Halperin on Striking a Deal

September 19, 2014 7:15 AM

We admit to pretty deep skepticism about the prospects for reviving the Six Party Talks, let alone moving toward a more comprehensive security arrangement for Northeast Asia. The US is not seriously interested. To the contrary, the House of Representatives is pushing for more sanctions--as we highlighted in a post earlier in the week--which has a chilling effect on rapprochement: it signals Republicans will jump on any conciliatory gestures. Why should the administration bother?

And on the North Korean side, the flurry of diplomatic activity does not seem to be accompanied by any new messages. To the contrary, no sooner had the North Koreans issued yet another invitation to restart the talks “without conditions” than the IAEA revealed that it had probably restarted the 5MW graphite reactor (see comments by Yukiya Amano here). Nor is skepticism limited to Washington. Kang Sok-ju, secretary of international affairs on the Workers' Party Central Committee and believed a confidante of Kim Jong Un, seems to have gotten a relatively chilly reception in Europe as well. In a meeting with the chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Elmar Brok (EPP, DE), the basic line was “get serious about nuclear weapons and reopen the Human Rights dialogue that was suspended in 2003” (EU coverage here). Kang apparently hoped to gain more permanent diplomatic presence in Brussels; the European Commission refused to meet with Kang except for its human rights representative. Stavros Lambrinidis delivered a tough message.

Nonetheless, hope springs eternal and we think it useful to report on outside-the-box thinking. We provided a lengthy discussion of a proposal advanced by Mort Halperin and Peter Hayes in earlier posts; the ideas are worth reading closely (the original can be found here; our discussion of the proposal can be found here and here).

But we also wanted to link to a piece by Halperin in the Asahi that spells out the logic in a coherent way, but with a new twist: that Japan play the leading role in advancing the idea of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in Northeast Asia, on which the proposal ultimately rests.

We reproduce the underlying logic here in bullet form:

  1. Gaps are too large to reopen the Six Party Talks around the nuclear issue alone.
  2. Rather than narrowing the possible scope of agreement by going smaller and more incremental, Halperin argues for going toward a larger agreement.
  3. Begin by terminating the state of war and replacing the armistice.
  4. Create a permanent council on Northeast Asian security to monitor the other provisions of the treaty and to provide a forum to deal with future security problems in the region. The body would begin with the Six Parties but expand to include others.
  5. All parties would issue mutual declarations of “no hostile intent.”
  6. Lubricate the deal with provisions of assistance for nuclear and other energy, probably in separate agreements.
  7. Terminate sanctions.
  8. Solve the nuclear weapons problem through creation of a larger framework that would not only obligate others as well through a nuclear-weapons-free zone. South Korea, Japan and North Korea would commit themselves not to manufacture, test or deploy nuclear weapons nor to allow nuclear weapons to be stored on their territory. The United States, China and Russia (and perhaps even Britain and France) would agree not to store nuclear weapons in the zone or support in any way violations of the treaty by the non-nuclear states.

Our problem with the proposal is that we just don’t see any credible evidence that the North Koreans are interested in giving up their nuclear weapons; they can’t even pay lip service to the September 2005 joint statement. But if all of this activity is building to a surprise announcement of a new direction, it may be worthwhile to have a bolder initiative at hand; more incremental things certainly haven’t worked.

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