Jan 30, 2023

Watch Report No.36

  Watch Report No.36    December 26, 2022

Declaring the Intention to Cease US-ROK Joint Military Exercises is the First Step for Easing Tensions

Easing Tension is Needed on the Korean Peninsula.
US-ROK (Republic of Korea) joint military exercises have been escalating with the involvement of US Forces Japan and the Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) has enacted the Law on Policy of Nuclear Forces and has repeatedly launched missiles at an unprecedented pace. The international community cannot just stand by and watch such developments. We need to focus our attention on putting forward concrete approaches to improve the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Since late August 2022, tension on the Korean Peninsula has been growing. From August 22 to September 1, US-ROK combined forces conducted “Ulchi Freedom Shield,” large-scale joint military exercises. During the exercises, in addition to command post training, large scale field maneuvers based on simulation of an attack on the DPRK were staged for the first time in four years. The inauguration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeo, who is taking a hard line on the DPRK, in May 2022 is responsible for this position.

And, on September 8, the DPRK introduced the Law on DPRK’s Policy of Nuclear Forces which permits preemptive use of nuclear weapons [1]. In response to this, the US and the ROK held a meeting of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) on September 16, which expressed “serious concern” over DPRK’s enacting the law and decided to take “an overwhelming and decisive response” against possible DPRK nuclear attacks. One week later, on September 23, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) aircraft carrier, homeported at Yokosuka, Japan, pulled into the South Korean port of Busan and joined the US-ROK joint military exercises from September 26 to 29 for the first time in half a decade. Probably in response to the exercise, the DPRK conducted military drills by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) units for the operation of tactical nukes from September 25 to October 9. Since then, between the DPRK and the US-ROK-Japan, especially between the DPRK and the US-ROK, verbal and military tit for tat exchanges have continued [2].

Additionally, on November 13, in Phnom Penh, the leaders of Japan, the US and the ROK issued a joint statement for the first time in half a decade [3]. As is evident in the statement, there is a new trend to be noted. The historical barrier against military cooperation between Japan and the ROK has been weakening under the Yoon administration, and military cooperation among these three countries has become apparent in the region. The DPRK has been increasing its vigilance against Japan’s deepening involvement [4].

If such military tension remains high, the possibility of military conflicts triggered by misunderstanding and miscalculation also remains high. It cannot be ruled out that the situation could escalate to the point of using nuclear weapons. To prevent such risks, what is needed now?

Law on DPRK’s Policy of Nuclear Forces
Let us examine the concrete risks resulting from the Law on DPRK’s Policy of Nuclear Forces” (Nuclear Policy Law or the New Law) adopted by the Supreme People’s Assembly on September 8, 2022 and announced on the same day.

The New Law replaces the “Law on Consolidating Position of Nuclear Weapons State” (hereinafter referred to as the Old Law) introduced on April 1, 2013 [5]. All that the Old Law stipulates is that nuclear weapons are defined as a “means of defense” against the US’s hostile policy and its nuclear threat (Paragraph 1) and are to be used for deterring and repelling the aggression and attack (Paragraph 2, 4). It doesn’t stipulate anything regarding the actual use of nuclear weapons into law. In contrast, although both laws regard the main mission of the nuclear forces is to deter a war and repulse hostile forces’ aggression and attack in case deterrence fails, the New Law stipulates principles and concrete conditions for the decision to actually use nuclear weapons. Thus, the New Law entails many risks.

First, regarding the fundamental principle on the use of nuclear weapons, there aren’t essential differences between the DPRK’s Nuclear Policy Law and those of the US and other nuclear countries, if rhetorical differences are ignored. The New Law stipulates that the DPRK shall use nuclear weapons as “the last resort” in order to cope with a nuclear state (the US is in mind) when the latter seriously invades or attacks the DPRK, even by conventional forces. It also stipulates that the DPRK shall use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states (ROK or Japan) if they join aggression or attack against the DPRK in collusion with a nuclear weapon state (the US). No hesitation to the first use of nuclear weapons can be seen in the New Law.

Second, Paragraph 6 of the New Law details conditions for the use of nuclear weapons. Reading the paragraph makes it clear that the DPRK permits not only “first use” but also “preemptive use” [6] of nuclear weapons to change the course of the war decisively. This is stipulated in the New Law as the policy that “(nuclear weapons can be used) (i)n case the operation for preventing the expansion and protraction of a war and taking the initiative in the war is inevitably needed (Term 4, Paragraph 6).”

Third, the New Law carries serious risks in the process of making the decision to use nuclear weapons based on the preconditions for their use. Term 2, Paragraph 6 of the New Law stipulates that the DPRK can use nuclear weapons “in case a nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces on the state leadership and the command of the state’s nuclear forces has been launched or is judged to be on the horizon.” The New Law also stipulates “in case the command-and-control system over the state nuclear forces is placed in danger… a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately” (Term 3, Paragraph 3). This means that when Kim Jong-Un himself or the command-and-control system used by him are damaged and the command and control by the supreme leader fails to function correctly, a nuclear strike plan decided in advance will be executed automatically and immediately. How will unit-level commanders responsible for executing launches know that such a crisis is coming? As will be described later, there are a considerable number of units responsible for launching nuclear missiles, thus, many questions arise including, what is a reasonable automatic system of order transmission chain from higher-level to lower-level commanders, and how it can work and be guaranteed to function properly during a wartime. Information necessary to answer those questions is not yet available. However, it is reasonable to assume that command and control of launching tactical nuclear weapons, as well as strategic nuclear weapons, of a state like the DPRK, where only one person monopolizes absolute power, involves inevitable risks.

Military drills of KPA units for operation of tactical nukes under the simulation of an actual war were staged about two weeks after the inception of Nuclear Policy Law supports the existence of such risks.

Realistic Launching Drills of KPA Units for Tactical Nuclear Operation
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report on October 10, 2022 [7], from September 25 to October 9, the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) (Chairman: Kim Jong-Un) staged “missile launching drills of KPA units for operation of tactical nukes.” KCNA described the aims and characteristics of 7 drills involving tactical nuclear missile launches conducted during that period. Based on KCNA’s report along with information issued by ROK Ministry of Defense, twelve (12) nuclear–capable ballistic missiles were launched during the drills, including nine (9) close-range ballistic missiles with a range of 300 - 360km [8], two short-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 600km and 800km [9], and one intermediate ballistic missile with a range of 4600km [10] (one that flew over the main island of Japan).

