OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES: North Korea and Beyond

15 Jun

 

[Prefatory Note: This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, “Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea.” We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill. While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable to me. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.]

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

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10 Responses to “OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES: North Korea and Beyond”

  1. Gene Schulman June 16, 2017 at 2:58 am #

    Richard,

    Diana Johnstone’s piece might complement your justified alarm over the dangers of nuclear conflict with North Korea:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/16/nuclear-weapons-ban-what-needs-to-be-banned-is-u-s-arrogance/

    We’ve been lucky so far. There was the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm crisis, and who knows how many others? I remember sweating through the Cuban missile crisis, myself!

    How much longer can we remain lucky with such idiots at the helm today?

  2. Beau Oolayforos June 17, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    We owe thanks, and wish kudos, to those more enlightened souls who are now (thru July 7) gathered at the UN to draft plans for nuclear disarmament. Our own benighted government, along with the rest of NATO (except the Netherlands, bless them) choose to boycott. History, like healthcare, is a complex subject which the pinheads in DC seem not to understand they’re on the wrong side of.

    • Kata Fisher June 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

      A Note:

      Health Care is a form of national security — Bankruptcy from health care is estimated to be some actual 60-62% of all bankruptcies in the US. It is not evaluated as so, and is not taught that may be the case.

      Most of the lay-people believe lies and do not know what effects affect their actual wealth and health. In addition to that, most of the population is in crazed and hazed conscience that they really do not understand what they are actually believing/doing in all socio-religious terms.
      It’s certainly true that delusions are abounding and faith in lies are common religion. Its difficult, if not impossible to sort out all of that.

      Further,
      Considering unbearable abuses and burdens imposed by cults and sects — Ethical Health Care is probably the only one thing that aids sustainability of human race here in the US. If one crashes that –their aim is to crash nations or a country national security and wealth. Don’t worry that much about the stock market wich most of the folks delusively do.

      Things in satanic seals are terrible occurrences.

      Whatever is written and rewritten by UN, it needs to be written and rewritten in Juridic Person. Also, when implemented, it also needs to be implemented in Juridic Person. This is so because that is the only condition that will not allow for a foothold of satanic seals in those letters and implementations that will effect all nations in the end.

      If any prejudices or partiality takes place in those things written — it will not be good. Prejudices or partiality will require deceit — and that alone by its essence and virtues is a bad thing to start with.

      We have learned that those nations or people tribes who implemented things in Prejudices or partiality have seen destruction upon them selfs — permanent ones. Unless authentic Church annuls it — it shall remain. Authentic Church is best to have nothing to do with it, otherwise. Also, I assure you that authentic Juridic Persons in Church will have nothing to do with it. It is not humanly ethical because it is another ethics and morality, in satanic seals.

      This is why:
      Actual humans/ human conscience are incapable of implementing legally binding things of satanic seals.
      Things of UN need to be rewritten/ratified in Juridic Person, or it shall not be good with it for much longer.

      Things in Canon Law of Actual Church can be given over to the devil, and it does not happen for good of humanity, at all.

      In Juridic Person has to be — correct it. That is what I understand about all that.

  3. Laurie Knightly June 19, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    Becoming current on agreements/treaties/actions is a bit scattered when seeking info. It appears that China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, US, Russia have signed CTBT but not ratified. India, N Korea, Pakistan have not signed. N Korea tested on 6 occasions, after resigning from treaty, and US Geologic Survey can can monitor anywhere with underground tech.

    China, therefore, has been advised that it should convince N Korea to stop testing regardless of their own standing. Ditto idea for US and Israel. Interesting are the agreements such as Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty [peaceful nukes?] and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty. N Korea has an objective labeled ‘juiche’ – meaning total independence from other nations. They are surrounded by military weaponry/exercises, and hostility involving the US and S Korea. Hypocrisy? No problem…….

    Noteworthy are the revelations of Garett Graff – ‘Raven Rock, The Story of the US Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself While the Rest of us Die’. For 60 years the US govt has been developing secret Doomsday plans for its own survival. Although we might have had suspicions, it’s very unsettling to read/hear of this in raw specifics.

    Trump has stated that further testing by N Korea would not make him happy. Maybe N Korea could label its nuclear explosive device with a happiness index.

    • Richard Falk June 20, 2017 at 2:48 am #

      As usual, Laurie, a deeply interesting and illuminating set of comments. Greetings from Istanbul, Richard

  4. Björn Lindgren June 29, 2017 at 9:16 am #

    THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS

    Dear Richard,

    From what I have seen, the North Korea regime wants to be regarded as equal to the US in (real) peace talks. US have refused this In order to dominate East Asia.

