Accepting and Managing a nuclear North Korea or other alternatives

Michael Swaine, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, proposes accepting and managing a nuclear North Korea.

Swaine says policymakers in the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan should adopt a more realistic approach focused on deterrence, containment, and an array of crisis management measures.

* North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons without a war that would cost 200,000+ lives on the US, South Korea side and more on the North Korean side.

Swaine suggests policymakers should aim to develop a less urgent, long-term strategy designed to minimize North Korea’s capacity and willingness to utilize those weapons and related technologies in threatening ways, while also continuing to work toward eventual denuclearization. In particular, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia must focus not only on deterring and containing Pyongyang through clear, strong, consistent, and common diplomatic and military signals. They must also aim to minimize the chances of destabilizing military escalation by building effective crisis management mechanisms (CMMs) and channels of communication, while also implementing some confidence-building measures (CBMs) toward Pyongyang to reduce its insecurity.

The big steps in Swaine’s proposal are
1. Get the USA, China and South Korea on the same page and same plan in regards to North Korea. This would take a lot of negotiation
2. Work to North Korea into some kind of stable nuclear containment plan. North Korea would have to freeze nuclear tests. Swaine proposes letting North Korea having a setup where they keep what the nuclear weapons that they have and South Korea and the USA freeze military exercises.

The problems are that China and the USA in particular do not have the same goals on this. China is not just far less motivated to contain North Korea but China benefits from a US that is distracted and using extensive resources to manage the middle east problems and the North Korea problems. The US would have to fully elevate China to equal global super power partner. An economic and military partnership would have to be staged so that the US does not pre-emptively give benefits without getting what the US desires.

China also prefers not to have a re-unified Korea.

So it may not be possible to achieve either of the two steps (getting the USA, China and South Korea on the same page) or getting North Korea stably contained.

What is possible unilaterally with the USA ?

Beefing up the technology and deployed capabilities for anti-missile, anti-nuclear and satellite and other monitoring of North Korea.

Develop progress towards technological mitigation of North Korean effectiveness.

Look at creative and less conventional means to erode the grip of North Korea’s leadership.

Expanded rewards (bounties) for North Korean defectors and double agents.