KCNA reported that missile launching drills of KPA units for the operation of tactical nukes were staged “in order to check and assess the war deterrence and nuclear counterattack capability of the country and to send a severe warning message to the enemies,” and that the drills were conducted at different levels “under the simulation of an actual war” [11]. However, according to the report, it is difficult to determine that all the launching drills were drills of units handling operationally deployed nuclear weapons. For instance, regarding the surprising underwater launch of the ballistic missile from a reservoir, inferring from KCNA’s reporting “the orientation of building a planned silo beneath the reservoir was confirmed” [12], it is considered the launch had an aspect of feasibility test. Additionally, the launch of “a new-type intermediate-range ballistic missile” on October 4 which flew over Japan was, rather than a tactical drill, a launch to display DPRK’s strategic attack capabilities targeting Guam and Japan with the political intention of sending a “more powerful and clear warning to the enemies” [13].

Regarding other tactical nuclear missile launching drills, KCNA report on October 10 gives the overall impression that those drills placed more emphasis on deterring war by means of demonstrating to the US, ROK and Japan that the DPRK has already fully deployed tactical nuclear weapons and is ready to use them. (In fact, the above-mentioned DPRK’s announcement of the enactment of the Nuclear Policy Law itself might have intended to play such a war deterrence role.)

Even when based on some reservations regarding the nature of the tactical nuclear drills, the risks involved in DPRK’s use of nuclear weapons cannot be overlooked in the content of drills.

Analyzing a KCNA report on October 10 tells us that a wide variety of drills were conducted. The drills included taking nuclear warheads out of storages and transporting them, loading nuclear warheads onto missiles, choosing set targets and making decisions on their explosion mode (air explosion and direct precision and dispersion strike and others), identifying launch units and transmitting orders to them, moving missile launchers to launching sites, confirmation and execution of launching procedures, verifying operation and the strength of missiles, and others.

Additionally, according to the information from the ROK Ministry of Defense, seven missiles were launched from at least six different sites, Teachon, Sunan, Samsok, Sunchon, Mupyonri and Munchon. As launches from different sites are considered to be made by different units, the number of KPA units for operation of tactical nukes is estimated to be considerable. If the complicated command-and-control system, especially the part of the system related to commander-in-chief, gets into trouble, the risk of a grave malfunction of the nuclear operation will be very high. Considering the majority of DPRK’s missiles for tactical nukes are dual-capable and launch mostly missiles with conventional warheads in a war, the risk of accidental launch of nuclear missiles would increase further.

The KCNA report detailed some of the set targets of nuclear attack in the drills. There is a high possibility that the launch of the short-range ballistic missile on September 25, which flew 600km according to ROK information, setting its target at a certain altitude in the air of the Japan Sea (or East Sea of Korea), was meant to simulate an attack scenario to destroy a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) by nuclear air explosion, warning against repeated CVN deployment during that period [14]. Launching drills of close-range ballistic missiles to strike South Korean airports within the operation zones by nuclear missiles were staged several times with different modes of explosion. Launching drills of close-range and short-range ballistic missiles were also conducted in simulation of striking the enemies’ main military command facilities. It is reported by the ROK Ministry of Defense that one of those short-range missiles flew 800km, which means US military bases in Japan such as Sasebo and Iwakuni are within its range. Launching drills of close-range ballistic missiles in simulating the strike on the enemies’ main ports are also reported. As the DPRK itself describes the drills as “the simulation of an actual war,” those target settings are highly pragmatic and executable.

Immediate Top Priority: Easing Tensions and Avoiding Military Conflicts
As is explained above, the DPRK’s enactment of the Nuclear Policy Law and the KPA units’ drills for tactical nukes’ operation demonstrate that the risk of using nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, intentionally or accidentally, has been growing.

As important as the factors that increase risk, we would like to point out characteristics of the DPRK’s language and narratives in its reporting about the Nuclear Policy Law and KPA units drills for tactical nukes operation. DPRK’s discourse regarding the use of nuclear weapons is very straightforward, and sensitivity and hesitation to the issues expected to be raised by using nuclear weapons under international humanitarian law is hardly found, and thus a threshold for making the decision to use nuclear weapons appears to be extremely low. Just so there is no confusion, we don’t side with the argument that the DPRK and its leader are inhuman based on that low threshold. The fact that the DPRK has repeatedly called for indiscriminate and fair application of the UN Charter at the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council should compel us to use caution in labeling the DPRK as, for example, inhuman. Instead, we should try to find out the rationale for why the DPRK has embraced the idea of a low threshold on nuclear weapon use.

DPRK’s peculiar discourse regarding nuclear weapons comes from the history that the DPRK has kept fighting against overwhelmingly superior military powers for almost 70 years in order to maintain its regime. The US, ROK and Japan are military allies, and their combined military spending is more than 500 times larger than that of the DPRK. Such hopeless inequality of military power has led to the DPRK’s policy to emphasize the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

To resolve this hostile relationship peacefully is a goal that the international community should strive for. To do so, first of all, the existing risk of nuclear weapon use needs to be reduced. Then, it is necessary to put forward a path where efforts to reduce the nuclear risk would lead to a following diplomatic stage.

For those reasons, under the current circumstances, the immediate priority for the international community is to minimize the possibility of military conflicts on the Korean Peninsula. Such military conflicts create a risk that they could escalate to nuclear weapon use. To prevent this, the US and ROK should declare their intention to suspend their joint military exercises on and around the Korean Peninsula for the time being. At the same time, the US, ROK and Japan should cease any discourse which increases military tension on the Korean Peninsula and should make efforts to reduce tension.

It is expected that the DPRK will keep bolstering its military power, based on its five-year plan. Although it is undesirable, we have already learned that repeatedly putting military pressure and strengthening economic sanctions on the DPRK cannot prevent the DPRK from proceeding on that course.

Concerns that the DPRK has no intention of resuming diplomacy may be true for the time being, but not definitive. In his speech on September 8, 2022, Kim Jong-Un stated “There will never be such a thing as our abandonment of the nuclear weapons or denuclearization first, nor will there be any negotiations to this end” [15]. However, for instance, in 2017, Kim Jong-Un insisted, “the DPRK would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself,” but it was under condition that “Unless the US hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated” [16]. In fact, in the next year, Kim Jong-Un agreed to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the Panmunjom Declaration between North and South, and the Singapore Joint Statement between the US and DPRK, in exchange for the US’s meeting this condition.

