At the end of last year, North Korea launched a satellite that was misinterpreted as the launching of a long-range missile. This caused a standoff between the US and North Korea and as a result, North Korea carried out a third nuclear test. Outside observers began emphasizing the military threat posed by the North and decided that the country was preparing to start a full-fledged war.
Of the countries on the UN Security Council, China and Russia have already implemented appropriate economic sanctions against North Korea.
However, the US has not given up and continues its military containment of the North with the intention of using strong measures to address the issue of its nuclear weapons.
North Korea will not submit to the US’ military threats nor make any concessions.
It has now adopted every countermeasure possible and has fully prepared itself for war. The country has made it clear that if its enemies attack with nuclear weapons, it will also respond with nuclear weapons.
However, some outside observers have interpreted this as meaning that North Korea plans to launch a nuclear attack on the US first.
When any side declares war, the ramifications need serious consideration and there is no way that North Korea would first attack the US with no provocation. If the US makes a pre-emptive strike on the North, it would have to consider a possible war with China and Russia. It is therefore clear that both sides have many factors to consider.
The US must consider that if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty and the Moscow Declaration both stipulate that China and Russia would provide North Korea with military assistance.
Also, while directly attacking North Korea’s nuclear facilities may be the most effective way for the US to solve the North Korean nuclear problem, this would also mean that the US would have to consider the issue of radioactive contamination.
It is commonly assumed that North Korea is using nuclear weapons to force the US into talks as a way of gaining more economic assistance.
However, when the North conducted its previous nuclear tests, the US did not enter into negotiations and instead convinced international powers to increase economic sanctions on Pyongang.
Now that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, the US would be giving the North official recognition of its nuclear-power status if it were to enter into negotiations.
The US has also made it clear that it will not engage in dialogue with North Korea before it gives up its nuclear weapons. However, given the current situation, there is no way that the North can back down and abandon its nuclear weapons.
Since the US continues to keep large numbers of troops on the Korean Peninsula in an attempt to use military force to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and given the US’ continued tough attitude, North Korea has even less reason to give up its nuclear weapons.
When viewed in this light, using the six-party talks framework to bring about a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula will become increasingly difficult.
The current level of tensions between the US and North Korea, have not been seen since the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, and are not likely to subside until after the US and South Korea finish joint military exercises at the end of the month.
Lee Kyung Hee is an assistant professor at National Chin-Yi University of Technology.
Translated by Drew Cameron