SSU Forum/GraSPP Research Seminar:
Prospects for Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and Nuclear Disarmament in East Asia

Date: Wednesday, July 25 2018, 14:00-16:00
Venue: SMBC Academia Hall, 4th Floor, International Academic Research Bldg.
Subject: "Prospects for Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and Nuclear Disarmament in East Asia"
Speakers: Nobuyasu ABE (Former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs)
Hirofumi TOSAKI (Senior Fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA))
Kiichi FUJIWARA (Professor and Director of the Policy Alternatives Research Institute at the University of Tokyo)
Discussant: Nobuharu IMANISHI (Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)
Moderator: Wakana MUKAI (Lecturer, Faculty of International Relations, Asia University)
Language: English
Hosted by: Security Studies Unit, Policy Alternatives Research Institute, the University of Tokyo / GraSPP Research Seminar, the University of Tokyo
Abstract: Both the Panmunjom summit of North and South Korea as well as the Singapore summit of North Korea and the United States have indicated commitments to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. This commitment, however, does not include specific process that may reduce and eliminate nuclear capabilities of North Korea. How, then, can we bring out denuclearization of the Korean peninsula? How can we connect such denuclearization to the broader aim of nuclear disarmament in East Asia? Inviting members of the Hiroshima roundtable, a project sponsored by the Hiroshima Prefecture, we wish to discuss the prospects of nuclear disarmament in the Asian context.

The Security Studies Unit of PARI in cooperation with the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) was delighted to host a public research seminar on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and nuclear disarmament in East Asia. The event was chaired by Dr. Wakana Mukai, Assistant Professor of International Politics at Asia University. Panellists were: Ambassador Nobuyasu Abe, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; Dr. Hirofumi Tosaki, Senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), and Kiichi Fujiwara, Professor of International Politics at the University of Tokyo, Director of the SSU and of PARI. Furthermore, Mr. Nobuharu Imanishi, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, acted as discussant.

The session and the topic was briefly introduced by Professor Fujiwara, who thanked all the guests and the public, as well as GraSPP for the logistical cooperation. The topic is very timely this year more than ever, because of the developments induced by the recent and unprecedented meeting between the US President Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un. Professor Fujiwara remarked that this seminar is part of a joint effort with Hiroshima prefecture, which organises events on nuclear disarmament and arms control every year.

Dr. Mukai greeted all participants, thanked all those who contributed to the realisation of this event, and, as anticipated by Professor Fujiwara, she also remarked that this event is part of a broader effort by Hiroshima prefecture, which will lead to the sixth annual“Hiroshima Round Table” to be held next month (August 2018), where experts including scholars and practitioners will meet in order to sharpen their thoughts and make specific policy proposals on nuclear disarmament and arms control. She then introduced the various speakers to the public and invited Dr. Tosaki to speak.

Dr. Tosaki thanked the host and introduced the topic of his talk, which concentrated on the dynamics of nuclear policies by nuclear armed states. In the recent past, every nuclear armed state has engaged in some degree of modernisation of its weapons, but this is especially true for Russia, China, and of course North Korea. The activities of these states indicate that nuclear weapons will continue to play an important role in their defence strategies and protection of national interests in the foreseeable future. There are various factors contribution to this situation. First is great power competition, second is regional and geostrategic competition, third is multilateral nuclear state relations.

Concerning great power competition, in the latest US Nuclear Posture Review for instance, Russia and China are explicitly mentioned. While the US has focused in the past mostly on deterrence against so the called “rogue states”, its focus is now back to other military great powers. The idea of strategic nuclear deterrence has been maintained. Russia wants to remain a nuclear superpower on a par with the US, and it has consequently strengthened its nuclear capabilities. China does not intend to expand the absolute number of warheads apparently, but it has deepened its nuclear force by trying to acquire second and strikes capabilities, for instance by introducing new mobile MIRVed ICBMs. One cannot exclude that one day Beijing may reconsider its nuclear posture on a more aggressive footing.

Concerning geostrategic competition, there are a number of flashpoints, including in this region, signalling increased military risks. This leads some to argue that nuclear deterrence is even more necessary than in the past. When it comes to those powers with direct interests in Northeast Asia, all of them are strengthening their nuclear forces. Russia is developing new nuclear weapons. China is developing a new kind of accurate missiles which can target any region of Northeast Asia. North Korea has tested numerous launch vehicles. The US has announced the possible deployment of new non-strategic nuclear weapons. There is a possibility that those countries may use nuclear weapons. The odds are small, but they are now increasing. The major risk remains that of some kind of escalation from a limited conflict, and of sheer mistakes.