The DPRK has persistently called for the US and the ROK to stop their joint military exercises. To avoid military conflicts and the risk of use of nuclear weapon, to ease tensions and to lead to the next diplomatic step, the US and the ROK should declare their intention to impose a moratorium on their joint military exercises first. The recent announcement by the ROK Ministry of National Defense to expand the scale of the US-ROK joint military exercises next year [17] goes in the totally opposite direction from this, and we strongly call on them to reconsider this position. (Yosuke WATANABE & Hiromichi UMEBAYASHI)

[1] “Law on DPRK's Policy on Nuclear Forces Promulgated,” KCNA, September 9, 2022.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date.

[2] For example, on November 1, 2022, Park Jong-Chun, Secretary of the WPK Central Committee, said that if the U.S. and the ROK attempt to use armed forces against the DPRK, they will pay the most horrible price in history. Perhaps aware of this, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stated in the joint statement issued on November 3, 2022 at a regular U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting that any nuclear attack against the US or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime.

[3] Phnom Penh Statement on Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific

[4] “KCNA Commentary Slashes Japan’s Moves against DPRK and Chongryon,” KCNA, November 16, 2022. “Press Statement of DPRK FM,” KCNA, November 17. 2022.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date.

[5] “Law on Consolidating Position of Nuclear Weapons State Adopted,” KCNA, April 1, 2013.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date. For a Japanese translation, see Hiromichi UMEBAYASHI’s book North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: a mirror reflecting the world, (in Japanese, Kobunken, September 2021), pp. 232-233.

[6] Many Japanese media reports refer to “first use (senko-shiyo or daiichi-shiyo in Japanese)” as “preemptive use (sensei-shiyo in Japanese)”. However, they are two different concepts and should be clearly distinguished.

[7] “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Military Drills of KPA Units for Operation of Tactical Nukes,” KCNA, October 10, 2022.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date.

[8] A close-range ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a range of 0-300 nautical miles as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"United States Government Compendium of Interagency and Associated Terms"

[9] A short-range ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a range of 300-600 nautical miles as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense. See note [8] for source.

[10] An intermediate-range ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a range of 1500-3000 nautical miles as defined by the U.S. Department of Defense. See note [8] for source.

[11] See note [7].

[12] See note [7].

[13] See note [7].

[14] “North Korea’s missile that passed over Japan was a ‘new type of intermediate-range ballistic missile’ (tentative title in English),” NHK, October 10, 2022 (in Japanese).

[15] “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Policy Speech at Seventh Session of the 14th SPA of DPRK,” KCNA, September 10. 2022.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date.

[16] “Kim Jong Un Supervises Test-launch of Inter-continental Ballistic Rocket Hwasong-14,” KCNA, July 5, 2017.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm Search for the article by date.

[17] “S. Korea, U.S. to develop 'realistic' training scenarios on N.K. nuke, missile threats,” YONHAP NEWS, December 21, 2022.

Sep 5, 2022

Watch Report No.35

 Watch Report No.35    July 29, 2022

International Efforts Should be Made to Make Use of the 2018 Agreements on the Korean Peninsula. US and Chinese Initiatives toward Resumption of the Six-Party Talks are Required

Have the 2018 Agreements Lost?
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea)’s test launch of ICBM missile on March 24, 2022, putting aside the question of whether the ICBM was a new type or not, was a political event marking a significant milestone. It can also be safely assumed from the declamatory writing style of the Korean Central News Agency’s report on the test launch that it was not merely a single test launch of a strategic missile, but DPRK’s move with political intentions [1]. The announcement stated:

The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un gave a written order to conduct the test-lunch of the new type ICBM of the DPRK strategic forces on Wednesday. He visited the launch ground on Thursday and personally guided the overall process of the test-launch of the new type ICBM Hwasongpho-17.

With his deep insight into the ever-changing international political situation, the root cause of the daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula and the long-term demand of our revolution that stems from the inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the US imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war, the General Secretary put forward the Juche-oriented defence development strategy and the policy of bolstering in a sustained way the nuclear war deterrence at the historic 8th Congress of the WPK.”

This official announcement on the test launch of the ICBM missile clearly states its political and strategic intention, meaning the DPRK has explicitly abandoned its moratorium on ICBM test launches and nuclear tests that it had self-imposed since April of 2018 as diplomatic trust-building measures.

As early as January 19, a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) “gave an instruction to a sector concerned to reconsider in an overall scale the trust-building measures” and to “promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities” [2]. It was March 24 when the results of the instruction were displayed.

Does this mean that the DPRK has returned to its brinkmanship diplomacy of 2017? Probably not. Ever since its test launch of a hypersonic missile was conducted at the beginning of the year, on January 5, the DPRK has repeatedly launched tactical guided missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles and other missiles at an unprecedented pace. Some news reports suggest that these launches are to put pressure on the US to bring it back to negotiations to ease economic sanctions on the DPRK. However, that series of missile launches, of course, although they are undesired, should be regarded calmly as DPRK’s stance implementing its policy of bolstering war deterrence adopted at the WPK Congress, as it anticipates that US-DPRK and North-South relations are unlikely to improve for the time being [3].

The 8th WPK Congress held in January officially acknowledged that, “the five-year strategy for the national economic development” adopted in 2016 had failed to realize social construction that should have been evidenced by improved standard of living, and thus, adopted “the five-year plan for the national economic development.” The new five-year plan also sets concrete goals for bolstering military power including, “making nuclear weapons smaller, lighter and tactical,” “production of super large nuclear warhead,” “developing hypersonic gliding flight warhead,” “developing inter-continental ballistic rocket with the use of underwater or ground solid-fuel engine,” “possessing nuclear-powered submarine and underwater-launch nuclear strategic weapon,” “operating reconnaissance satellite for military purposes,” and “developing reconnaissance drones” [4]. These developments are regrettable, but we have to reluctantly accept that the DPRK keeps bolstering its military power as long as tension remains high because of the failed diplomacy between US and the DPRK, as well as between North and South on the Korean Peninsula. The logic working behind this build-up is just similar to that of nuclear weapons modernization programs by nuclear states, such as the US.

However, at the same time, two points regarding decisions made at the 8th WPK Congress should be recalled. First, the top priority of the five-year plan is not a military buildup, but rather economic buildup, which will lead to a higher standard of living. Second, DPRK policy toward the US, which will be prerequisite for its economic development, is “to call for the US to withdraw its hostile policy toward the DPRK and to approach the US on the principle of power to power and goodwill to goodwill.” In other words, the possibility of exploring diplomacy is clearly stated [5].

