Editor’s Note: Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he chose to defect with his family to South Korea in 2016. Following the recent release of his book, “Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat,” and his departure from the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), he has committed himself to improving the outlook for those still living in the DPRK. His current efforts focus on information sharing and the power of education to effect change.
As one of the highest-ranking diplomats to ever defect, Thae has teamed up with Daily NK and its broader media consortium, Unification Media Group, for a weekly series to share his unparalleled insight into the North Korean system, ethos, and strategic thinking, while unpacking his vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The North Korea-US high-level talks that had been scheduled on November 8 have been postponed after a unilateral decision from North Korea.
While the United States claims that the talk was delayed due to the lack of preparations from North Korea, in truth, it was the outcome of the conflict between the US and North Korea on the agenda of the talk.
The director of the American department of the North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned on November 2nd that North Korea may restart the update of its nuclear weapons if the US does not to start to lift the sanctions in return for North Korea’s denuclearization measures so far.
In response, the US stated that North Korea’s destruction of Punggye-ri nuclear site or the partial dismantlement of the missile launch pad can not be considered to be a meaningful measures of denuclearization and that the sanctions cannot be eased until the denuclearization process has been verified.
In the midst of this, China and Russia, as well as South Korea, have recommended that the US should consider the measures by North Korea like stopping nuclear missile launches, dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and dissembling of the missile launch pads as a meaningful step in the denuclearization process.
These countries have been firm that the US should lift some part of sanctions as a first sign of confidence building.
Now, the current issue is whether the steps by North Korea so far are enough to start the easing of sanctions, or whether the submission of a list of nuclear facilities is primary part to ease sanctions.
To get the answer to that, we must understand the character of nuclear negotiations.
There are two kinds of nuclear negotiations.
The first one is the denuclearization negotiation which is purposed to completely destroy all nuclear weapons and production facilities simultaneously.
The second one is the nuclear disarmament negotiation which is purposed to reduce the capability of nuclear attack while acknowledging the possession of nuclear weapons.
The United States denuclearized nuclear states such as South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan in a short period of less than two years and paid a corresponding economic price in return through denuclearization talk.
The primary issue in the process of denuclearization is the reporting of nuclear facilities and the simultaneous and complete abandonment of nuclear weapons based on the declaration of nuclear facilities.
This is the universal principle of denuclearization that has been applied so far.
The United States and Europe are trying to apply these universal principles in the nuclear negotiation with North Korea.
But now, North Korea, South Korea, China and Russia are insisting that the principle of universality can not be applied in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue because there are special factors such as hostilities between North Korea and the United States.
The suggestion that North Korea wants a gradual phase into denuclearization by beginning with steps that are possible to destroy proves that North Korea is not willing to enter negotiations for complete denuclearization but negotiations for the reduction of nuclear weapons as a nuclear state.
If sanctions start to be lifted as a countermeasure for the dismantlement of some nuclear facilities when North Korea’s nuclear attack capability has not even weakened by 1%, this is no different to recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power.
If negotiations on the North Korean nuclear issue are caught up in terms of nuclear disarmament, the process of denuclearization will be stretched out.
Then, not only will we be unable to get rid of North Korea’s nuclear threat, but a situation will unfold in which countermeasures by easing of sanctions must continue to be made in return for the dismantlement of each of North Korea’s many nuclear facilities.
Therefore, we must move forward with receiving an inventory of nuclear weapons first, then easing some of the sanctions against North Korea on the condition that it dismantles some of its nuclear capability.
Right now, what we need to turn our attention to is the gradual demolition of North Korean nuclear facilities as well as the gradual weakening of North Korea’s nuclear attacking ability.
As long as North Korea’s nuclear attack capability remains intact, even if there are a reduction of conventional arms, there will be no genuine peace on the Korean Peninsula