“A Responsible Nuclear State:” The Moscow Statement and DPRK’s Disarmament Dreams

By | October 09, 2012 | 1 Comment

The DPRK Embassy in Moscow, via Leonid Petrov’s archive of stories re: North Korea-Russian relations

“A Responsible Nuclear State:” The Moscow Statement and DPRK’s Disarmament Dreams

by Jende Huang

At the beginning of September, the Russian-based Center for Energy and Security Studies drew 200 or so experts, researchers and government officials to the “2012 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference: Nuclear Energy, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation.” Among the participants were four representatives from the DPRK, apparently led by Jang Song Chol[i], who was identified as the “Director, External Affairs & Disarmament Studies Departments, Institute for Disarmament and Peace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” KCNA ran a 14 Sept article, “DPRK Will Discharge Its Duty as Nuclear State: Official” reprinting comments from an unnamed official at the conference (surely Jang) who spoke on the topic of “Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Ensuring its Vitality”

This statement came at the heels of the pronouncement by the DPRK’s Foreign Ministry at the end of August, which laid all of the nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula squarely at the feet of “continued U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK,” a statement which merited analysis by Stephan Haggard.

The Moscow statement is focused on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban “nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground,” according to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Though 183 countries have signed the treaty and its been ratified by 157, for the treaty to come into force, it requires the signature and ratification from all “Annex 2” states, which are the 44 nations which negotiated the treaty and that also had nuclear power reactors or research reactors at the time. According to the NTI,

 Of the 44 States included in Annex 2 required for entry into force of the CTBT, all have signed with the exceptions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India, and Pakistan. Five of the 44 Annex 2 States have signed but not ratified the CTBT; they are China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States. The United States and China are the only remaining NPT Nuclear Weapon States that have not ratified the CTBT.

The United States, the DPRK, and the People’s Republic of China thus form a triangle of states within the group of non-signatories.

The Moscow Statement | The North Korean statement in Moscow begins with a critique of the CTBT, identifying it as a method to prevent nations from developing nuclear weapons. Jang notes that the CTBT would undoubtedly make a contribution to peace and stability if it went into effect. However, the DPRK considers full nuclear disarmament by all nations as a prerequisite for enforcement of the treaty. Unfortunately, according to North Korean logic, there cannot be real disarmament because of a two-pronged strategy by the U.S., the first being that the U.S. is pushing disarmament in order to weaken the nuclear strength of its enemies (read: the DPRK). The second, more “sinister” prong involves the U.S. using sub-critical testing and other advanced technologies test their stockpile, without needing to do physical tests.

Because other countries “do not measure up to the U.S. in the overall military and economic capabilities” they must focus on developing nuclear weapons. Therefore, if the CTBT were to go into force, it “would give rise to serious inequality and imbalance in the security of each state.” The statement notes that through the end of 2009, there were 2,054 nuclear tests carried out globally, of which “99.99 percent of those were carried out by permanent member states of the United Nations Security Council.” Because established nuclear powers had done so much testing, they no longer have a need for it, putting a nation such as the DPRK in a bind, because they “need to be equipped with self-defensive nuclear deterrent in order to cope with the direct nuclear threats of the U.S.”

Jang went onto note that because the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review didn’t guarantee that nuclear weapons wouldn’t be used against the DPRK and Iran, it meant that a preemptive nuclear strike by the U.S. was “a fait accompli.” He pointed out that if nations such as France and the UK deem it necessary to maintain a nuclear deterrent even though they’re a part of NATO and aren’t under “threats of war,” the DPRK is surely justified as well. Going beyond the CTBT, Jang suggests that more important “than enforcing CTBT is to establish an international legal framework on unconditional ban on the use and complete removal of existing nuclear weapons worldwide” and to work out a method for “nuclear disarmament and removal based on mutual trust.” The cause of the continued arms race is the U.S. efforts at modernization of its nuclear weapons, and if this were to halt, the DPRK “would discharge its responsibility and duty as a responsible nuclear state for the nuclear non-proliferation in the future.”

The Breakdown | Beyond the standard anti-U.S. tropes found in these sorts of statements, there are a few points of interest. It’s true that a ratified and enforced CTBT would benefit the national security of the U.S., by virtue of not allowing other nations (including the DPRK) to do any more tests of nuclear explosions. However, the world in general benefits from a ban on nuclear testing. And if the U.S. were in support of the CTBT only for nefarious purposes, how does the DPRK explain, then, that the U.S. has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty? From the North Korean point of view, shouldn’t the U.S. have been the first country to sign and ratify the CTBT, if the goal was to prevent other nations from doing any further nuclear tests?

In many ways, the DPRK has more to fear from U.S. ratification of the CTBT. If the U.S. were to ratify, this would put pressure on other countries. As the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists notes: “If nothing else, China has indicated that it will ratify if the United States does. This would further strengthen the global norm against nuclear testing and encourage other holdouts, such as India and Pakistan, to ratify…” And if the Chinese ratified, they would then be in a position to put pressure on the DPRK to do the same. Beijing, of course, has its own interests at heart when wanting to prevent nuclear tests so close to their territory. Though it’s always a guessing game as to how much influence the Chinese really have, if the North Koreans were convinced to ratify, it would also serve as a major diplomatic accomplishment for China.

North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye-kwan in Beijing, 2007 edition | Image via Truthdig-AP.

Disarmament: not quite fait accompli | Taken on face value, this DPRK’s statement calls for a nuclear-free world and ostensibly echoes what President Barack Obama said in 2009 in Prague, where he expressed his desire “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” But it is difficult to fathom what set of conditions would have Pyongyang shut down its enrichment and weapons programs and allow in international inspectors to verify this.

Though the Moscow statement may make diplomats in Vienna happy, the DPRK will strenuously avoid ever being put into a situation where they would lose their rhetorical justification for keeping their nukes. For every step that the world takes to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, Pyongyang has an unending reservoir of threats they see from the West that justifies the continued need for their weapons and enrichment facilities. The DPRK has nothing to lose from making statements such as this, because the future in which Pyongyang will feel secure enough to become a “responsible nuclear state” is a day they will never let arrive.

References: Obama, Barack. “Remarks by President Barack Obama” Speech from Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-By-President-Barack-Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered/

Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. http://www.ctbto.org/

Tauscher, Ellen. “The Case for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” Speech from Arms Control Association Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., May 10, 2011. http://www.state.gov/t/us/162963.htm


[i] Someone with the same name is identified, in passing, as the Third Secretary of the DPRK’s UK embassy in 2008. The same person can also be seen saying a few words to a gathering of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).

One Comment

  1. Chinese media, by way of being encouraging, did pick up and cover this speech. http://world.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2012-09/3100126.html

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