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Moscow and Beijing have alternative plan on Korea

16.11.2017 11:35

Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Korea and Mongolia department at the Oriental Institute and member of the PIR Center Advisory Board

In a joint statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 4 Russia and China made proposals on immediate de-escalation of military tension in the Korean peninsula through “double freezing” (the U.S.-South Korean maneuvers and DPRK local tests of the missiles) and Russian three-step settlement plan based on the prompt launching of negotiating mechanisms. Naturally, a significant reduction of military activity and the parties' rejection of a belligerent rhetoric are the First prerequisite for creating a minimally acceptable atmosphere to to resume a dialogue.

According to the Russian road map, a gradual progress of solving more simple questions to more complex ones is the only realistic way to achieve the ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Third stage implies that the denuclearization will be carried out within a new regional security structure with the provision of reliable guarantees of equal indivisible security to all its participants, including normalization of the interstate relations between the DPRK and the U.S., Japan and DPRK and the replacement of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement.

Washington has rejected this plan at once, seeing in it only the aspiration of Moscow and Beijing to undermine the system of American military-political alliances in Northeast Asia and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called it “hurtful.” And this is another disturbing factor. It focuses on the real U.S. goals on the Korean Peninsula, even they reject proposals for negotiations in a step away from the fatal line.

A sharp reassessment by the U.S. special services of the parameters of the DPRK's nuclear missile potential from very moderate to overvalued ones is necessary to attribute to wake-up calls.

A number of authoritative American experts drew attention that American intelligence community had dramatically increased its estimates of the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea's arsenal from 20-25 to 60 and estimates of the North Korea ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount them on missiles and also had closed the date when North Korean nuclear weapons to be able to reach the territory of the United States. At the same time, according to the scientists of authoritative Brookings Institution, targeted data leaks to the media were well organized. Sources of such alarmist information are not disclosed and the audience, which in the first place these leaks are intended, is not clear.

The other countries drew attention to this fact. In Russian, the estimates of parameters of the DPRK's nuclear missile capabilities and their latest tests are more restraint. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports the same positions. Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, in interview to Bloomberg on November 7 claimed that the DPRK may hit the United States with long-range missiles not earlier than two or three years, but "if we can not find a political solution," the DPRK authorities will "inevitably" intercontinental ballistic missiles at their disposal within the specified period. “We need to stop these programs now,” Ulyanov said.

However, measures that had been taken so far to shut the North Korea nuclear program down do not work. It is, above all, the West's enthusiasm for the expansion and deepening of sanctions against Pyongyang in refusing to dialogue with it. Just in 2017 four UN Security Council resolutions involving severe and suffocating restrictions were adopted (in addition, in 2016 there were three of them, and in total since 2006 - 18!). During this time, Pyongyang's nuclear missile program only accelerated and made obvious progress.

No one doubts that the U.S. policy is aimed at the rapid formation of an impenetrable isolation and a complete economic blockade of North Korea. Let the analysts of different countries determine whether such an approach corresponds to the official statements of the U.S. Secretary of State of the absence of an intention to accelerate the DPRK collapse. In our opinion, this line exacerbates the situation in the peninsula and brings the sides closer to the fatal line.

Such an approach of Washington does not stand a chance to Kim Jong-un to change his behavior. Because he perfectly understands that the consent to the option of negotiations proposed by the United States is tantamount to capitulation and the "quick death" of the state he leads. The experience of S. Milosevic, S. Hussein and M. Gaddafi left no doubt that any slightest one-sided concession will inevitably lead to an avalanche of new demands by the United States, including endless and more intrusive inspections with an inevitable and swift finish - the elimination of the North Korean state.

Therefore, Russia louder states that the potential of sanctions has been exhausted and increasing pressure will not force Pyongyang to abandon its goals. It is necessary to resume the negotiation process as soon as possible. “In Russia’s opinion, an expectation that it is possible to stop the nuclear missile programs of the DPRK solely by pressure on Pyongyang is erroneous and unpromising. It is necessary to solve the problems of the region through a direct dialogue of all interested sides without preconditions. Provocations, pressure, belligerent and offensive rhetoric is the way to nowhere,” V. Putin claims.

It became a topic worth discussing at authoritative think-tanks in the US, criticizing the belligerent rhetoric of their president in the spirit that “flirting with a preventive war is a wound inflicted on oneself.” The leading specialists of the Brookings Institution have calculated that reducing the scope of joint U.S.-South Korean maneuvers to 10,000 people and holding them from time to time in Australia or California will not reduce the level of combat readiness of the Allied forces in South Korea.