On the other hand, DPRK’s frequent missile tests are considered to relate to the intrinsic nature of the military sector under the five-year plan for national economic development. Originally, in industrial sectors, such as farming, which are closely related to a higher standard of living, it is not easy to demonstrate tangible intermediate achievements in the short term. Additionally, under difficult circumstances due to natural disasters caused by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and prolonged economic sanctions, the Kim Jong Un regime would have difficulty managing the implementation process for the five-year plan to result in success. As it is easier to demonstrate its interim achievements in the military technology development sector, there is the possibility that the sector has been prominently treated in the Party’s organizational management.

Actions of the US and the ROK under the Yoon Administration
In May 2022, the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) President Moon Jae-in who played a leading role in the Heads of States agreements in 2018 left office and conservative Yoon Suk-yeol assumed office, which is expected to cause significant changes to the fate of those 2018 agreements.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol criticized the Moon administration’s conciliatory stance toward the DPRK during the presidential election campaign. On May 21, right after his inauguration, at the summit with US President Biden held in Seoul, it became clear that US and ROK policy toward the DPRK has explicitly changed in their joint statement [6].

First, it should be noted that there is an important point that is absent from the joint statement. Just one year ago, on May 21 of 2021, in Washington DC, the US-ROK leaders’ joint statement by US President Biden and President Moon Jae-in was released, in which both leaders explicitly expressed that they would follow the 2018 summit agreements as follows [7].

“We also reaffirm our common belief that diplomacy and dialogue, based on previous inter-Korean and US-DPRK commitments such as the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore Joint Statement, are essential to achieve the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

In contrast, the joint statement of President Biden and President Yoon didn’t mention anything about the 2018 summit commitments. The new joint statement is, briefly speaking, a return to policies before the 2018 summits, namely increasing international pressure through economic sanctions and military pressure by the combined US and ROK forces.

On the military side, the joint statement stated detailed measures for bolstering deterrence, including reactivating the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, initiating discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises, and reaffirming commitment of the US to deploy strategic US military assets in a timely manner as necessary.

In line with these agreements, tangible changes have already taken place. The ten-day joint military exercise conducted in April was a command post training and didn’t mobilize field troops. However, the Carrier Strike Group exercise in early June was conducted with the ROKS Sejong the Great (DDG-991) Aegis destroyer joining the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) aircraft carrier homeported at Yokosuka, Japan, as a major combatant ship. Additionally, the US and ROK have started to demonstrate US-ROK combined force capabilities to respond quickly with a military counterattack if the DPRK launches missiles. They responded to DPRK missile launches not only by launching their own missiles, but also by escalating with a show of force by air strikes by the air force, which is overwhelmingly superior to that of the DPRK [8].

Regarding economic sanctions, the joint statement states that, “both leaders condemn the DPRK’s escalating ballistic missile tests this year…as clear violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” and, “urge all UN Member States to fully implement all United Nations Security Council resolutions” [9]. This statement merely repeats policy that has been historically proved a failure, based on the hope that if all UN Member States implement all UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the severest sanctions in history, the DPRK will give in.

Viability of UN sanctions is weakening with the UNSC’s Resolutions Punishing the DPRK
As will be discussed later, originally, UN Security Council Resolutions that impose sanctions against ballistic missile launches don’t have a persuasive basis. Furthermore, the increasing political division within the Security Council caused by the Russian military invasion of Ukraine has made it more and more difficult to implement UNSC resolutions regarding sanctions.

On May 26, the UN Security Council voted down a draft resolution (S/2022/431) tabled by the US by a vote of 13 to 2 that would have strengthened sanctions against the DPRK, as China and Russia vetoed for the first time in a series of sanction resolutions, and their explanation for vetoing was consistent with their recent positions. In response, on June 8 and 10, for the first time in history, the UN General Assembly held a debate on Security Council’s veto. A formal meeting of the UN General Assembly to hold a debate on a veto was institutionalized in response to the situation in which the Security Council held a meeting on February 25 to address the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but couldn’t take any actions due to the veto. On April 26, the General Assembly decided that, “The President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, to hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast” [10]. The sanction resolution against the DPRK became the first such case.

At the General Assembly, the DPRK, along with China and Russia, expressed their own views [11]. For instance, China argued that the Peninsula situation has developed to what it is today due to US policies’ disregard for the reasonable concerns of the DPRK, and the US needs to actually show its willingness to have a dialogue with the DPRK by means of actions such as easing sanctions and postponing joint military exercises. The majority of participating states that made statements at the Assembly criticized the DPRK for repeatedly violating past UNSC resolutions and demanded that UN Member States implement the UNSC resolutions. Nonetheless, when considering their arguments dispassionately, it is difficult to deny that explanations by Russia and China that the proposed draft resolution to strengthen the sanction is not an effective means to resolve the issue are convincing to a certain extent. In the future, if new sanction resolutions related to DPRK’s further missile launches are repeatedly voted down by the Security Council’s veto and every time such debates are held by General Assembly, it can be reasonably expected that more states will come to the conclusion that sanction resolutions are ineffective.

Originally, in today’s international community, imposing sanctions against missile launches based on UNSC resolutions has limitations. Because, unlike issues of development of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests, there is no universally accepted normative international agreement to regulate the missiles themselves [12].

Generally, the control of missile weapons in the international community has been limited to those related to delivery vehicles for weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, this is an oversight within the missile control regime at present. The well-known Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and The Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC) are also within this limited framework. The MTCR states that the purpose of its Guidelines is to “limit the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (i.e. nuclear, chemical and biological weapons), by controlling transfers that could make a contribution to delivery systems (other than manned aircraft) for such weapons” [13]. HCOC states “comprehensively to prevent and curb the proliferation of Ballistic Missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction [14]”, as its principle. Therefore, UNSC resolutions regulating missile launches must be in accordance with those limitations.

Regarding UNSC sanction resolutions against the DPRK, generally, all 10 resolutions from Resolution 1718 (2006) to 2397 (2017) [15], are in this context. All resolutions state at the beginning that, “reaffirming that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” and thus, establish the context for resolutions as a whole.

However, in the case of resolutions against the DPRK, out of this context, their operative clauses leading to the imposition of sanctions were adopted against missile launches in general without considering whether they are delivery systems of nuclear weapons or not. This became possible probably because criticism against DPRK’s nuclear tests and missile launches was skillfully interwoven. Diplomatic initiatives by the US and Japan might have worked behind the scenes.

The context that automatically imposes sanctions against any missile launch was established by two UNSC resolutions. Both were triggered by the DPRK’s nuclear tests, not by its missile launches. The contents of the other eight resolutions that were adopted, were informed by those two resolutions.

