Brimming with Danger 3/15/17

President Donald Trump Should Make a Deal with North Korea -by Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

President Donald Trump likes to be known for his deal-making, and now he has the opportunity to make deals that can impact world peace and security, not just real estate or other business deals for his profit. North Korea would be a great place to start.

Former President Barack Obama described North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs as the most pressing international security problem when he briefed Trump just before leaving office. President Obama, who scored impressive diplomatic successes with the Iran nuclear agreement and the opening to Cuba, failed in his policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, refusing to engage in official negotiations for eight years while the nuclear and missile programs progressed and regional security concerns worsened.

Promising unofficial talks, known as “track two diplomacy,” were held as recently as last fall in Malaysia, led by former U.S. officials Robert Gallucci and Leon Sigal, who had succeeded in negotiations with North Korea to freeze their nuclear weapons and missile programs for almost a decade beginning in 1994. These talks have been discontinued, and the Trump Administration recently refused visas to North Koreans who were supposed to travel to the U.S. for further talks, in retaliation for a recent ballistic missile test.

China, which is also very concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, recently proposed a sensible, reciprocal approach North Korea had previously advocated, namely a halt to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises (often called war games) in exchange for a halt to missile tests. The Trump Administration rejected this, but ought to reconsider.

While nobody wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, its pursuit of them as a potential deterrent to overwhelming U.S., South Korean and Japanese military, economic and political might is unfortunately logical. Adding to the long-standing military imbalance is the recent deployment of THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, by the U.S. in South Korea.

THAAD is a missile system which aims to shoot down short-and-medium-range ballistic missiles as they descend to their targets. North Korea, China and Russia see THAAD as a de-stabilizing weapon, fearing it could thwart their ballistic missile-carrying nukes. In North Korea’s view, THAAD could possibly be part of a U.S./South Korea first-strike strategy, in which THAAD defends South Korea from a North Korean attack in retaliation for a U.S. strike, whether conventional or nuclear.

Finally, China, Russia, India and Pakistan have nuclear arsenals. U.S. submarines with nukes also patrol the region, so it’s a scary neighborhood brimming with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Trump seems to have a serious bee in his bonnet about his predecessor. In addition to his original support and funding for the “birther” movement falsely claiming Obama was not a U.S. citizen and his recent charge that Obama bugged Trump Tower, Trump has disparaged Obama’s 2009 New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, the Iran nuclear agreement, and of course the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”

Regardless of how one feels about any of those issues and Trump’s assertions, he now has a chance to do something Obama didn’t, which is to increase global and regional security by at least halting North Korea’s advances on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology.

The basic contours of what North Korea wants are well known, at least first steps, and it’s not rocket science. Not necessarily in this order, they are: a formal peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice at the end of the Korean War in 1953, direct talks with the United States, and relief from what it sees as a confrontational military posture by the U.S., South Korea and Japan, cessation of war games being the most obvious step.

On several occasions during the election campaign last year, Trump made positive comments about talking with North Korea. Now he can, and should, put that into practice. As Winston Churchill famously said, “to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Feel the Need 11/23/16

Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

Threats and “Strategic Patience” haven’t worked with North Korea, let’s try serious diplomacy – by Kevin Martin

Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper surprisingly told a House Intelligence Committee that getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons was probably a “lost cause.” The assessment was not surprising, but rather the candor, an admission the Obama Administration’s policy of “strategic patience” — refusing to negotiate with North Korea and hoping economic sanctions and international isolation would bring it to the negotiating table — has failed.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken contradicted Clapper almost immediately, trying to re-assure South Korea, Japan and other regional allies the U.S. has not thrown in the towel, that the U.S. does not accept North Korea’s possessing a nuclear arsenal. In the midst of all this, unofficial talks with the North Korean government were taking place in Malaysia.

“I think the best course would be to test the proposition by some serious engagement in which we see whether their (North Korea’s) legitimate security concerns can be met,” said Robert Gallucci, a participant in the Malaysia talks and lead negotiator of a 1994 disarmament agreement that curbed North Korea’s nuclear program for nearly 10 years. This is a rare admission that North Korea has legitimate concerns, which is welcome.

“We don’t know for sure that negotiations will work, but what I can say with some confidence is that pressure without negotiations won’t work, which is the track we are on right now,” noted Leon Sigal from the New York-based Social Science Research Council. Sigal also took part in the Malaysia talks.

While it is cause for serious concern, no one should be surprised by North Korea’s insistence on maintaining its nuclear arsenal. Tensions in the region are high, and require a serious commitment to diplomacy and disarmament by all parties, rather than recent threats by South Korea to ramp up its military posture. Informal talks with North Korean officials are better than nothing, but no replacement for formal negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Surrounded by far superior militaries (those of the United States, South Korea and Japan) it is no wonder North Korean leaders feel the need to keep their nukes.

Threats against the North have proven a failure. A far cheaper and more effective strategy to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would include the following:

-negotiate a formal peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice negotiated in 1953;

-address North Korea’s concerns about the U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance’s aggressive military posture in the region (an end to provocative joint “war games” in and around the peninsula would be a great start);

-restore some credibility to U.S. non-proliferation policy by scrapping plans to “modernize” our entire nuclear weapons enterprise – laboratories, warheads, missiles, bombers and submarines – estimated at $1 trillion over the next 30 years (Predictably, every other nuclear state including North Korea has followed suit in announcing their own plans to “modernize” their arsenals.);

-explore regional peace and security-building measures with other key regional actors including China (without overestimating China’s ability to compel North Korea to denuclearize).

Compounding the problem is our country’s lack of credibility, with North Korea but also globally, on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are working to undermine plans for the United Nations General Assembly to begin negotiations on a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, beginning next year. (The exception is North Korea, which last week voted with 122 other countries to support the negotiations. The U.S. and other nuclear states opposed or abstained, but the process will go forward with solid support from a large majority of the world’s countries).

Even worse is the exorbitant nuclear “modernization” plan, which should instead be dubbed The New Nuclear Arms Race (That Nobody Wants Except Weapons Contractors) for the Next Three Decades Proposal.

Resolving tensions over North Korea’s nukes, likely by the next president at this point, will require the same commitment to diplomacy the Obama administration showed in securing the Iran nuclear agreement and opening to Cuba, but we would have much more credibility were we not preaching atomic temperance from a barstool brimming with nuclear weapons.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.