The challenges that a nuclear North Korea poses to its neighbors, the U.S. and the global community have constituted headline news for the past two decades. Ever since the country withdrew from the Six-Party Talks in 2009, its efforts to develop nuclear weapons have greatly intensified. They have led to the country being subjected to increasingly tough bilateral and multilateral sanctions. Nevertheless, North Korea’s historic commitment to the Kim family’s ideology of juche, or “self-reliance,” has emboldened the country’s diplomatic, financial, and military autarky, heightened its resistance to normal engagment with other states, and reduced the prospect of a negotiated solution.
As of May 2017 the “hermit kingdom” had conducted five underground nuclear tests and was believed to possess between 13 and 30 nuclear weapons. It also has a rapidly advancing delivery capability that threatens the immediate region as well as the U.S. mainland. Over the past six months the crisis has escalated dramatically, with North Korea repeatedly testing ballistic missiles. This has sparked intense public and policy debate about the options for dealing with the threat. The debate has focused mainly on the strategies of military action, additional sanctions and U.S. pressure on China in order to get China to put pressure on North Korea. Insufficient attention has been paid to the option of negotiations.
CERL is aware that negotiations with North Korea have been unsuccessful historically and does not advocate that negotiations at this point in time are necessarily feasible or appropriate. Rather, we maintain that negotiations should be taken seriously since there may well be no other viable approach. There is an evident risk that coercive measures and threats will be counter-productive, heightening rather than de-escalating tension. Consequently, the option of negotiations, and the relationship between negotiations and coercive strategies, should be the subject of well-reasoned debate.
The CERL symposium will contribute to informed policy and public discussion on the North Korea crisis by examining the potential for, and obstacles to, negotiations with that country as a means to resolving or at least managing the crisis.
The symposium will have two consecutive panel discussions followed by a keynote speaker. All the speakers are experts on North Korea and reflect a balance of senior scholars, policy experts, former diplomats, and security practitioners. Their perspectives and interactions will enrich public and policy discussion on what is arguably the most severe contemporary international crisis.
The first panel will address the overarching question of whether the U.S. should engage in negotiations with North Korea. On the one hand, negotiations might help legitimize the North Korean government and reward it for having unlawfully developed nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Negotiations might also undermine international efforts to deter the development of nuclear weapons elsewhere. On the other hand, the North Korea crisis is so severe and the nuclear stakes are so high that the U.S. may have little or no responsible choice but to pursue a negotiated arrangement. If the U.S. chooses not to engage in negotiations, what are its alternative strategies and are they likely to succeed? If negotiations did take place, what would be their goal: containment of the nuclear threat or restoration of full diplomatic relations?
The second panel will explore the dynamics of negotiations with North Korea if the U.S. decides to adopt this strategy. Are there any pre-conditions that should be met before negotiations commence? Would sanctions and threats of military force encourage or discourage negotiations? Which countries should participate in the negotiations? Should there be a third-party mediator? How should the United Nations be involved? What should the goals be and what kind of concessions should the U.S. be willing to make in order to attain those goals? How does North Korea view negotiations and how does it view the U.S.? And what can be learned from the negotiations on the Iran nuclear program?