North Korea is a real Frankenstein state of permanent control and terror. The ‘Prince-in-Power’ already has enough nuclear material to destroy Seoul and the South using some primitive, dirty bomb-style devices. It is still unclear whether the bombs he claims to have assembled are actual atomic bombs. Some experts argue, small, two to four kilogram warheads were tested, which cold fit on top of the medium range No-Dong missiles. North Korea got the deadly know-how from Pakistani A-bomb guru A. Q. Khan who visited the country 13 times from 1997 to 2002 and sold the technology. Since 2005 North Korea has operated 2000 to 3000 P-1 uranium centrifuges, enough to produce material for two bombs a year. It conducted three tests of the devices in 2006, 2009 and February 2013. The leading expert David Albrights estimates that there was already enough nuclear material for 12 to 23 warheads by the end of 2011, extended up to 34 by the end of 2016. In any case, Kim Jong-un wants the bomb, loves the bomb, banks on acquiring a bomb and also needs the bomb in order to be heard and taken seriously both inside and outside his communist kingdom.
Until today, however, he has been unable to acquire a miniature version of a large device capable of being emplaced in the warheads of his missiles – that is his problem. But he is working on it. He wants to make the nuclear threat both credible and deployable. The A-clock countdown is ticking in Korea and nobody knows how much time is left. It could take between two and five years from now to fit a miniaturized NK-A-bomb into a missile warhead.
North Korea and the other state with nuclear ambitious, Iran, cooperate in missile technology, and may be very discretely engaging in the production of nuclear materials and warheads as well. A kind of atomic devil joint venture and exchange program. Some even argue that a bomb designed by Iran has been tested in North Korea. Of course, any design in Korea would be sold to and used by Iran as well – it is safe to say, since both are allies and North Korea desperately needs money. If Iran goes nuclear, we can bet it will franchise the bomb to the little Prince. Asia and the West will then be sandwiched between two very aggressive totalitarian atomic powers – in the Gulf and Northeast Asia. A horror scenario, maybe even for Beijing and Moscow, which do almost nothing to stop these developments by their allies and business and arms sales partners. To contain the communist prince and the Mullahs at the same time – both guided by ruthless dictators and lacking any human values – with atomic bombs in their hands, seems like a mission impossible.
If Kim Jong-un is able to play with an A-bomb on rockets, ready to push the button at any time when he may be in a bad mood and angry, is not just a new threat for South Korea, Japan and the Pacific, but a real unpredictable and ticking time bomb.
His line of provocations, attacks on the South, and torture of his own people show a no-mercy approach. When you let one million of your own people die, why not the same number in the South or Japan?
Some argue, that the nuclear option is the only way he can get recognition from the outside. They are right. But if so, he would gain more with an effective nuclear-armed missile force. It would make him more unpredictable and aggressive as he would believe that nobody can harm him anymore.
The key question now is: what should be done?
What’s missing is a coordinated, efficient and credible Korean-American-Japanese Grand Containment Strategy to contain the atomic threat from North Korea with clear American leadership and power projection. Too much remains too vague.
This strategy should be based on two equal pillars of power and diplomacy as a double-strategy in the spirit of that which helped NATO get rid of the SS-20-IRBM. The situation is different in Korea, but some lessons can be learned from Europe.
The six-party talks, which included China, Russia, the U.S., South Korea and Japan, aiming to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, should address not only nuclear but also economic issues. They could be widened to broaden the issues and find common ground. We need both hard power and smart diplomacy, fitting together like two sides of a single coin.
On the diplomatic, soft side of the strategy, much more imagination, creativity and actions are needed. South Korea should learn and copy the best practices from the more than 50 years of East-West confrontation in Europe, Germany’s Ostpolitik and the experience of the Eastern European freedom movements. We need a balanced mix of soft and hard instruments of peace-making for North Korea, of power and reconciliation, which must be enhanced simultaneously as two columns of a singular strategic approach: Korea 3.0.
