Currently North Korea has turned from a regional threat into an unpredictable global strategic player.
This implies that, in the future, we will need to reasonably deal with a Korean power which, however, is anything but irrational in its global choices.
Portraying Kim Jong Un’s Korea as a Shangri-La led by an unreliable man is not the truth and does not facilitate the solution of the Korean problem, both in North and South Korea.
The fissile material now held by North Korea can be used to build six to thirty nuclear weapons, but what is the North Korean strategy in the use of this atomic arsenal, which is also growing steadily at a yearly pace of 18%, according to the latest data?
According to experts, four reasons are used by North Korea to maintain and manage an autonomous nuclear threat which, from a regional area, has a strike range capable of hitting the United States and hence Europe.
The first one is the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea with a view to obtaining international concessions at diplomatic or more directly political levels.
What concessions? Certainly the first would be an internationally recognized geopolitical status, perhaps in a stable correlation with South Korea.
A status which would enable North Korea to expand its political and economic area in the whole South-East Asia, possibly in connection with the old regional alliances: maybe even the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), dissolved in 1977, the old ” zoo of paper tigers “, as a British diplomat defined it – a zoo which, however, might be rebuilt around the two Koreas.
Currently a network of credible and multilateral alliances must be recreated so as to shut in and stabilize the North Korean strategic system, thus protecting South Korea and ensuring to North Korea the stability of its regime.
Or a good solution could also be the new alliance recently proposed by China for Central Asia, with Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan: a grouping created to counteract the loss of Russian rayonnement in the region, which could be extended to the coasts of North and South Korea so as to incorporate them within a context of reasonable and, above all, credible checks and balances.
Through Xi Jinping, China has warned the Asian regional powers against building new military alliances, proposed over the last few years especially by the United States.
Nevertheless China, with its recent Conference on Interaction and Conference Building Measures in Asia (CICA), has a primary interest in neutralizing and strategically surrounding the offers of military alliance that US President Obama has proposed to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The tensions that China is facing in Eastern Asian seas and in the regional ones of Vietnam and Myanmar are such as to force it to create external (and independent) alliances compared to the old Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which plays a specifically terrestrial role.
North Korea could even adhere to the SCO and hence China would certainly control, along with the Russian Federation, the North Korean missile and nuclear potential; or it could adhere to a new tripartite alliance, with Russia and China, where the North Korean geopolitics should dissolve in a wider and well-controlled context.
With a view to preventing the North Korean escalation from going on, it is important to include North Korea in a strategic framework capable of using its power projection and, in particular, securing the borders and stability of the North Korean regime.
Without these credible assurances, North Korea will have a vested interest in managing its role as international free rider, which maximizes the political effects of its nuclear tests and hence makes an agreement with it more difficult and expensive for the other international players.
It is a way to “raise the price” of its collaboration and to focus worldwide interest on its country.
Not to mention the border with South Korea.
For the North Korean leadership, the Korean Demilitarized Zone around the 38th parallel is a constant threat and the last, hateful, relic of the Cold War.
The armistice of July 27, 1953 froze a strategic factor which, today, has no longer international motivations.
The issue does no longer lie for the United States in covering up their presence in Japan and the Pacific. There is no longer need to stop the Soviet expansion into the Pacific on the edge of China.
Today everything has changed, and we must invent new political mechanisms to put an end to the Cold War phase in the Korean peninsula, which is no longer the Russian strategic “tooth” in the South China Sea, as was the case when the link between the USSR and Maoism became problematic.
Hence either an international committee is established for defining a definitive border between the two Koreas, or North Korea is continued to be granted the role of global strategic free rider – a role that North Korea can no longer play with increasing doses of military power and nuclear threat, otherwise it would no longer be credible.
This is certainly not the panacea for North Korea’s economy.
Hence, thanks to a global and innovative strategic vision, we must break the North Korean military spiral which, paradoxically, is directly proportional to its domestic economic crisis.
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), established on the basis of the 1953 armistice, has now a mere role of communication between the two Koreas, so as to establish reliable relations between them.
Nevertheless, it is not certainly a body which can define a credible geopolitical project – this is not its purpose.
The second of the four aims of the North Korean nuclear build-up is to internationalize the crisis of the Korean peninsula (and of the region) so as to lead to the US or Chinese mediation.
Financial integration between (South) Korea and China – the free trade agreement between the two countries signed last year – is regarded as a threat by North Korea.
Actually North Korea is not entirely wrong: the above stated agreement envisages the creation in Shanghai of a stock market of securities directly traded in the two currencies, namely the won and the renminbi. It also envisages that the South Korean government may issue bonds and securities of its own sovereign debt directly in denominated in the Chinese currency – securities which can be later sold on the large Chinese financial market.
Therefore we can imagine a way to internationalize the North Korean sovereign debt on the Chinese or Russian markets, so as to stabilize the North Korean economy, thus making the Chinese and Russian strategic assurances stop the North Korean nuclear race.
A new Treaty between North Korea, South Korea – which is experiencing a period of financial deleveraging of foreign investors, or a capital flight which is also a form of economic war – the United States, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation and, inevitably, the now useless European Union.
This group of countries should also be joined by Japan and the Indian Federation.
This Committee should establish: a) the internationally recognized border between the two Koreas, thus explicitly putting an end to the alleged hegemony claimed by both countries over the entire Korean peninsula; b) a joint North and South Korean Committee for economic development; c) a military committee supervising the North Korean military nuclear development, with the possibility for Russia – as was the case with Iran – to manage part of the fissile material; d) an international agreement for managing the North Korean nuclear material, which would be reached in the region by Russia and China.
Obviously with the guarantee of the North Korean national sovereignty.
For international analysts, a third reason for creating and expanding the North Korean nuclear arsenal would be the response to possible military attacks threatening the existence of the North Korean Party and State.
This is still a commitment of the Conference we propose, which should explicitly deny any political and military thereat against the North Korean regime, by gradually accepting it into the mainstream of international alliances and organizations.
A normalization which is good for everyone: for the United States, which will save on the deployment of their forces in the Asian region; for China, which will rebuild a preferential relationship with North Korea; for Russia, which could have an interest in developing economic and strategic relations with North Korea .
For Russia, which sets great store by trade with South Korea, the security of the North-Asian system must be ensured by a wide network of multilateral partnerships in various sectors: energy security, nuclear energy, transport safety, food safety and, finally, a multilateral guarantee on information security.
This is the right basis to start.
Finally, the fourth reason analyzed by experts to justify the North Korean significant nuclear build up is to offset, with nuclear weapons, the inevitable structural and conventional weakness of North Korea in relation to the United States and South Korea, two powers which, at various levels, are far superior to North Korea in terms of updating and quantity of their conventional forces.
We could even imagine a series of confidence building measures, managed by the Conference we have proposed, designed to simultaneously reduce the North and South Korean military potential and, hence, reshape the US strategy throughout the Pacific region in relation to North Korea.
This can be done if there is the political will and the effective presence of Russia and China. It is worth trying.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France