The first resolution is Resolution 1718 (2006), adopted in response to DPRK’s first nuclear test. It demands that, “the DPRK not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile.” This established the future trend to ban general ballistic missile launches. The second resolution is Resolution 1874 (2009) the adoption of which was triggered by DPRK’s second nuclear test. This time, it expands the scope of the ban by stating, “demands that the DPRK not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology,” which established the rationale to make any launches using ballistic missile technology, including launches of space rocket, subject to sanctions.

It is necessary to scrutinize the validity of unconditionally banning only a certain nation from activities that are not banned, and generally tolerated in international community. In the case of missile launches, when imposing sanctions against them, a fair mechanism to judge whether these missiles are meant to deliver weapons of mass destruction or not is required, even given that this is a difficult task.

As is well known, to maintain or restore international peace and security, the Security Council shall…decide “what measures shall be taken” (Article 39, Charter of the United Nations), including “measures not involving the use of armed force” (Article 41) or “such action by air, sea, or land forces” (Article 42), and the Member States “agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council” (Article 25). The integrity of decisions made by the UNSC, which has such powerful authority, has a significant impact on not only sanctioned states, but also on the international community as a whole. Therefore, decisions by the UNSC should be fair and consistent with current norms shared by the international community and should not be distorted by convenience of great powers or the motivation of certain interested states.

In addition to fundamental problems regarding the validity of missile test ban described above, inconsistencies in the real world have surfaced.

As already mentioned, in response to DPRK’s short-range missile launches on May 25 and June 5, the US and South Korea launched the same kind of missiles and demonstrated combined forces capabilities to respond quickly. And on September 15 of last year, the same day when the DPRK launched short-range missiles, the ROK conducted a test launch of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. Why are DPRK’s missile launches sanctioned and those by the US and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula tolerated? Calls for fair criteria for judgement in the international community will inevitably intensify. It is expected that imposing sanctions against DPRK’s missile launches will keep losing its persuasiveness.

Efforts for Regional Common Security is a Lesson Drawn from Ukraine
So far, regarding DPRK policy, both the Biden and Yoon administrations have announced policies of only economic sanctions and military pressure that are destined to fail. President Yoon has emphasized an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy. However, he has attached the condition that North Korea “genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization” [16] first. It is difficult to expect that this heavy-handed approach will change the DPRK. Although President Yoon and President Biden have emphasized that the path to dialogue remains open toward peaceful and diplomatic resolution with the DPRK [17], the DPRK has argued that it is the US’s turn to demonstrate good faith in return for DPRK’s trust building measures. For example, the DPRK imposed its moratorium on ICBM test launches and nuclear tests, as this Watch Report has repeatedly stated (for instance, Watch Report 32 & 33). Given these circumstances, it seems difficult to realize meaningful dialogue. Consequently, it is expected that the DPRK will continue to strengthen its nuclear deterrence for the purpose of self-defense.

Now, in terms of next steps, let us pay attention to a clue found in the ROK-US leaders’ joint statement. It is the phrase stating that, “President Yoon and President Biden reiterate their common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agree to further strengthen the airtight coordination to this end” [18]. At first glance, this looks like just an ordinary phrase. However, the joint statement doesn’t use a phrase of “complete denuclearization of the DPRK” but “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which has important implications. President Yoon used a phrase of “complete denuclearization of the DPRK” in his inauguration speech and at NATO’s Madrid summit [19], and never set the goal of “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Nonetheless, the reason why the joint statement uses the phrase of “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” can be safely said that it reflects US opinion.

If the DPRK continues to strengthen its nuclear forces, there is a growing risk that conservative groups behind the Yoon administration will intensify their calls for developing ROK’s own nuclear weapons and its public opinion may lean toward this possibility. This kind of development has the risk of triggering the nightmare of a nuclear domino scenario, which will spread to Japan. For the Biden administration to prevent such development, it is necessary to compel the Yoon administration to commit to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which includes South Korea.

If “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is a goal to be achieved, it is crystal clear that the 2018 agreements in which the US, and North and South Korea agreed upon toward that goal at summit level should be the foundation as a basis for future progress.

The summit agreements have not been abandoned by any of the parties --- US, the ROK and the DPRK. All it takes are new ideas and initiatives which make use of the agreements.

Taking the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity, in East Asia, arguments about the possibility of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan have been enflamed and efforts to strengthen military capabilities and increase military budgets have been intensifying. However, at the same time, there are growing arguments that it is the theory of alliance, which brings together military powers to defeat opponents, is the root cause of the war in Ukraine. In East Asia, before the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, encirclement of China led by the US and its allies had already started and it is undeniable that US policy toward the Korean Peninsula has been affected by it. Considering this, it is possible to recast the 2018 agreements as valuable tools to prevent not only tension on the Korean Peninsula, but to prevent regional tension from further escalating and thereby, to establish common security system that all state parties can accept.

We again propose here that all state parties move toward the establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ) based on the 2018 summit agreements. Configured on a three-plus-three scheme in which the territorial area, including the Korean Peninsula and Japan, becomes a nuclear weapon free zone and the surrounding three nuclear weapon states -- US, Russia and China -- provide security assurances, many experts have developed innovative ideas regarding comprehensive approach to realize the establishment of a NEA-NWFZ [20].

Considering that all state parties concerned are also the participants of the 2003-2008 Six Party Talks, many would agree that the Six Party Talks is the best framework to discuss this subject. Additionally, the history of cooperation in 2010 to 2011 between the US under the Obama administration and China to resume the Six Party Talks is a lesson worthy to be recalled. At that time, China negotiated with South Korea under a conservative administration and the DPRK respectively, in spite of high tensions between North and South Korea as a result of serious military incidents, and tried to set a course for them to rejoin the talks through three step processes [21]. Still today, we have high expectations of US or Chinese initiatives for such cooperation, if we follow history, especially Chinese initiatives.

[1] “Striking Demonstration of Great Military Muscle of Juche Korea: Successful Test-Launch of New-Type ICBM,” KCNA, 25 March 2022
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm  Search for the article by date.

[2] “6th Political Bureau Meeting of 8th C.C., WPK Held,” KCNA, 20 January 2022
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm  Search for the article by date.

[3] For instance, “North Korea launches a missile, ninth time this year (tentative title in English),” Asahi Simbun Digital, 6 March 2022 (in Japanese)

This argument can also be found in researcher’s circles. Richard WEITZ, “The Military Logic Behind North Korea’s Missile Medley,” 38 NORTH, 14 March 2022

[4] “Great Programme for Struggle Leading Korean-style Socialist Construction to Fresh Victory,” KCNA, 9 January 2021
http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm  Search for the article by date.