Concerning the reciprocal relations between nuclear armed states, there are persistent risks. The above mentioned changes in the capabilities of the various nuclear powers can generate a difficult-to-control cascade of reactions, including some kind of arms race, as well as the nuclearization of non-nuclear states. Following the new START treaty in 2010 between the US and Russia, no new treaties on the limitation of nuclear weapons have been signed. Great powers seem to be more interested in keeping their nuclear deterrence rather than in promoting multilateral efforts for disarmament. This is also the case for the US, with Washington being however concerned about nuclear proliferation.

Professor Fujiwara started his talk with a focus on non-proliferation, where the key question today revolves around North Korea. In spite of the recent talks between Pyongyang and Washington, there is still a strategic stalemate, and the diplomatic space of manoeuvring is extremely limited, while military risks remain high. More in general, when it comes to nuclear proliferations and attempts at stopping it, the historical record is bleak, professor Fujiwara recalled. There is also a debate on whether countering proliferation is a policy worth pursuing. Some argue indeed that nuclearization can lead to stronger deterrence. This is however problematic, since “deterrence” is in itself an unstable concept and risky practice. Indeed we know that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by new states can be very destabilising. Professor Fujiwara therefore assumes that non-proliferation is necessary. But can it be achieved? The reason why we do not have a large number of nuclear states, as shown by research conducted by Dr. Mukai, is because of domestic political choices of states which decide to denuclearise. This is why we still have a limited number of nuclear states. But when a decision to acquire the bomb is made, it is difficult to stop it.

There is an important difference between arms control and non-proliferation. Arms control falls in the broader area of inter-state cooperation. But non-proliferation is different, as it entails the use of coercion, and of punitive actions in order to achieve such goal. Coercion can take a number of forms. First, it can mean the use of military force to destroy nuclear facilities and to force a government to comply (coercive diplomacy). This is a very costly approach with numerous negative side effects. Another approach is the use of economic force, mainly through sanctions. In some cases however, for example against India in the late 1990s, they did not work and India became a nuclear state. They also have side effects as they make the life of the general population harder. The approach which can lead to some result is a mix of coercion and persuasion, whereby the international community offers guarantees and other advantages of various nature in exchange for a de-nuclearization turn. This approach seems to have been partially working in the case of Iran, and the recent US withdrawal from that agreement represents a very serious mistake. However, in the case of North Korea, they have already acquired nuclear weapons, so this is a more difficult situation. There is basically no precedent of a country which has given up nuclear weapons after acquiring them, with the exception of South Africa, but under very special conditions of regime change. One can only think about a carrot-and-stick gradual approach towards Pyongyang. Professor Fujiwara expressed his view that in the end Trump’s moves may in reality mean a US disengagement from the Korean peninsula and a de facto acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear armed state. This could be a very serious situation, as the “normalisation” of a nuclear North Korea will put the basic architecture of the Non-Proliferation Treaty at risk.

Ambassador. Abe thanked the host of this session and introduced the topic as “Can North Korea be denuclearised?” It is different from the theme of the symposium; “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The question is put in a different way because it is becoming exactly the point of contention. Political science professor Joseph Nye famously stated that there are three basic ways to induce countries to do what you want them to do: coerce them with military power, bribe them, or use soft power, i.e. moral persuasion, norms, international values and so on. The first option is dangerous and costly. The second one can be very costly as well. The third option has been historically shown to be working at best in combination with the first, and this is usually the diplomatic course of the US. Of course Japan has constitutional limits to the use of force as a means to settle international disputes. In the case of US-North Korea relations, it appears that the American public is little inclined to commit to military initiatives against North Korea. How credible are really Trump’s military threats to the Pyongyang’s regime? Ambassador Abe does not believe that Kim accepted to meet President Trump as a consequence of military threats. Most probably, Kim has his own strategy. What does North Korea want? Pyongyang is certainly looking at international recognition and the establishment of regular relations, including a peace treaty, with binding conditions approved by the US Congress. But more probably North Korea wants even more than that, namely security guarantees which extends to the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and perhaps from the whole of Northeast Asia, and the dismantlement of the nuclear umbrella. They also certainly want guarantees against regime change, as well as massive economic aid for the reconstruction of the country. The US agreed in principle on this set of conditions already back in 1994 and numerous times successively, however the question would then become whether South Korea and even Japan can accept this scenario. Ambassador. Abe also pointed out that if North Korea is to be verified it should be ubjected to a regular IAEA regime of inspections including IAEA Additional Protocol. Still, any such IAEA Protocol is unlikely to allow inspectors to reach any place any time inside North Korea. The US will probably not be satisfied by this. North Korea would ask, as it did in the past, for reciprocity in the inspections regarding facilities in South Korea, something that the US can hardly accept. All these elements and many more points to the question of whether the current US-North Korea dialogue may not just be in reality another manoeuvre to gain some concessions, simply to change again attitude afterwards, in the fashion of restaurant customers who leave without paying the bill. Denuclearisation is not just about getting rid of nuclear weapons, it is a significantly more complex task of creating a better security environment.

