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V. Petrovskiy: Address to International Leadership Conference 2018

Address to International Leadership Conference 2018, Seoul, Korea, February 18-22, 2018

The progress of the North Korean nuclear and missile program drastically changes the context of the inter-Korean dialogue, and also the context of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime in the way we used to see it. 

The recent statement by President Moon Jae-in about his readiness to discuss inter-Korean relations regardless the status of the North Korean nuclear and missile program indicates fundamentally new perspectives for the dialogue between the two Korean states. On the other side, for many years Pyongyang openly and consistently has ignored the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, which is one of the cornerstones of the current world order.

The 70-year experience of inter-Korean relations teaches that normalization of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is possible only on the basis of a stable and irreversible dialogue between the North and the South of Korea.

Considering North Korea's nuclear capabilities, its existing capabilities in the field of chemical, biological and conventional weapons, as well as its extremely provocative rhetoric and actions, North Korea represents an urgent and unpredictable threat to the United States, its allies and partners. In this regard, the United States has confirmed that the North Korea's illegal nuclear program must be completely, irreversibly, and verifiably destroyed, which will make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

The North Korean side tries to emphasize that it intends to continue discussing at the six-party talks not the terms for abandoning its nuclear program, but the conditions for its preservation and even further development. At one time, Pyongyang began its nuclear research in the absence of security guarantees from the United States, trying to protect the independence and territorial integrity of the country. Now that the North Korean nuclear missile program has made significant progress, what is the point, in Pyongyang's opinion, to curtail it after so much effort and money has been invested in it?

The United States still refuse to negotiate a peace treaty and establishment of diplomatic relations. Previous agreements on the curtailment of the nuclear program in exchange for the supply of food and energy carriers have repeatedly been broken through the fault of the Western side. Pyongyang has for many years openly and consistently ignored the nuclear non-proliferation regime arguing: why can some countries have nuclear weapons and others cannot?

The "official" nuclear powers, despite all their contradictions and disagreements, have spent many years and much effort to stop nuclear proliferation in various regions of the world, including the Korean Peninsula

An agreement was reached between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Sr. not to place American and Soviet tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and in the adjacent waters. This opened the way for signing the Agreement on the Non-Nuclear Status of the Korean Peninsula in 1991, which, if properly implemented by all parties, would have long ago solved the security problem in the region. 

From the point of view of formal international law, no one can force a sovereign state to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or withdraw from it, or so it is said in Pyongyang. But if only one of the nearly 200 countries that joined the nuclear non-proliferation regime selects such a path, it is perceived by the rest as illegitimate behavior and a challenge to the world community.

India and Pakistan chose such a path, and contrary to the calls of other countries, acquired nuclear weapons. But this does not mean that Washington, Moscow, Beijing and other "nuclear" capitals will agree with another attempt to do so, whether in Pyongyang or Seoul.

The approaches of India and Pakistan to the current regime of nuclear non-proliferation basically coincide: both countries regard the NPT as an "unequal" treaty that fixes a nuclear monopoly over a small group of "chosen" states. India and Pakistan are ready to consider their accession to the NPT only as internationally recognized nuclear powers.

In the opinion of authoritative Russian experts, the recognition of India and Pakistan as the nuclear powers will mean a revision of the principles of the NPT and the actual end of this treaty, as well as the entire modern nuclear non-proliferation regime built on it. However, compromises are possible: in an effort to achieve international recognition of their nuclear status, India and Pakistan can make concessions in terms of limiting their nuclear missile arsenals and reducing the pace of the implementation of a number of strategic programs.

Experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center point out that Delhi and Islamabad have signed a number of agreements in the area of confidence measures, which testifies to the "contractual capacity" of both parties. The mitigation of the risk of a nuclear conflict would also be facilitated by achievement of mutual obligations not to deploy nuclear weapons in the disputed territories. The same goals can be achieved by mutually reducing the combat readiness of missiles (i.e. legalizing the current practice of separate storage of carriers and nuclear warheads) and notifications of a change in the status during militaryexercises. The experience of India and Pakistan is quite suitable for developing a new formula for the nuclear non-proliferation regime in relation to North Korea.

Iran is another candidate country for joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Actually, Iran, fulfilling the requirements of the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency, was forced to take significant additional measures to limit its nuclear program in order to dispel suspicions about its true intentions.

So, is the "new formula" of the nuclear non-proliferation regime applicable with regard to North Korea? In order to ensure trust in the sphere of non-proliferation, the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, suggested the following measures:

—To complicate the way out of the NPT. Without questioning the NPT, consider the possibility of developing a special UN Security Council resolution that defines clear consequences for those countries that violate the Treaty, including sanctions, and coercive measures.

—To determine a working mechanism for applying tough measures against acquisition and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

—To restore political trust and a systemic dialogue in international life.

—The official "nuclear five" could offer guarantees for security of North Korea as an important condition for creating an atmosphere of trust and the return of Pyongyang to the negotiating table. 

The focus on trust-building measures in the field of nuclear non-proliferation in the case of North Korea is the key factor.

In particular, there is a real opportunity to make the dialogue of the two Korean states permanent, sustainable, and irreversible. This once again confirms that the solution of the Korean problem lies in the path of gradual development of political dialogue, nuclear non-proliferation, bilateral relations in all areas in a favorable external environment, and reliable international guarantees—with the unification of Korea as the ultimate goal.



To go to the International Leadership Conference Schedule 2018, click here.