One option as an incentive for North Korea to reform could be a USD 600 million per year North Korean Development Fund, with USD 50 million paid out each month. This could help to support farmers and small businesses with direct loans that could not be cashed by the regime. China could control and report upon its use. If Pyongyang leaves the negotiation table, no cash will be transferred. The Chinese President has asked the shrill dictator why he cannot feed a mere 23 million people when the People’s Republic of China manages to feed more than a billion. That offended him. China is uneasy about the instability on its borders and has an interest in reforming North Korea, as was done in the PRC or Vietnam in evolving into capitalist states.
The PRC should establish a Chinese Special Economic Zone in the north of the country and employ specialists for agriculture and industrial reform.
China should promote a China-Korea railway system. This would connect its large Eastern provinces with several hundred million people through the North and into South Korea.
A tax-free zone seaport in Korea could be built to connect the under-developed Chinese regions in the Northeast to the sea, best financed by investors from China and South Korea. North Korea should get the option to participate.
On the essential and equally important hard power side of such a fresh double-strategy for Korea, several activities are essential:
The U.S. must neither reduce nor soften, but rather enhance its commitment to the defense of South Korea. Washington now spends USD 1.1 billion per year, plus personnel costs.
South Korea should increase its defense budget from its traditional three to four percent of GDP for the next five years to come. It should integrate its missile defense into the U.S. system and not develop its own now, as there must be strong cooperation in times of war. South Korea must be open to integrate even the formerly hostile Japan into its missile defense. South Korea must increase its support for political activities in the North and human rights organizations. It could start a leadership and mentoring program for talented people from the North as well. It should lift the old restrictions on information flow from the North, as in the digital age this is no longer a threat; Germany never banned propaganda from the communist East. The German way of “Wandel durch Annäherung” (change through rapprochement) should be copied and adopted by the Seoul administration now.
It is a shame for Japan not to have come to real reconciliation with the Korean victims of its brutal colonial rule between 1910 and 1945, even after 68 long years. Thus, there are no military ties between Seoul and Tokyo yet. Newly-elected (and more nationalistic) Korean President Park Geun-hye declined to meet newly-elected (and also more nationalistic) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the ASEAN Summit in Bali in early October 2013. During his political campaign last year, Abe even proposed revising two official Japanese apologies for Japan’s cruelties to the occupied nations, including the enslaved “comfort women” used by the Japanese Forces. In the Hiroshima museum, his country still portrays itself more as a victim, not as an aggressor that was stopped by U.S. forces. Even worse: South Korea and Japan argue about which country owns the small Liancourt Islands (Korean: Dokto, or Tokto- Japanse: Takeshima) half-way between the two states, with rich fishing grounds and natural gas resources.
To balance a rising China and to effectively deter the bomb in North Korea, an alignment of military strategies and tools as well as diplomatic strategies are needed and a condition sine qua non for Tokyo. Japan must now, under Abe’s leadership, take over more military burdens to secure its national interests against North Korea and China. It is in the national interest of Japan to acquire South Korea as a closer ally. Tokyo must now learn from the reconciliation policy of Germany with Poland and France. As an important gesture of reconciliation, Japan should not continue to claim the disputed islands any longer. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe wants to integrate his self-defense forces into an alliance, but needs a solid political reconciliatory approach and a political basis with Korea, as German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did so effectively with Charles de Gaulle and France in the 1950s, followed by Willy Brandt’s successful Ostpolitik with Poland in the 1970s and the integration of Poland into the EU with the fierce support by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the 1990s. The Japanese Emperor himself has to officially apologize, also in the name of wartime – Emperor Hirohito and visit Korea – just as Adenauer, Brandt and Kohl did with former archenemies France and Poland. The time for Japan is now and nothing less is needed after merely lukewarm approaches in the past and missed opportunities.
