North Korea’s nuclear test and launch of a rocket with Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite have caused expectable reaction of the UN Security Council members. International community has worked out another “tougher sanctions” on Pyongyang, even understanding that all previously imposed sanctions proved inefficient.
Indeed, if to refer to history of North Korea’s nuclear program one can see that tests and missile launches by DPRK alternated with sanctions and pressure by international community. Tests and launches never stopped after toughening sanctions. On the contrary, pressure and punitive measures were followed by North Korean nuclear program breakthroughs.
It means that approach of resolutions, sanctions and military pressure on North Korea has proved not only inefficient but also dangerous for the regional security.
It should be noted that with the lapse of time the rhetoric of DPRK on the issue of nuclear disarmament changed significantly. Earlier, DPRK government put denuclearization of Korean Peninsula as a prerequisite for abandoning nukes. Now this prerequisite is denuclearization of the whole world. It is meaningless to expect major nuclear states to disarm in the current geopolitical conditions, so it makes no sense to urge North Korea to abandon its nukes as well. In addition to the external factors pushing DPRK to the developing its nuclear potential domestic policy is also (or even more) important. The country’s status as a nuclear power was enshrined in the DPRK Constitution, decree “On further strengthening the status of a country in possession of nuclear weapons for the purposes of self-defense” was approved and so-called “Byungjin” (parallel development) policy was adopted. It means that nuclear forces became an integral part of the country’s ideology. Ideological component still plays significant role in North Korean state and society and one can’t expect Pyongyang to change its ideology on request of mainly “hostile” international community. Any further pressure will meet just even stronger reaction from Pyongyang.
It would be better for international community to accept the fact of DPRK possessing nuclear weapon as a harsh reality and work on preventing usage of nuclear weapons (not by DPRK only but by any state owing it). Non-Proliferation Treaty countries should remember that the ultimate goal of NPT was preventing another usage of nuclear weapons rather than non-proliferation itself. Preventing usage of nuclear weapons by North Korea can be achieved through providing security guarantees only, not through continuing bad practice of military pressure, threats and political blackmail.
As for the future of DPRK nuclear program, this issue is more complicated. There is no sense to urge DPRK to abandon its nukes (at least now) but there is a chance to transfer this nuclear program to peaceful footing or freeze it. DPRK intensive military buildup, including development of its nuclear program is caused by insecurity, lack of military ties and presence of a strong enemy in the face of USA and allies. The country used to rely upon itself and does not believe that even friendly countries would support it in the case of large-scale conflict with USA. It pushes the country to the further development of nuclear and missile program. The problem could be solved by giving necessary security guarantees to North Korea and reduce its need for the development of nuclear (and other) weapons. Decreasing the burden of military spending would help to improve North Korean economy. Economic development of DPRK, in its turn, would make it more stable and predictable and of course would reduce its need to develop nuclear weapons.
New sanctions and pressure, on the contrary, would result in the next nuclear test and missile tests. Many experts agree that North Korea tested boosted fission weapon this January. The next nuclear test can become one of a hydrogen bomb. If it occurs, current balance of power in NEA will change irreversibly.
Anastasia Barannikova is the researcher of Center for Maritime International Studies, ADM Nevelskoy Maritime State University. She is also the head of Young Pugwash Group, Russian Pugwash Committee Far Eastern Branch and member of a number of Associations and NGOs. She has a background in Linguistics & Intercultural Communication, National, Information, Military Security, International Relations, and History & Political Sciences from the Far Eastern National Technical University (1999-2004), Russian Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation (2004-2006), ADM Nevelskoy Maritime State University (2010-2013) and numerous workshops and trainings. Her research interests include Arctic strategies and cooperation between Arctic and non-Arctic states; Korean Peninsula, DPRK foreign and domestic policies, problems of unification; problems of economic, energy, military, security and political interaction and cooperation of Russia, China, DPRK, Japan, ROK, USA.
She was a speaker in a number of international conferences in China, DPRK and Russia and has more than 60 publications in scientific journals, newspapers and blogs, including articles in Russian, English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese languages.