[5] See note [4].

[6] “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement,” The White House, 21 May 2022

[7] “U.S.-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement,” The White House, 21 May 2021

[8] In response to the North Korean missile launch on 25 May 2022, thirty ROK Air Force F15Ks performed an elephant walk with a full load of bombs and missiles on the same day.

David Choi & Hana Kusumoto, "US, South Korea respond to North Korea’s latest missile tests with launches of their own," STARS AND STRIPES, 24 May 2022

Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches Suspected ICBM and Two Other Ballistic Missiles,” New York Times, 24 May 2022

Also, in response to the North Korean missile launch on 5 June 2022, 16 ROK Air Force strike-fighters (F35A, F15K, and KF16) and four US Air Force F16s flew in combat formation over the Yellow Sea on 7 June.

David Choi, “Allied fighter formations show resolve in wake of North Korean missile tests,” STARS AND STRIPES, 7 June 2022

[9] See note [6].

[10] A/RES/76/262

[11] “General Assembly Holds Landmark Debate on Security Council’s Veto of Draft Text Aimed at Tightening Sanctions against Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, GA/12423, 8 June 2022

Highlighting Strong Link between Multilingualism, Multilateralism, General Assembly Adopts Resolution Urging Parity among United Nations Six Official Languages,” UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, GA/12425, 10 June 2022

[12] For instance, “The issue of missiles in all its aspects -- Report of the Secretary-General,” (A/57/229, United Nations, 2003, p. 13) concludes: “at present no universally accepted norms or instruments to deal specifically with missile-related concerns in all their aspects exist.”

[13] https://mtcr.info/guidelines-for-sensitive-missile-relevant-transfers/

[14] https://www.hcoc.at/background-documents/text-of-the-hcoc.html

[15] There is a table of UN Security Council Sanctions Resolutions against North Korea in Hiromichi UMEBAYASHI’s book North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: a mirror reflecting the world, (in Japanese, Kobunken, September 2021), pp. 147-149.

[16] Yoon Suk Yeol, “Inaugural Address by President Yoon Yeol,” ROK Office of the 20th President, 10 May 2022

[17] See note [6].

[18] See note [6].

[19] Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon calls for int’l resolve to denuclearize N. Korea,” YONHAP NEWS, 30 June 2022

[20] Michael Hamel-Green, “An Alternative to Nuclear Deadlock and Stalled Diplomacy – Proposals, Pathways, and Prospects for the Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” A Working Paper presented to the 75th Anniversary Nagasaki Nuclear-Pandemic Nexus Scenario Project, October 31–November 1, and November 14–15, 2020 (Japan Time)

[21] See note [15], pp. 138-139.

Dec 28, 2021

Watch Report No.34

Watch Report No.34    October 29, 2021

If You Want to Delve into the DPRK’s Nuclear Crisis? This Book is A Must-Read.
 Book Review: North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons – A Mirror that Reflects the World, by Hiromichi                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           UMEBAYASHI, Kobunken, 2021

             Hibiki YAMAGUCHI,VisitingResearcher,Nagasaki University Research
Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition

This book offers the author’s comprehensive discussion on nuclear issues of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). The author, Mr. Hiromichi Umebayashi, is known for his prolific work regarding the DPRK nuclear issues, including proposing and advocating for the establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. He also wields a mighty pen on this Watch Project “Citizen’s Watch for a Fair Implementation of Korean Peninsula Denuclearization Agreements”.

Before providing an overview of each chapter, let me highlight a few unique characteristics of this book.

First, this book provides a comprehensive look into the DPRK’s activity related to its nuclear program from the 1950s through today. Numerous books have been written on the DPRK, especially ones that stress the danger of its nuclear and missile programs. However, there have been few books that methodically organize information in chronological order as this book does. Furthermore, rather than offering a chronological discussion of encyclopedic information, the book delivers the author’s resolute perspective throughout, which makes the book exceptional.

Second, rather than solely focusing on the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs, the book examines geopolitical conditions surrounding the DPRK, centering on the actions taken by the United States. Thus, the book rules out the theory that the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs progressed in a linear and consecutive fashion. Instead, it calls attention to the zigzag path the programs have taken in the context of the US-DPRK relations.

Third, the author approaches the subject by drawing from his experiences as a participant of the social movements in Japan since 1960s and as a close supporter of the pro-democracy movements in the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) as well as other people’s movements in Asia.

Let me reassure readers about these qualities characterizing this book and move onto chapter discussions.

The prologue is entitled “Calibrating Perspectives.”  According to the author, the conventional perspective of the DPRK’s nuclear issues is distorted in that it only focuses on the “threats” posed by the DPRK and fails to properly recognize the danger posed by nuclear weapons possessed by the large nuclear weapon states such as the US and Russia.

Mr. Umebayashi’s intention is not to exonerate the DPRK, but rather to duly acknowledge the context in which the DPRK’s nuclear armament has taken place. The context is that nuclear weapon states “insist that they need ultimate violence unleashed by nuclear weapons to ensure their national security” (Page 33).  And, that especially the US among them, deems the DPRK as its enemy and even attempts to overthrow the regime if it had the chance. Referring to the former US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger’s statement, the author points out that the US nuclear deterrent is “used” every day, which is rather revelational to me. The book’s subtitle “A Mirror that Reflects the World” alludes to the reality that the DPRK is pursuing nuclear weapons in order to stand on a level-playing field with nuclear weapon states that “use” nuclear deterrence every day.

The author’s call for “calibrating perspectives” applies to Japan’s role in causing the DPRK’s nuclear development. That is to say, the DPRK launched its nuclear program against the backdrop of history in which “the 1945 liberation from Japan’s colonial rule was only replaced by the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South Korea, followed by the breakout of the Korean War” (Page 21). This is why, using the prologue of this book, Mr. Umebayashi discusses in detail the 1948 Jeju Uprising which ostensibly has nothing to do with the DPRK nuclear issues. There is no doubt that Japan, which not only has failed to atone for its imperialist past with the DPRK but also clings to the US nuclear umbrella, is one of the root causes leading to the DPRK nuclear program.

Having introduced these “calibrated” perspectives, Chapters 1 to 5 chronologically follow the DPRK’s nuclear development.