Any successful containment doctrine must clearly draw a long-term and realistic clear red line for North Korea. This is the essential element of a credible deterrence and containment policy. The Korean War started in 1950 with the misperception of the communists that Washington did not value the South as a core US interest. Those mistakes of “Provocative Weakness” (Fritz Kraemer) must be avoided and not repeated again now.
Behind Seoul’s closed doors, senior officials complain about the U.S. having drawn several red lines for the North in the past, which were crossed without any real punishment from Washington. America has lost credibility, even more with the recent no-show of President Barack Obama at the ASEAN summit due to the fiscal cliff crisis at home. One lesson learned from the nuclear confrontation in Europe is: there must be clear leadership by the U.S. or South Korea and Japan will appease.
The red line could be any successful launch with usable nuclear warhead-dummies on a missile. Such a test is already a direct threat to U.S. and Korean interests. A nuclear weapon could be put onto the missiles at any time and it may then be too late to stop its use as a tool for blackmail. It would be better not to wait too long for North Korea to acquire an operational nuclear missile, and it is much better for a credible deterrence to draw a sharp red line from the beginning. This should also be a well-known line for China and Russia.
The U.S. President must make clear now: If North Korea dares to ignore this red line, there will be no other outcome than a preventive airstrike by the U.S., which would target all his leadership structures, as well as the leader himself. For the first time during the U.S.-Korean military consultations in early October 2013, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel officially agreed that a pre-emptive strike against the North is legitimate and necessary before a nuclear weapons capability is achieved.
We should be more optimistic as well: As Vietnam has shown, a small and militant communist country can reform itself, feed its people and integrate into the world.
German reunification proves that the collapse of a rotten communist system can happen overnight and is best organized by the communist secret services to reform the system from the inside. Do not forget: the KGB head Gorbatschow and the German Stasi general Michael Wolf started the transition to save the power of the communist parties. That could happen in North Korea as well.
We should therefore stimulate new thinking in the North Korean leadership and look for any – even tiny – dialogue and reform opportunities, based on a credible containment policy backed by credible deterrence and sufficient military power. We have to both use and talk simultaneously. This will surely not be easy, but it is not impossible. We saw the Berlin Wall come down, the USSR dissolved, the Russian SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe destroyed and Eastern Europe freed. Let’s be more optimistic and not self-fulfilling pessimists.
It is up to the young leader Kim Jong-un to decide whether he will cross the red line and be blown up before he has his bomb, or evolves into a reform leader like his recent Chinese counterparts. His bomb is an expensive dead-end road for him. Unfortunately, his vision is limited like a tunnel. He is still not well-established. But he could argue that the traditional Juche philosophy of his grandfather is best served by land reform. Juche in essence means to master things alone and be independent and self-reliant. That can be done in a more humane and capitalistic order in the North as well. One can even argue that Juche demands exactly this fresh approach in changing times. I belief the dictator could even stay in power as the people in the North have so differently developed than the Southerners, but only if he manages the transition wisely and does not wait too long. All communist leaders in the USSR and Eastern Europe missed their windows of opportunity for reform in the 1960s which were long gone by 1990. If they had reformed much earlier, there would perhaps still be socialist countries in Europe today. Kim Jong-un needs a soft landing or he is lost.
The best way to achieve a safe peace in the region and help the oppressed North Koreans is a combination of several elements in a clever Double Strategy Korea 3.0 from 2013 until 2023: Most of all, a crystal clear red line made public, combined with sufficient deterrence capabilities from South Korea, Japan and the U.S., a new friendship between Tokyo and Seoul based on real reconciliation by the Emperor and military cooperation, the integration of China and Russia in a reform process of the North and the economic development of Northeast Asia, which best serves their interests, mixed with a fresh creative Korean Ostpolitik with incentives for Kim Jong-un under the umbrella of strong American leadership.
Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann is the Founder and President of the international World Security Network and author of two standard books about nuclear weapon strategies. Tillmann Dietrich is Global Editor-in-Chief of www.worldsecuritynetwork.com.