World leaders gathered at the 2019 G7 Summit had mixed reactions following the test-firing of a “newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher” by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in August 2019. The ongoing testing has complicated attempts to resume talks between the United States (US) and DPRK negotiators over denuclearization and the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
DPRK, just like any State in the international system seeking to secure its survival, will prefer to retain its nuclear weapons program as a form of deterrent until it’s convinced it will not need nuclear weapons to ensure its survival. This emanates from the Realism theory of International Relations which posits that due to the anarchic nature of the international system, States will always pursue power and self-interest for their own survival (Barash, & Webel,2002).
Denuclearization in the Korean peninsula involves removing all elements of nuclear threats from territories of both the north and south of Korea and from surrounding areas. Therefore, progress on denuclearization will depend on progress of a peace process with a common goal and better relations that will lead to a sustainable relationship with the US. This article describes the steps that could be taken to help lower the tensions and build confidence between the US and DPRK and at the same time pave way for gradual introduction of safeguards and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’s (CTBT) verification measures in the DPRK.
Denuclearization in the Korean peninsula has been termed as a difficult process since the negotiation talks between Washington and Pyongyang stalled after the June 2018 and February 2019 summits. Pyongyang argues that Washington has been calling for DPRK’s unilateral denuclearization. The two sides need to negotiate a comprehensive roadmap to denuclearization and peace, with milestones and timetables that outline every quid pro quo until they reach zero North Korean nuclear weapons and a peace treaty (Kim,2019).
For DPRK to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID), a step by step approach is required for effective verification measures. Denuclearization requires confidence building and trust from both parties and of most importance to this process would be DPRK’s halt to nuclear weapons testing and shut down of its nuclear test sites. This can be monitored remotely by the vast and highly sophisticated International Monitoring System of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which is able to detect nuclear explosions through hydroacoustic, atmospheric infrasound, seismic and radionuclide monitoring technologies.
CTBTO’s state of the art monitoring system has proven to be very effective in detecting nuclear explosions as witnessed in the detection of the September 3rd 2017 nuclear test that DPRK conducted. Over 100 stations of the vast system contributed to the analysis of the event which was significantly larger than earlier ones recorded by the system. While bilateral measures have been necessary to curb nuclear testing, only multilateral verifiable nuclear disarmament can eliminate nuclear threats once and for all. For the DPRK case, it is imperative to understand that a multilateral framework such as the one provided by the CTBT is necessary to achieve the goal of denuclearization in the Korean peninsula (Zerbo, 2019).
Secondly, the DPRK can agree not to expand its nuclear arsenal through a fissile material cut-off where the process of enriching uranium and production of plutonium would be stopped at the Yongbyon test site. Inspections would become necessary through agreed commitments from negotiations between both parties on the entity responsible for various monitoring and verification functions. Thirdly, warhead dismantlement and removal of fissile material should be carried out and if possible, in future, the establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone, which would contribute to peace and stability in the region.
Despite the presence of discord and lack of consensus on joint recommendations among States Parties at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT PrepCom), held in New York from 29April-10 May 2019, all hope is not lost. States Parties should honour their declarations on the importance of the NPT and especially in implementation of Article VI of the Treaty, which highlights the importance of a CTBT and ensure that it enters into force for attainment of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization in the Korean peninsula.
*Catherine Nyambura Mwangi, External Relations, Protocol and International Cooperation Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
The opinion piece is the work of the CTBTO Youth Group member listed as author. The views expressed herein are those of the author and should not necessarily be seen as representing the Organization.
- Barash, D. and C. Webel. (2002): Peace and Conflict Studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
- Kim D. (Jan 23, 2019), ‘What North Korea Wants from the Next US Summit’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, retrieved from https://thebulletin.org/2019/01/what-north-korea-wants-from-the-next-us-summit/
- Zerbo, L. (May 22, 2019), ‘Why Today We Need Multilateralism More than Ever’ Valdai Discussion Club, retrieved from http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/why-today-we-need-multilateralism-more-than-ever/