Achieving Denuclearization On The Korean Peninsula – OpEd



The threat spectrum in the Korean Peninsula has widened to include risks of a conventional confrontation escalating into a nuclear crisis as the DPRK, as of now, possesses 20-30 nuclear warheads and has conducted more than 100 ballistic missile tests (Cha). In 2018, both countries signed an inter-Korean agreement aimed at demilitarization in the region, strengthened by establishing no-fly zones along the border, buffer zones along land and sea borders, and no artillery or military drills close to the demilitarized zone (Sokolsky). 

The nuclear threat, however, has raised tensions on the peninsula as South Korean conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol,  adopted a very strong policy against the DPRK, miring the possibility of preemptive actions and missile threats against North Korean nuclear facilities (Ahn). Until now, the joint military drills between the United States and the ROK were responded to by violations of the 2018 agreement where the DPRK is still testing nuclear weapons that could destabilize the Korean Peninsula. As a result of the action by the DPRK tensions grew on the Korean peninsula as for now.

Ways to solve the crisis

As the DPRK continues to conduct nuclear tests and test missiles which now include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with ranges long enough to hit Japan or the U.S. mainland, it has become utterly crucial to solving the North Korean crisis. According to U.S. officials, denuclearization talks with the DPRK have reached a dead end as the DPRK has violated the peace regime multiple times (Blank). However, it is pertinent to note here that only successful negotiations between the DPRK, ROK, the U.S., and new actors like China can lead to long-lasting peace on the peninsula. 

Firstly, to build sustainable peace, a lot more than a simple agreement is needed as it no longer remains the challenge of conventional security but also includes non-conventional threats. The 1953 armistice agreement needs to be reformed into an institutionalized peace treaty with properly defined stakeholders, norms, declarations, rules, processes, and institutions that will govern peace on the Korean peninsula (Aum, et al. 4). The shortcomings of the armistice agreement or any other following agreement signed by the DPRK and the ROK revolve around the lack of diplomatic ties between stakeholders. So, in addition to divergent interests, the need to recreate diplomatic ties every time before launching a new round of negotiations creates a vacuum unable to improve the security challenges (Grzylczyk 36). 

Secondly, both the U.S. and ROK need to adopt a realistic lens to the problem. Setting total denuclearization as a precondition to entering negotiations is a fool’s errand and is not supported by any other regional actor. The DPRK believes in the withdrawal of U.S. troops and weapons from the peninsula as a viable solution to the regional security problem; the U.S. and the ROK consider DPRK’s denuclearization as the only solution while other actors such as China and Russia view it from the lens of a frozen conflict where denuclearization is a situation too ideal to begin with (Barannikova 58). Instead, China’s opposition to the U.S. installation of THAAD in the Korean peninsula and consequent economic sanctions on the ROK in 2017 appears to be supporting the DPRK’s claim of American exclusion from the equation (Watts IV 88). To reduce the North Korean nuclear threat, the U.S. and ROK must consider the China factor and the role China can play in escalating or de-escalating the conflict. 

Thirdly, it is important to consider the new security architecture of the region. The nuclear weapons held by the DPRK are the essential component of the new status quo. The only possible way to denuclearize the DPRK and avert a nuclear crisis is to view North Korean nuclear status as a stabilizer rather than a threat. This is significant because a continuous arms and nuclear race can be witnessed all across the globe therefore, DPRK’s denuclearization is in the interest of none, and negotiations for complete denuclearization will be just negotiations (Barannikova 62). If the U.S. continues to stress on denuclearization element completed by strict sanctions, China and Russia are likely to maintain trade relations thus, leading to a possibility of an emerging China-DPRK-Russia bloc against the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance (Barranikova 62).

Keeping in view these arguments, an engagement strategy remains the best solution to undermine the North Korean nuclear threat. While the U.S. and ROK maintain their nuclear deterrence and defense capabilities, unconditional denuclearization should be off the table. Instead, a step-by-step denuclearization in exchange for warm relations in areas of economic cooperation, diplomatic relations, cultural exchange, and human rights can be the best course for averting a nuclear crisis in the Korean peninsula. 


The frozen conflict between the DPRK, ROK, and the U.S. has rendered instability and insecurity on the Korean peninsula, so much so that the situation has aggravated into a possible nuclear engagement. While the negotiations and harsh economic sanctions have failed to work in the past, it is now important to practice economic and political engagement whilst pushing down the hopes for total denuclearization. With new actors, especially China, the regional security architecture has changed and so, the U.S. and ROK need to tread accordingly to reduce the North Korean nuclear threat.

The opinions expressed in this article the author’s his own. 


  • Ahn, Hae K. “A Long Road to Nowhere: 10 Years of the Kim Jong Un Regime.” The Diplomat, 24 Mar. 2022, Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
  • Aum, Frank, et al. A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula. United States Institute of Peace, 2020. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
  • Barannikova, Anastasia. “Korean Peninsula Nuclear Issue: Challenges and Prospects.” Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, vol. 5, no. 1, 2022, pp. 50-68, DOI:10.1080/25751654.2022.2053409. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
  • Blank, Stephen J. “North Korea: Nuclear Threat or Security Problem?” Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
  • Cha, Victor. Preventing a Crisis with North Korea. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2020. Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.
  • Grzelczyk, Virginie. “Threading on thin ice? Conflict dynamics on the Korean Peninsula.” Asia Europe Journal, vol. 17, no. 1, 2018, pp. 31-45.
  • Sajid, Islamuddin. “South Korea urges North to honor 2018 agreement on reducing military tension.” AA News, 20 Oct. 2022, Accessed 22 Oct. 2022.

Simon Hutagalung

Simon Hutagalung is a retired diplomat from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and received his master's degree in political science and comparative politics from the City University of New York. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.

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