A New Path to Engagement

 

The goals of Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons seem unachievable at the moment though president Obama has not abandoned the laudable objectives of nuclear non-proliferation worldwide. During his first presidency, Obama gained popularity for making the goal of freeing the world from nuclear weapons as one of the priorities of American foreign policy.

Needless to mention that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was awarded to president Obama for his vision on world peace which he pledged to promote by abandoning the acquisition and possession of all nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the nuclear powers. His historic speech at Prague in June 2009 utilizing which he proclaimed the vision of a nuke-free world is considered to be his most captivating address to the world community. Then as a young energetic president of world’s only existing superpower, Obama was praised for his commitment to rid the world from the scourge of nuclear weapons.

If one has to judge his history of contributions to the cause of global nuclear non-proliferation, one finds that he made sincere efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons by taking a lead in concluding landmark arms control treaty with Russia, another major nuclear power in the world. The most significant endeavor is seen in the signing of START II in 2010 in the negotiations of which Obama played a very crucial role.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) has a special place in the field of arms control because it involves the reduction of very destructive weapons with long-range capacities. The first such treaty was negotiated between the U.S. and Russia, the global nuclear giants possessing almost 95 per cent of nuclear weapons in 1991 in the beginning of the post-Cold War era.

The second START was the hallmark of president Obama’s presidency as the treaty not only pledged to drastically cut down the number of strategic weapons of both America and Russia lowering up to 1500 each side, but also incorporating the provisions of verification, which is very important. Through verification system the signatories to any treaty can be held accountable, if there is cheating on their obligations.

Since 2010 there seems to be a setback in the field of nuclear disarmament as both major nuclear powers are apparently at odds with each other on other political issues, including Ukraine.  Arms reduction treaties between America and Russia can hopefully spur the process of nuclear disarmament but geopolitics has influenced their behavior in the recent years prompting some analysts to fear the emergence of new Cold War.

The U.S.-Russia relations have soured and the chances of initiating negotiations between them on further nuclear weapons reduction are becoming slimmer day by day. On many issues like Iran, Syria and the question of Palestinian statehood, they have clashed several times at the global forum. The most recent example of American-Russian confrontation was visible at the United Nations Security Council meeting in December 2014, when the Arab league had tabled a resolution concerning Palestine statehood, which was opposed by the U.S. and supported by Russia.

This antagonism between the U.S. and Russia is reasonably casting a pall on the prospects of the goals of Korean Peninsula with no nuclear weapons. In the aftermath of START II there were some indications that North Korea and the U.S. would enter into some kind of dialogue, which could add momentum to restarting the stalled six-party negotiations on ending the nuclear weapons program in North Korea. Despite some overtures from the North Korean side to start talks with the U.S. even during Kin Jong Il’s regime, no dialogue could take place for which both sides should be responsible.

The multilateral negotiations for curbing the nuclear aspirations of Pyongyang  involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have deadlocked because of differences between Washington and Pyongyang.

The situation in the Korean Peninsula after the election of new South Korean president has not significantly changed although the current leader Park of South Korea is considered to be a moderate unlike her predecessor, who was a hardliner refusing to sit for dialogue with North Korea. During her presidency she has taken some initiatives for consultations with North Korea and South Korea’s desire to improve relations with North Korea can be encouraged by the American leadership when Pyongyang has recently expressed its willingness for a temporary moratorium in order to promote engagement with Seoul for reconciliation.

Notwithstanding the fact that North Korea has put up a condition before the U.S. that it should cancel its joint annual military exercises with South Korea for its desire to place a transitional moratorium, the offer is still worthwhile at a time when progress on nuclear disarmament is almost nil. North Korea’s nuclear arsenals are not supposedly safe and the prospects of nuclear theft are increasing when terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State in Syria and Iraq desperately need the nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the relations between Pyongyang and Washington are souring further with the imposition of new American sanctions (January 2, 2015) on North Korea in retaliation for the Sony hacking.

According to the New York Times Editorial Board, the U.S. government has been pursuing a policy of strategic patience toward North Korea, which means imposing tough sanctions and refusing a new round of nuclear negotiations until the North takes steps to halt its nuclear program.

It may be wise for the Obama administration to review such policy which has not served its purpose of seeing no nuclear weapons in the world, let alone Korean Peninsula. In January 2003 when North Korea retaliated by announcing its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it had no nuclear weapons, yet today it is obvious that it has enough fissile materials for as many as dozen warheads.

There should be no delay in capitalizing on the overtures made by North Korea, which is another way of engaging the country so that nuclear weapons curtailment program could be advanced.

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