Chapter 1 describes the early stages of the DPRK nuclear program (1950s–1992). The DPRK began its nuclear program in the late 1950s with help from the Soviet Union. The Soviets were reluctant to provide the DPRK with nuclear reactors to generate electricity, probably because the DPRK did not ratify the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) until 1985. During that time, the DPRK developed a graphite-moderated reactor without help from the Soviet Union. Mr. Umebayashi induces that the original purpose of developing the reactor was primarily to generate electricity (Page 44).

Chapter 2, entitled “A Short Spring,” examines the period between 1993 and 2003 while focusing on the 1994 crisis. In early 1992, the safeguards agreement between the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and the DPRK had entered into force. Around the same time, the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula had been issued. However, because the international community ignored the latter and solely focused on stopping the DPRK’s nuclear program through the IAEA, the DPRK made its first announcement to withdraw from the NPT (March 1993). The US seriously considered a military strike against the DPRK, but former President Carter’s visit to the DPRK led to a breakthrough in the crisis and subsequently to the US-DPRK Agreed Framework (October 1994) followed by the establishment of the KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization) (March 1995). This historical development may be well-known, and thus I will leave out the details.

The important thing to note here is Mr. Umebayashi’s conclusion that at this point, the DPRK was not planning to arm itself with nuclear weapons and that the DPRK adopted a diplomatic strategy to maintain and allude to the possibility for its future nuclear weapons development. It was done for the strategic goal of establishing a normal US-DPRK relationship in order to remove the US threats of hostility” (Page 61).

Despite some setbacks such as the 1998 Taepodong launch by the DPRK, the KEDO gradually began producing results, only to be reversed by the Bush Administration that came into office in 2001. Chapter 3, entitled “The US Neo-Con Politics and the Six-Party Talks,” tackles the period between 2001 and 2008. The hawks in the US government declared Clinton’s Agreed Framework as a “failure” and denounced the DPRK as one of the “axis of evil” countries, leading to the DPRK’s second announcement in January 2003 to withdraw from the NPT.

Afterwards, unlike what the US did in Iraq, the US avoided a violent regime change in the DPRK and moved on to the Six-Party Talks. This is also commonly known, and thus I will refrain from mentioning the details. The book masterfully organizes the information: the circumstances leading up to the 2005 Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks, the US hawks’ backlash that pushed for the economic sanctions against the DPRK, the DPRK’s first nuclear test in 2006, and despite those twists and turns, the international efforts to maintain the Six-Party Talks framework and thereby keep the negotiation on track for the DPRK’s denuclearization.

Chapter 4, entitled “Parallel Development Policy and War Deterrent,” surveys the period between 2009 and 2017, preceded by the DPRK’s successful nuclear test. During this period, the DPRK conducted its second to sixth (and last, at this point) nuclear tests.

No progress was made in US-DPRK talks during the first term of the Obama administration, which began in 2009. Mr. Umebayashi summarizes the reasons in the following three points (Page 129).
(1) The Obama administration’s condescending message, positioning the US as being a superior power, lacked consideration for the DPRK’s sensitive pride.
(2) The international community, notably by the United Nation Security Council, rejected the DPRK’s space program to launch artificial satellites.
(3) For the first time in a decade, anti-communist, conservative administrations emerged in the ROK (Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations).

In March 2013, the DPRK launched the “byungjin (or pyongjin) policy”, a parallel development policy to improve its economy and nuclear deterrent. In response, the Obama administration in its second term adopted an approach called “strategic patience” (although President Obama did not use such term), a more reserved approach to its negotiation with the DPRK.

In 2017, in the first year of his administration, President Trump used such words as “fire and fury” and threatened to “totally destroy” the DPRK, provoking a fierce reaction from the DPRK. This event requires no further explanation.

Chapter 5, entitled “Hope and Expectations,” deals with the circumstances thereafter through today. In May 2017, the President Moon Jae-in administration came into office. In early 2018, the DPRK ended its “byungjin” policy. (The author explains that the DPRK moved to the “economy first policy,” the term he came up with by taking a cue from Kim Jong-il‘s “military first policy”). This fateful turn of events for the North-South relations led to the April 2018 Panmunjom Declaration by the leaders of North and South Korea and the June 2018 Joint Statement of President Trump and Chairman Kim at the Singapore Summit. Although the Joint Statement didn’t include concrete steps for implementation, it envisioned the following two critical goals upon which the leaders of the US and DPRK agreed: “establishment of new US-DPRK relations” and “building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” Mr. Umebayashi rates the Statement highly, as it provides a fundamental basis for future US-DPRK negotiations. However, the Trump administration’s preoccupation to secure a “big deal” with the DPRK created a high hurdle that caused the negotiations to stumble. As the author notes in the book’s Afterword, the Biden administration has not put out any definitive policy towards the DPRK, and it is not clear where the US-DPRK relations are headed.

Chapter 6, entitled “Present Technical Status of the DPRK Nuclear and Missile Programs,” is the last chapter of this book. It organizes from a technical point of view the current status of the nuclear weapons and missiles that are either in possession of the DPRK or in development.

Lastly, let me share the questions with which this book left for me as well as my expectations for Mr. Umebayashi’s future work.

First, what could be the reason why the negotiations with the DPRK advanced during Republican administrations (Bush and Trump) and stalled during the Democratic administration (Obama) with the exception of the Clinton administration? One might expect that the Obama administration would prioritize diplomacy more than the Republican administrations. Although the book vividly illustrates the battles among the US government waged by the neo-cons who tried to crush the negotiations with the DPRK, why did the Bush administration keep the negotiations on track, centering on the Six-Party Talks? In contrast, why did the Obama administration, in its second term, take the approach of “strategic patience” and express little interest in negotiating with the DPRK? By then, it was a fait accompli that the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs had made significant progress, but would this lapse of time be a reason attributable to Obama’s lack of interest in DPRK nuclear issues? Furthermore, how did Trump’s verbal hostility towards the DPRK in his early presidency quickly evolve into the US-DPRK summits?

Of course, demanding that a 300-page book address all these questions is asking for the impossible. What I would like to emphasize here is that this book, which masterfully presents a diachronic overview of the DPRK nuclear crisis, allows readers to deduce many such questions that can be explored in later studies.

Second, the book rarely touches upon what the Japanese government has actually done to resolve the DPRK nuclear crisis despite the fact that the book stresses the importance of acknowledging Japan’s role in the crisis. It is not Mr. Umebayashi’s fault, however. Rather, it perhaps reflects the reality that the Japanese government has not established its own foreign policy separate from that of the US when it comes to the DPRK nuclear problem. At the same time, the fact that Japan has shown little interest in negotiating with the DPRK, as signified by the Abe administration’s pursuit to keep the pressures on the DPRK, may mean that Japan is actually taking its own course of action separate from the US foreign policy that at times prioritizes practicality. Then, this book (for being a Japanese book), could have shed light on this fact. If Japan’s diplomacy is “missing in action,” the reason for that is worth exploring.