After the three speakers explained their arguments, Dr. Mukai invited Director Mr. Imanishi to provide his comments.

Mr. Imanishi thanked the host and the organisers of the event, and started off by pointing out that he sees limited space for optimism in regard to the envisaged roadmap for the elimination of nuclear weapons. He appreciated Dr. Tosaki’s presentation about the state of the global situation concerning nuclear weapons and why great powers seem to have no intention to eliminate them. Relations between US and Russia are at a very low point, the strategy of China in military terms remains unclear, while many countries worry about the Chinese defence build-up. The security environment surrounding East Asia remains very severe. Mr. Imanishi remarked that Japan has to take care of a potentially dangerous national security situation. It is important to keep the US-provided nuclear extended deterrence, but at the same time, Tokyo remains committed to the non-proliferation treaty regime, and promotes an effort for global nuclear disarmament. Commenting on Professor Fujiwara’s talk, Mr. Imanishi observed that Professor Fujiwara touched upon a fundamental question: how can nuclear weapon states give up their weapons? By force, or by persuasion, or a combination of the two? Past record seems to show that a policy change can occur when a country realises at domestic level that disarmament can be good. While there seems to be a positive impression concerning the P5+1 negotiation format, it is unclear whether this can be applied to global questions, or to nuclear disarmament in general, not only to non-proliferation. Regarding Ambassador. Abe’s presentation, Mr. Imanishi observed that it captured very well what went wrong with the past US-North Korea relations. In Mr. Imanishi’s view, there are three factors which are crucial for the success of negotiation in this field: transparency, irreversibility, and verifiability. The position of Japan is certainly not against the idea of banning nuclear weapons in future, but it appears to be a premature goal at this stage. Also, verification is a crucial component of these policies, and this applies to the North Korean case as well. So it is for irreversibility. How can anybody prove that there will be no more nuclear weapons over there? This is a very hard question to answer.

Following Mr. Imanishi’s comments, Dr. Mukai also addressed some questions to the panellists. To Dr. Tosaki she asked about his opinion on the position and the role of non-nuclear states like Japan and South Korea is in gaining stabilization in Northeast Asia. To Professor Fujiwara she asked whether there are alternatives approaches to the carrot-and-stick: what is the international community supposed to do? Is the acceptance of the status quo a viable alternative? To Ambassador. Abe, she asked what he thinks China wishes to gain from the whole process related to the denuclearisation of North Korea.

Professor Fujiwara responded first, stating there are very really very few cases of successful transition from nuclear to non-nuclear statues. Some cases happened in the former Soviet Union, when Ukraine and other countries agree to return all the weapons to Russia. At that time this was possible also because the international situation was improving, and on the nuclear front Russia and the US agreed to reduce the size of their arsenals. This is no longer the case today. Professor Fujiwara thinks that there is a chance the US could accept a nuclear North Korea, by embarking in a substantially isolationist course. There is no case in history where a country has been forced to denuclearise, ideally there will be a domestic change in North Korea and the country will give up its weapons by its own will.

Ambassador. Abe thinks that China wants North Korea to given up its nuclear weapons, and in that there is no fundamental difference from the US or South Korea, but the Chinese have (apparently) no price to pay in this game. Beijing most probably still regards Pyongyang as a useful buffer state, which should be kept in place as long as possible, ideally transforming it in the future in something similar to a China in miniature: an authoritarian, economically successful developmental state.

Dr. Mukai then collected some questions from the floor. In the ensuing debate, it was mentioned that Japan’s accumulation of plutonium as a result of its nuclear power plant operation does not constitute, if handled correctly, any sinister development for the neighbours or a signal that Japan may one day decide to nuclearize. Such a decision would imply a completely different set of circumstances and a radical domestic political change. Regarding the issue of inspecting North Korea’s facilities, the speakers stressed the importance of a gradual approach, which must be negotiated in a comprehensive agreement between the US and North Korean. Finally, speakers answered a question about North Korean domestic politics and the hopes for a domestic change by stating that little is known or even knowable about the inner workings of North Korea’s politics, because of the great secrecy that shrouds the regime’s top leadership.

Dr. Mukai then closed the event and thanked all participants.