    Both north and south of the 38th parallel there is a deep longing for a unification. Both peoples have relatives at the other side of the border.

    Right now, I am reading G.W. Seebald’s “On the Natural History of Destruction” (Notting Hill Editions, London 2012 – Luftkrieg und Literatur, Carl Hanser Verlag 1999).

    The book takes on the allied’s air war and destruction of 131 German cities during WWII, and how to describe this in order to learn something. A journey into the dark heart of our civilization.

    In a passage, Seebald reflects on Alexander Kluge’s descriptions of the destruction, from his book “Geschichte und Eigensinn”:

    “Central to Kluge’s detailed description of the social organization of disaster, which is pre-programmed by the ever-intensifying errors of history, is the idea that a proper understanding of the catastrophes we are always setting off is the first requisite for the social organization of happiness. However, it is difficult to dismiss the idea that the systematic destruction Kluge sees arising from the development of the means and modes of industrial production hardly seems to justify the principle of hope. … All these factors [of the construction of the strategy of air war], which Kluge studies from the organizer’s viewpoint, show that so much intelligence, capital and Labour Went into the planning of destruction that, under the pressure of all the accumulated potential, it had to happen in the end.”… “For all Kluge’s intellectual steadfastness, therefore, he looks at the destruction of his home town with the horrified fixity of Walter Benjamin’s ‘angel of history’, whose face is turned toward the past. Where we percieve a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from the Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

    * * *

    Before our very eyes, we can now percieve the acceleration of destruction in a world that falls apart. The global financial capital and the military-industrial-surveillance-parliamentary-complex, together with media industry, and supported by our own lifestyle, now destroy democracy, economy, industry, work, welfare, social core, language, education, ecology, animal and plant species, climate, and landscapes. In its wake follows poverty, unemployment, racism, cultural, structural and open violence, war, and death.

    Never before in history have we been so well educated and well informed, but we are treated as subjects and cannon fodder.

    We can do better. We already know; we don’t need more “information”.

    The conclusion is all too clear: we have to turn towards each other, stay, awaken, and make whole what has been smashed, and not only abolish nuclear weapons, but outlaw war as a legitimate way of conflict resolution.

    The ground is well prepared for this step. Most likely, many military would agree.

    Let Theresa May fumble into a new election at the end of this summer, and let Jeremy Corbyn enter 10 Downing, and not renew the British (US, actually) nuclear weapons!

    A primer?

    Richard, many thanks!

    Warm regards, Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk June 30, 2017 at 1:25 am #

      Dear Björn:

      As usual, I find your comments both congenial and illuminating, especially this one. I have always wanted to read Seebald,
      and now you have made it a necessity!! And, of course, I agree that it would provide a surge of fresh political air if by
      some surge of political sanity, Theresa May were to be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn!!

      warm greetings from a very hot Istanbul,

      Richard

      • Björn Lindgren June 30, 2017 at 1:58 am #

        Dear Richard,

        I am truly grateful for your deep perspective comments and insights. What would I be without (mostly) all the elder worthies bringing sanity and truth into public discourse?

        Many thanks!

        Take care!

        Cheers, Björn

        PS: If you have thoughts about an ongoing(?) separation/split between Germany/France, on the one hand, and US-NATO, on the other, perhaps you might write a comment on this?

        The past two-three years, I have noticed that Germany and France have met with Russia two-three times on Ukraine, and included Poroshenko, to deconflict Ukraine – and NOT inviting the US!

        Two German foreign ministers have also warned the US against Russia hysteria.

        Could this be a seed of a new Helsinki Conference on common security and disarmament in Europé?

        Germany, France, and Russia have experience of the destruction of war on their own soil, and might have a sense to avoid this again.

    • Richard Falk July 2, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

      Dear Björn Lindgren:

      Thanks so much for this invaluable comment. It led me, among other things, to download immediately W.G. Sewald’s
      extremely illuminating book, which I had known about, but never had a sufficient stimulus to actually read. I find
      it very important to our understanding of the present era, especially what is buried in collective consciousness, to
      be forgotten, and what is to be remembered at all time, especially the shifting fears of ‘barbarians at the gates.’
      Also, the suppression of the unspeakable, as occurred with respect to the German unwillingness to articulate their
      own experience of horror due to the devastation of German cities in WW II.

      Thanks for providing such thoughtful comments!

      Warm greetings, Richard

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The escalating nuclear crisis of North Korea: time to abandon coercive diplomacy « nuclear-news - June 18, 2017

    […] Global Justice in the 21st Century 15 June 2017 Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized. […]

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