would take steps towards disarmament, and imposition of financial sanction on foreign banks, which have facilitated North Korea’s illicit counterfeiting activities (Nakato 89). Such measures, however, elicited dissatisfaction from China, South Korea and Russia, which saw this as a wrong move from the American government. For these countries (members of the six party talks), the US government was at fault by not directly negotiating with the North Korean government. The three had especially voiced their opposition against the economic sanction, seeing them as impediments to amicable discussions on the talks (Nakato 90).
The US government’s approach through sanctions and other methods, however, did not necessarily yield any fruits. Instead, the sanctions only pushed North Korea’s agenda evidenced by the 2006 nuclear explosion experiment by North Korea (Nakato 90). The test rightly prompted the US to change tact in its policy towards North Korea, engaging the country in bilateral talks, which have so far produced commendable results.
From an outsider’s viewpoint, the Six Party talks aim at the disarmament of North Korea. In as much as the talks are concerned, there has been progress made towards the disarmament process. Controversy is, however, rife within the talks especially in relation to the scope of the negotiations (Martin 6). Perhaps the controversies have led to the agreement on leaving some fundamental parameters of the talks undefined. Although most members of the Talks (apart from North Korea) are keen on complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament as the final results of the talks, there are concerns over the willingness of North Korea to meet international demands (Martin 6). Concerns here include the secretive nature of North Korea and the technical measures that the country will allow, especially in verification of complete disarmament.
The most important factor in the talks is North Korea’s agreement to be part of the discussions. Among the topics for discussion has been North Korea’s plutonium-reprocessing stream, which is a commendable step in the discussions (Martin 6). Moreover, while the plutonium-reprocessing stream is a well-known fact internationally, the discussion has also included North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. Although North Korea has not acknowledged the uranium enrichment program, the fact that it is an issue up for discussion is a good sign and progress towards disarmament and prevention of proliferation of the nuclear weapons.
While these are among the issues that need discussion, the talks have especially been successful in making steps towards the disarmament process. Two of the most important breakthroughs are the talks’ progress beyond the political sensitivities and North Korea’s declaration and dismantlement of the Yongbyon reactor (Martin 8). The dismantlement of the reactor was the implementation of the first phase agreements reached in 2007 (Nakato 90). In addition to dismantlement as part of the first phase, invitation of IAEA personnel for monitoring and verification of all nuclear programs was also part of the first phase (Nakato 90).
In the second phase of the agreement, North Korea, apart from declaring its nuclear programs, would also reaffirm its commitment not to transfer nuclear material, technology or expertise (Nakato 90). As a negotiation process, the reaffirmation of North Korea’s commitment would receive the moniker of a state sponsor of terrorism, as the United States had labeled North Korea. The progress of the talks has so far seen the removal of North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This is all part of the negotiation process made possible within the six party framework and the reaffirmation of North Korea’s commitment to continue in its path of disarmament.
In many ways, therefore, the talks have had a positive impact towards the stabilization of the region. The fact that China, Japan, and South Korea, all of which are influential countries within the Peninsula, have come together in discussing the stability of the region gives the talks strength and potential in securing the security of the region. The progress is however, not without hitches within the discussions, which have included North Korea’s calling for the expulsion of Japan from the talks (Martin 8). North Korea’s stance on Japan is because of the hardline stand taken by Japan concerning the abduction of its citizens by North Korea. Additionally, North Korea has often delayed the negotiation process in addition to thwarting negotiations and achievement in the short time. Perhaps more important is the fact that the talks are currently taking place within an informal structure with no secretariat with powers to facilitate the implementation of agreements in addition to helping calm disputes at negotiation downturns (Martin 8).
In conclusion, the progress made so far by the talks is commendable given the strides that the progress means to world peace and the disarmament process. So far, North Korea has made concessions especially important in the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The concessions made by North Korea have been a direct result of the Six-Party talks, whose mechanism of gradual discussions and concessions by North Korea have a great potential in stabilizing the area. Of concern is the result that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions may have on the region, including initiating an arms race, which is sure to destabilize the region. The gradual phasing out of the nuclear ambitions, in addition to bringing peace in the region, also has the potential of opening North Korea to the rest of the world and lifting sanction currently facing the country. Although the talks have had hitches and delays, particularly from North Korea, the talks remain the best alternative currently able to address the challenge that North Korea’s nuclear ambition present to the Korean Peninsula and the international community.
Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Six-Party Talks. IINORCNS, 2011
Martin, Matthew. The Six-Party Talks and New Opportunities to Strengthen Regional Nonproliferation and Disarmament Efforts. The Stanley Foundation, 2008
Nakato, Sachio. “Six Party Talks: The Sixth Round Talks and its Future Prospect. 立命館国際研究, vol. 22, no. 1(2009), pp. 89-99
Shulong, Chu and Xinzhu, Lin. “The Six Party Talks: A Chinese Perspective.” Asian Perspective, vol. 32, no. 4 (2008), pp. 28-24
Wit, Joel, S., Wolfsthal, Jon and Oh, Choong-suk. The Six Party Talks and Beyond: Cooperative Threat Reduction and North Korea. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2005