On the one hand, it gives certain ground to hope that the current round of menacing rhetoric, mutual sharp provocative actions, extreme uncompromisingness are the phase of preparation for serious negotiations, within which both sides try to secure the most acceptable starting positions.

On the other hand, it is necessary not to wait, but to act vigorously now to not to cross the fatal line. Therefore, Russia has become to claim that a dialogue with the DPRK can help to avoid the irreparable rather than sanctions. President Vladimir Putin at the Eastren Economic Forum in Vladivostok stressed: “We do not recognize the nuclear status of North Korea... At the same time, it is clear that it is impossible to solve the problems of the Korean peninsula alone with sanctions and pressure. Do not succumb to emotions and drive North Korea into a corner. Now more than ever, everyone needs to be calm and avoid steps that lead to an escalation of tension. The current situation is extremely difficult to move without the political and diplomatic tools, and to be more precise, I think it is impossible at all.” The Russian leader remembered the history of the six-party talks and noted that not only and not so much the DPRK is to blame for their failure. In 2005, the interested parties “practically agreed on everything... The DPRK agreed to curtail the nuclear program, other participants promised to launch negotiations. But someone demanded from North Korea what it had not promise. And this situation has gradually degraded to today's level.

Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, has confirmed this direction on APEC Summit on November 8 said: “We have repeatedly expressed our attitude about what is happening – we are convinced that the exchange of threats and even the exchange of insults will not lead to anything good... It is necessary to sit down and negotiate. There is a Russian-Chinese proposal. We are convinced that there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement.”

Today the actual reality is such that Russia remains the only one among the leading powers, which maintains constructive cooperation with the DPRK against the backdrop of the escalating crisis between Pyongyang and Washington and the complications of North Korean-Chinese relations. It is not by chance that in recent months official emissaries from interested countries, primarily from the United States, the DPRK, the PRC, and the ROK have become frequent in Moscow. Russia is now viewed as an important player, whose potential for balancing the situation on the Korean peninsula is increasing.

It is appropriate to clarify an important episode in Russian-North Korean relations. For many, the decree of the Russian President No 484 signed by V. Putin on October 14 about the introduction of painful sanctions against the DPRK, was unexpected. Many commentators suggested that Russia's policy toward Pyongyang had a drastic change: they say that Moscow's patience has come to an end and it decided to roughly punish North Korea for its nuclear adventure. In reality, everything is different.

Firstly, the mistake is the assertion that the current sanctions by Moscow were introduced as a reaction the sixth nuclear test, carried out by North Korea on September 3, 2017, on which the UN Security Council on September 12 adopted resolution 2375. In fact, the decree of the President of the Russian Federation refers to the answer to the previous, fifth, nuclear charge, produced on September 9, 2016.

Secondly, many media presented this step of V.Putin as a confirmation that Moscow had finally decided to join the Western course of full isolation and economic blockade of North Korea.

In fact, the decree underlines that it is about measures to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2321 of October 30, 2016, dedicated to condemnation of the fifth test of the DPRK nuclear weapons. Here everything is clear. Russia has undertaken to fulfill the restrictions on the DPRK in the resolution, voting in favor of this resolution in October last year. It needs to be transformed into national measures.

Why now? Because the process of transforming international obligations into state practice in Russia takes about a year. At the beginning, the center sends out tasks to develop specific restrictive measures in their areas of work and within their competence to the ministries and departments. Then these organizations define restrictions in specific areas and return their proposals to the government, where they are summarized and transferred to the presidential administration, on the basis of which a presidential decree is being prepared. It takes about a year. This happened with similar acts in the framework of the previous resolutions of the UN Security Council.

In other words, the last October restrictions have nothing to do with the revision of Russia's position towards the DPRK.

The position of Moscow on these issues is clear. The Russian federation supported the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but exclusively by peaceful, diplomatic means. Moscow understands the motives of Pyongyang's conduct and the reasons that prompted it to take the path of creating nuclear weapons, but does not recognize its nuclear status.

The explanation is simple. Proceeding from its obligations as one of the depositories of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and its own national interests, Russia is deeply interested in maintaining the global non-proliferation regime of WMD. Of course, these sanctions impose restrictions on the possibilities of Russian-North Korean economic cooperation, but when the DPRK decided to conduct the tests, she knew the position of Russia and understood what actions on her part would follow.

At the same time, Russia recognizes the legitimate concerns of the DPRK with its own security and seeks to find mutual understanding on this issue with all stakeholders, primarily the United States, the ROK and Japan. Russia firmly supports the early resumption of the negotiation process on various tracks, including the US-North Korean and multilateral. This position of Russia is well known in Pyongyang and remains unchanged.