RICHARD BUTLER. DPRK: The “New Cuban missile crisis”?

Apr 19, 2017

The DPRK nuclear weapons programme does not constitute a new Cuban missile crisis. Any military attack upon DPRK would be disastrous. A new political negotiation must be constructed. This is not a problem to be solved by the US alone.  

False facts abound, and are now joined by wanton hyperbole.

A number of mainstream media vehicles have taken to describing the current tournament between the Trump administration and the DPRK and it’s nuclear weapons programme, as constituting a new Cuban missile crisis. This not only grossly misrepresents the facts and obscures key choices, which demand to be made and are available; and, of course in the guise of expressing a warning, it has the media salivating over a great story.

The threat posed by the DPRK’s programme is not remotely comparable to that posed to the US, in 1962, by the Soviet placement of a battery of nuclear capable missiles in Cuba,100 miles off the US coast.

It is of central importance to recall that that crisis was solved through political negotiations, and the influence of voices from civil society and, the Secretary General of the UN.

Today, the US, has arrogated to itself the job of eliminating the DPRK nuclear programme, for reasons not explained other than the usual sweep of claiming that it is directly threatened by DPRK.

It’s position, was most recently stated in Korea a few days ago, by Vice-President Pence, when he said that “ all options are on the table”, implying a possible US attack upon DPRK, including with nuclear weapons.

The DPRK’s nuclear programme violates international laws and standards. For these and very practical reasons, it is of deep concern to the ROK, China, Japan, and in some measure Russia and, other countries of the North Asian region. Above all, it is deeply destabilizing.

Clearly, the US has an interest in all of this, not least because of the role it continues to play in the post Korean War armistice arrangements, which are themselves, at least in formal terms, conducted under UN auspices. For the US to adopt the stance that it is virtually uniquely charged with solving the problem is a decision made by it, alone.

US policy on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is riddled with inconsistencies. It protects the outstanding nuclear weapons rogue state, Israel, turns a blind eye to the actions of India and Pakistan, and President Trump has mused about the possible need for Japan to acquire nuclear weapons. At home, last week, while Pence was exercising the “all options” cliché in Korea, the US was flight- testing a new nuclear capable missile, the B 61-12. It makes rules for others to follow.

Any military strike upon DPRK would have disastrous consequences. What is needed is a new political initiative for negotiations with DPRK, as was done with Iran, to bring about an end to it’s programme.

There does not appear to be an initiative underway to bring that about. The Chinese have a clear preference for this. Is the US speaking with China and Russia about it?

These three are the key states concerned. They are each permanent members of the Security Council and nuclear weapons states. Russia and the US are depository states of the non-proliferation treaty. The three could devise an approach to DPRK, perhaps including the UN Secretary General.

At this stage, the Trump administration appears to have a preference for demonstrating its potency through military strikes; Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, for example, and for dividing the world into guardians of decency and evil-doers. US definitions to this end are about as useful as it’s recent strikes, and not widely shared. Aiming for negotiations with evil- doers, appears weak to them and we are all too familiar with President Trump’s allergy to what he thinks is weakness.

An approach to DPRK of the kind just suggested would represent mature resolve, not weakness. Obviously, as in any purposeful negotiation, listening to the other sides’ concerns and interests would need to take place, and concessions would need to be entertained. But, clearly, there would be bottom lines, including DPRK’s security and self- respect, without the maintenance of a nuclear weapons capability.

Australians need to know what “all options” means. It holds the prospect of awful miscalculations, on both sides.

Will the Turnbull government acquiesce in whatever the US decides. Is it stating to the US our belief that the initiation of a military strike on DPRK must be avoided. Are we urging that a new approach to political negotiations must be devised and pursued?

Our government will have an important opportunity, in Canberra this week, to speak clearly to Vice President Pence, about our concerns.

This is not a new Cuban missile crisis and it must not be turned into one, and it is not he US’ problem to solve alone.

Richard Butler AC was Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and Ambassador for Disarmament.

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