Bikini DayNuclear Age of Northeast Asia: Past, Present, and Future
February 28, 2012
2012 Bikini Day International Forum
Representative, Peace Network / South Korea
For Bikini day when the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb was conducted in March 1, 1954, we should renew and strengthen the efforts to make the nuke-free world. For that, cooperation and solidarity between Japan and South Korean civil society is very important. Japan and Korea were the biggest victims by the U.S. atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have been under the U.S.'s nuclear umbrella, and share concern on North Korea's nuclear ambition.
I want to focus on the nuclear issues in Korea because the denuclearized Korean peninsula is vital component for nuclear weapon free Asia and world. In order to understand and resolve North Korean nuclear problem, we need to recognize its historical context. North Korea is unique country that has been threatened by the U.S. nuclear attack for more than sixty years, from the Korean War to the present.
More than 60 years, U.S. nuclear threat against North Korea
During the Korean War, the U.S. continued to consider and threaten the use of atomic bomb. After the armistice treat in July 1953, the Eisenhower administration adopted "massive retaliation strategy" that the U.S. would retaliate North Korea and China with nuclear weapons if they attacked South Korea again. This strategy led to deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa. The U.S. nuclear threat against DPRK continued after the end of Cold War between the U.S. and USSR. Even though the U.S. announced the withdrawal of its nukes in South Korea in 1991 and promised not to use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against DPRK through Agreed Framework in 1994, it continued to conduct nuclear attack exercises. More worriedly, the Bush administration called DPRK as "Axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, and adopted the nuclear preemptive strike strategy.
Even the Obama administration released Nuclear Posture Review on April 6 2010 and announced that it would maintain the option of nuclear preemptive attacks on North Korea and Iran. Labeling North Korea and Iran as “outlier”, President Obama made it clear that North Korea and Iran in current situation will be excluded in ‘Negative Security Assurance’. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates also clarified the nuclear preemptive attacks stating that all options are on the table regarding these nations.
The Obama administration with the nuclear strategy has an intention to warn North Korea and Iran with a serious red card in keeping nuclear preemptive attack, which is inherited from the Cold War era. It means to abandon nuclear development and comply with Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, provided that they want to get out of the nuclear threat. Or else, they need to get prepared with “all options” including the nuclear preemptive attacks from the United States.
On the basis of this, Washington is moving towards the hard line policy with regards to North Korea and Iran. ‘Tough and direct diplomacy’ was one of Obama’s commitments in Presidential election to resolve North Korea and Iran’s nuclear issue. However, we can hardly expect his bold diplomatic strategy and now he is focusing on pressures and sanctions. North Korea claims “nuclear deterrence” under the pretext of nuclear threat from the U.S. It justifies “nuclear deterrence” and highly criticize maintaining Obama’s key option of preemptive attack.
It is possible to say that Obama’s nuclear preemptive strike towards North Korea violates 2005 September Joint Statement. Since North Korea not only withdrawn from NPT in 2003 but also declared possessing nuclear weapons in February 2005 and conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, the United States excluded North Korea from the ‘negative security assurance’, which declares that the US will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
The problem is that the US strategy can be seen as a violation of Joint Statement of the six party talks. This Statement includes “The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with nuclear or conventional weapons”. This Joint Statement has been agreed during North Korea’s withdrawal from NPT and the declaration of possessing of nuclear weapons. It could be argued that North Korea has to be carved out an exception for ‘negative security assurance’ since North Korea conducted nuclear weapons tests twice. However, if the US keeps the option of nuclear preemptive attack due to the North’s nuclear tests, it would lead to a huge controversy over the US policy which does not acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.
Back to the Future
The year 2012 is big one in Northeast Asia politics because most of countries of six party talks face political change. North Korea is the first one which transferred power among six-party talks countries. Although Kim Jongil had health problems but he worked actively. Most people including US-ROK intelligence officials anticipated he would control power several more years. With the abrupt death of Kim Jong-il, the future of North Korea and the Korean Peninsula becomes a big international issue. The biggest interest focused by neighboring countries is whether his youngest son, Kim Jong-un who took over North Korea can succeed the regime smoothly. Most analysts say that North Korean power structure will be stable with 'Kim Jong-un +collective leadership ruling.'
New North Korea policies of other countries were likely to be set up after 2013 because the elections of South Korea, the U.S., China, and Russia are planed this year. However the death of Kim Jong-il and emergence of Kim Jong-un regime makes neighboring countries, especially ROK-US-Japan, reconsider the North Korea policy. It is not clear what will be brought out as a conclusion but how to engage new regime is such an important assignment.
The year 2013 is also the historical one because the year is the 60th anniversary of Korean Armistice Agreement and the 20th anniversary of the North's first withdrawal from the NPT. If it is successful to open the window of opportunity this year, the year 2013 can be a new turning point for denuclearization and peace regime on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia. That starting point relies on ROK-U.S.-Japan resetting North Korea policy. We should press and persuade the related governments to change their policies even though it is not likely that the meaningful progress is not expected.
Korean War has a special meaning on the nuclear age as I said above. Moreover, the U.S. and USSR started nuclear arms race, China decided to develop nuclear weapon, and South Korea and Japan entered into the U.S.'s nuclear umbrella through this war. However, Korean War has not ended but just ceased. This means that to replace the armistice regime into peace regime is to get to the bottom of the nuclear problem in Northeast Asia. That's why we need to pay attention to the year 2013, and prepare to make the year as the turning point for nuclear-weapon free Asia from now on.
Anti-nuclear peace movement
Even though the Korean peninsula has been hot spot where the nuclear war can break out, anti-nuclear peace movement has not been strong. Majority of South Korean people support that South Korea would go nuclear, and some opinion leaders ask the U.S. to redeploy its tactical nuclear weapon into South Korea again. However, due to Japan and South Korea exchange, witnessing the Fukushima disaster, and incoming Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, the Korean civil society, liberal parties and presses pay more attention to nuclear issues. For vitalizations of Korean anti-nuclear movement and solidarity with international NGOs, esp. with Japan and the U.S., I want to emphasize and propose just three things.
Firstly, let's commence the campaign for Korean peace treaty among two Koreas, the U.S. and China, and normalization of relations between the U.S. and DPRK, and Japan and DPRK. With these fundamental changes, we can expect the denuclearization in Korea. Secondly, let's go out from the U.S's nuclear umbrella by mobilizing public opinion and pressing the governments. This bold approach will pave the way to the nuclear-weapon free zone in Northeast Asia. Lastly, let's combine the anti-nuclear weapon movement and anti-nuclear power plant movement. Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters tell us that there is no border between "peaceful use" and "military use" of nuclear. I hope that we could develop the ROK-Japan-US anti-nuclear and peace network for overcoming the military network among three governments.