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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

T. Kawabe: Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula: A Japanese Perspective

One of the elements of this theme is the peaceful reunification of two Koreas. I have deep sympathy with the Korean people for their yearning for ultimate reunification of their homeland. But peaceful unification of different political systems is without precedent. It required either force, as in Vietnam, or a breakdown of one of the systems, as in Germany. Democracy and denuclearization should be the bases for a peaceful reunification. Unless denuclearization is achieved, there will be no reunification.In this connection, I wish to talk about the Six-Party process and touch on how we Japanese feel about it.

American schizophrenia


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) made a commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons in the joint statement of September 2005. However, while those Six-Party Talks were in progress, the US Treasury Department announced a prohibition of American banks from doing business with Banco Delta Asia in Macau, because they handled funds that represented illegal activities by the DPRK.

This act of the Treasury Department was untimely for the course of the Six-Party Talks. It stalled the progress for the next sixteen months, during which time the DPRK tested seven missiles in one day in July and a nuclear device in October of the following year.

Most experts assessed the nuclear test as a technical failure, but politically it brought about a change in US attitude. Meetings between the US and DPRK representatives took place first in Beijing and later in Berlin, resulting in the fifth round of the Six-Party Talks in February this year, which led to the agreement called “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement.”

In this agreement, the DPRK promised to “shut down and seal, for the purpose of eventual abandonment, the Yongbyon nuclear facility” in the initial phase of sixty days, and invite back International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to conduct monitoring and verification. The reward for this is just 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. No major difficulty is expected to arise on the status of IAEA personnel. Negotiating skills and tenacity should not be underestimated.

Poor prospects beyond the second phase


The main elements of the second phase of denuclearization, as agreed to in the Six-Party Talks in February, are provision by the DPRK for a complete declaration of all nuclear program and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities. In return, the DPRK will receive “economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of a million tons of heavy fuel oil.”

First, complete declaration of all nuclear programs naturally includes the highly enriched uranium program, which the DPRK persistently denied in the past. There is ample evidence that the DPRK imported centrifuge machines and enrichment technology to build a plant. The DPRK is also required to declare all nuclear weapons and separated plutonium. All these are likely to give rise to considerable difficulties.

Secondly, the word “disablement” is a new concept invented by the Six-Party Talks to describe a stage in between shutting down and final dismantlement of a nuclear facility. There are bound to be prolonged and tortuous discussions as to what constitutes disablement. Because of these difficulties, many commentators forecast the breakdown of the talks at this stage.

But I personally think the DPRK will follow through what they have promised up to phase 2, for the following reasons:· The Yongbyon facility is an obsolete system for plutonium production. The 5 MW graphite reactor, the only source of plutonium, is an experimental model and is now twenty-one years old. The logical choice for the DPRK is to get rid of it at a high price.· If the DPRK wanted to continue plutonium production, it would prefer to build a new facility on the basis of its experiences during the last two decades of operation.

Mr. Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, reported in November 2005 that the DPRK had already completed a new design for the second 50 MW graphite reactor in Yongbyon, construction of which was suspended by the 1994 agreement.·

The reward is rich. The February agreement has already secured South Korean aid amounting to almost a half billion dollars, part of which is being delivered before the DPRK begins implementing its part of the deal. Russia is also expected to strike off ninety percent of $8 billion in back debts. These are in addition to one million tons of fuel oil.But whether the DPRK will go beyond the second phase and actually give up weapons and plutonium is very much in doubt. In view of the experiences of the 1990s, I am rather pessimistic.

Between the promise to abandon all nuclear weapons twenty months ago and now, the missile test took place, which clearly indicated DPRK intentions of showing off the weapon and improving it. Since the late 1960s Kim Il-sung and his son did everything to acquire nuclear weapons, even at the cost of hundreds of thousand of people who died of hunger during the 1990s. His sole power base is the military, which will never allow him to give up the nuclear weapons in their possession. Also, the people of North Korea will see giving them up as a sign of weakness. I suspect Kim Jong-il decided to participate in the Six-Party Talks only to gain time to improve on the trigger device.

Japanese apprehensions about American concessions


Also included in the February agreement as one of the initial actions is for the US to begin “the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism.” This was a bad news to the Japanese, who were obsessed with the abductions of their citizens by North Korean agents. US President Bush has been sympathetic to the families of the victims and personally met them and gave them encouragement. But it was revealed that when the leaders of the US and Japan met on April 27, Japanese Prime Minister Abe specifically asked the US President not to change North Korea’s status unless the abduction issue is resolved. The President expressed his support for Japan, saying he would take the abduction issue into consideration.

But US Secretary of State Rice, who was also present, pointed out that under US law the abduction of Japanese nationals has no effect on the possible status change. This is the first time that status as a sponsor of terrorism was de-linked from the abductions.

This upset the Japanese. To remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism means that the US would no longer object to loans to the DPRK by multilateral financial organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The DPRK is most keen to open this venue of getting financing, and it may make it a condition to fulfill its obligation in the second phase.

I personally feel that achieving a nuclear-free peninsula should be given the first priority over issues of a bilateral nature, but with one condition: that the benefit of receiving financing from international organizations should be withheld until it is certain that the DPRK has abandoned nuclear weapons.

Japan also fears that the US might one day yield to persistent DPRK demands to retain nuclear weapons and settle for a pledge by the latter of non-proliferation of weapons and materials to third parties. This will mean de facto recognition of the nuclear weapons status of the DPRK, similar to that of Pakistan.

Although surrounded by nuclear powers, Japan has so far been complacent without nuclear weapons under the protective umbrella of the US. But giving de facto nuclear status to the DPRK is more than the Japanese will tolerate, and this is likely to lead to a fundamental change in Japanese public opinion about nuclear armaments. The reason is obvious: mutual hatred between the two nations and upcoming negotiations with the DPRK to normalize relations involving billions of dollars. No country is willing to negotiate under nuclear threat.

There is no need to explain in detail the far-reaching complications that Japanese nuclear armament will bring to regional security. To prevent this, the DPRK must be pressured to abandon all nuclear weapons by all means. Hopefully, all the neighboring countries will go along with this.

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