Nuclear tension has been rising in the Korean peninsula for some time and so far the response from political leaders has been sub-par. In the latest developments the Telegraph reported that a North Korean foreign ministry official has said that war was now an “established fact” and it was now merely a question of “when”. This official statement was published by North Kore’s KCNA, the state news agency, and it blamed “confrontational warmongering” as the reason behind the latest escalation. This development follows a week where in the USA conducted their largest ever military demonstration in the area — a joint operation with South Korea that featured over 230 aircraft.
To exasperate matters further still, the statement indicated that further insult had been made by CIA director, Mike Pompeo. Pompeo reportedly “made a provocation against [North Korea] by impudently criticizing our supreme leadership which is the heart of our people.”
The ‘provocation’ was in reference to a remark made by Pompeo back in July, when he commented that the Central Intelligence Agency were “hopeful” that they could “find a way to separate that regime from this [nuclear weapons] system.” Pompeo added that North Korean citizens “would love to see him go.”
KCNA passionately rebuked this claim at the time and admonished America’s intelligence community as illiterate and deluded. In an article responding to the comments, they stated that Pompeop “harbors an illusion that it [America] could separate our army and people from our supreme leadership is an expression of his illiteracy about the DPRK.”
The relationship between the two nations has been under pressure for some time and the latest statement from Pyongyang, indicating war was an ‘established fact,’ seemed to suggest the relationship had delved to an all time low.
That being said, there is room to redeem the situation. UN officials are due to start a four day trip to North Korea to meet with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Jo. This meeting was arranged at the request of the North Koreans who it is believed wish for a policy dialogue. Furthermore, the official statement published on Dec 6. concluded with remarks suggesting North Korea does not want a nuclear war. “We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it.” The rhetoric suggests North Korea’s appetite for conflict has waned and they are looking for way to disengage the situation and still save face. It puts the emphasis on America as the fire-starters of the conflict and seems to suggest that as long as the U.S. does not “light the fuse for a nuclear war” then North Korea will not look to engage.
As President John F. Kennedy said following the Cuban Missile Crises, “nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.” Now is the time to heed his advice. Trump has got his message across, it is time for a change in policy. The Trump administration’s official policy for North Korea has been “maximum pressure and engagement.” This has involved taking a hard line public stance against Kim Jong-Un’s regime and encouraging maximum sanctions from the international community. Trump was quoted saying the Kim family have been “getting away with it for a long time” and that with him presiding, it would be a “whole new ballgame.” He went on to say Kim’s “not going to be saying those things [anymore] and he’s certainly not going to be doing those things.”
Trump has tried to re-establish America’s dominance over the rogue regime threatening that America could unleash “fire and fury”. By following up his hardline rhetoric with demonstrations of America’s military capabilities – the largest in the area to date – it could well be that North Korea has got the message and is ready to fall in line.
Having said that last week, North Korea successfully launched an Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to American shores. Alexi Chepa, a Russian politician who recently returned from Pyongyang believe that the North expects that this capability “will put them on par with the U.S. and guarantee them peace.”
Russia last week sent a delegation of legislators to North Korea for face to face discussions. Kazbek Taisayev, who led the group, left with the impression that “they are ready for dialogue, they are ready for talks. But they obviously mistrust everyone.” If that is the case, than America and other global powers should look to guide North Korea, to help the country to take the necessary steps to de-escalate conflict in the region.
Twitter taunts have to subside and be replaced with respectful and direct lines of communications between the two nations. Considering the damage already done to diplomatic relations by Trump and Kim Jong Un perhaps a more successful dialogue would be achieved if talks over mutual concerns were carried out by representatives. Other nations could also play a role in encouraging a diplomatic process. China and Russia have already put forward a diplomatic compromise to the UN, known as the ‘double-freeze’ process.
The terms of the deal were that North Korea would cease all further nuclear and missile tests in exchange for America agreeing to stop certain military operations in the area perceived as threatening by the North Koreans. This agreement was rejected by the US ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. The Russian delegation also confirmed that North Korea too had ‘rejected’ this plan.
However, National Security Advisor, Herbert McMaster has warned that the threat of war is “increasing every day” and has called on political leaders to take action and to implement steps necessary to deescalate tensions. McMaster highlighted that China could still play a significant role in disarming the situation. China are the main providers of North Korean oil and as such they are capable of seriously denting the nation’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.
Nikki Haley warned that if China fail to act, the U.S. could “take the oil situation into our own hands.” China, North Korea’s major ally, has called for peace. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang said, “We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and take steps to alleviate tensions and not provoke each other. The outbreak of war is not in any side’s interest. The ones that will suffer most are ordinary people.” China is correct, seeing as both countries now possess nuclear capabilities the outbreak of war could have a colossal fallout. It is time for other global powers like Japan, Germany and Britain to step in and support Russia and China in facilitating a direct dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that “North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for its security” and that he had passed on this message to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The U.S although have confirmed their reservations about engaging in negotiations with North Korea. Heather Nauert a spokeswoman from the State Department said that direct talks were “not on the table until [North Korea] are willing to de-nuclearise.”
Despite these reservations, there are positive signs that a diplomatic solution is reachable. It is now up to the international community and its political leaders to encourage a dialogue and to ensure that this issue is resolved with diplomacy rather than through military operations.