Third, I wonder how generations much younger than Mr. Umebayashi would understand this book. The leitmotif brought by Mr. Umebayashi, as I mentioned earlier, is easy to understand for the generations that have lived through the 1960s and 70s Japanese social movements. On the contrary, the generations that have formed their knowledge of the DPRK in 21st century Japan are indoctrinated to the core with the simplistic framing in which “the evil North Korea plays the international community.” In addition, with the decline in the ratio of the Koreans among the foreign residents in Japan, there is also a decline in the opportunities for the Japanese to face the old and new issues associated with Japan’s relationship with the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, it may be that I should say this book has its invaluable mission to guide these young generations to look into the DPRK nuclear issues from perspectives different from the mainstream ones.

Again, this book inspires readers to deduce questions for further studies. For this reason, among others, the book is a must-read for those who would like to dive into the depth of the DPRK nuclear crisis. The book is the first in the series entitled, The Deep Layers of Mr. Hiromichi Umebayashi’s Work. I look forward to the future publications from the series.
(The title of this Watch Report text is by the Citizens Watch editors)

Dec 3, 2021

Watch Report No.33

   Watch Report No.33    October 18, 2021

U.S Calls for Talks with the DPRK without Preconditions are Insufficient. Proposals that Reflect the Essence of Past Negotiations Are Necessary

On September 21,2021, President Biden made a speech at the UN General Assembly. He said, “We seek serious and sustained diplomacy to pursue the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and then, “We seek concrete progress toward an available plan with tangible commitments that would increase stability on the Peninsula and in the region, as well as improve the lives of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” [1]. No details about the potential “available plan” were hinted at in the speech. Nevertheless, a small change is apparent in the statements on the DPRK made by Biden Administration thereafter. A sentence such as, “We made specific proposals (to the DPRK)” has been added to the previously conventional phrase, “to meet (North Koreans) anywhere, anytime without preconditions”.

US special representative for the DPRK, Sung Kim, used the phrase “anytime, anywhere” when he visited the Republic of Korea for the first time after taking office, to appeal to the DPRK to return to the dialogue. On June 21 of this year, he said, “We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively for our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions” [2].

Although this statement was deemed inappropriate in the context of US-DPRK negotiations since the Hanoi Summit, US envoy Sung Kim repeated it when he visited the ROK about two months later [3]. Also, at White House and the US Department of State, similar phrases have been repeated. On July 1, Ned Price, Spokesperson for the US Department of State said, “Look, we have made very clear our willingness to sit down anytime, anywhere with representatives of the DPRK”, and on September 24, he said, “We are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions” [4]. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on August 31, “We have left the door open and obviously reached out through our channels… Our offer remains to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions” [5].

Then, after the speech of the US President Biden at the UN General Assembly, a phrase “specific proposals” has been added to the statements of the US government. For example, Press Secretary Psaki said on October 1, “We’ve made specific proposals for discussion with the North Koreans but have not received a response to date” [6]. Department of State spokesperson Price after repeating the phrase “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions” said, “We have made specific proposals for discussions with the DPRK in our messages to them, and we hope that they respond positively to our outreach” [7].

It is not clear at present what “specific proposals” mean, or whether they have any substance [8]. However, from media coverage of such stories, it is generally accepted in Japan, as well as in the US and Europe, that the ball is in the hands of the DPRK regarding the resumption of the US-DPRK talks.

However, the position of DPRK in terms of US-DPRK denuclearization negotiations is clear. For the DPRK, assurance of State security is the utmost pre-requisite to abandon its nuclear weapons, which were developed as a deterrent against the US with which it is still at war. As has been often discussed in issues of the Watch Report [9], whenever the DPRK made a commitment to abandon nuclear weapons or its nuclear development program, it insisted that the other parties commit to no invasion and improvement of the relationship. As is well known, when Kim Jong Un, then-Chairman of the State Affaires Commission, reaffirmed its commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” at the first and historic US-DPRK Summit in Singapore, then-US President Donald Trump committed to providing “security guarantee to the DPRK.” And they agreed to establish “new US-DPRK relations”, “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” along with other items [10].

At the second US-DPRK Summit in Hanoi in February 2019, while the DPRK required the US to remove economic sanctions as the first step for the security assurance, the US required the DPRK to abandon all nuclear weapons and related facilities. The DPRK could not accept the US requirements because of lack of its confidence in US commitments of a security guarantee and improvement of relations. On its part, the DPRK presented to the US a concrete proposal of “the maximum denuclearization measures” that it could take considering the degree of confidence in its relationship with the US, under the condition that the US lifts some of the sanctions that impede the civilian economy and the people’s livelihood. Namely, the DPRK suggested that it would completely and permanently dismantle the production facilities of all nuclear materials, including plutonium and uranium, in the Yongbyon complex, through joint work done by technicians from both countries and in the presence of US experts, and “we also expressed our willingness to make a written pledge to permanently halt nuclear tests and long-range missile test launches” [11]. The US refused this proposal, maintaining its “all or nothing” approach.

Following this impasse, the DPRK has concluded that the US has no willingness to establish better relations with the DPRK and that the US will continue its hostile policy. The DPRK stopped pursuing the lifting of economic sanctions, and instead undertook a policy shift to pursue economic development under the assumption that economic sanctions would persist. According to the press statement of Kim Yo Jong, First Vice Department Director of Central Committee of Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), it is this basic policy line change of the DPRK that Kim Jong Un conveyed to Trump at the third US-DPRK Summit in Panmunjom, June 2019 [12]. At the Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of WPK held at the very end of 2019, Kim Jong Un, based on the premise that the US hostile policy toward DPRK would never end, set forth a policy to improve the lives of the Korean people based on “the offensive for making a breakthrough head-on” to realize economic development by the people’s power while its national security is assured by its own nuclear deterrence.

Thus, the basic stance of the DPRK at present is to maintain a credible national defense force, namely war deterrence compatible to the strength of US threat according to DPRK logic, and to focus its energy on the economic development. Hence, it can be said that the DPRK has lost its primary interest in holding negotiations with the US.

Nevertheless, for the DPRK that wants to concentrate on its economic development under the difficult circumstances of increasing natural hardships caused by COVID19 pandemic and climate change, a stable international environment free from the fear of invasion on the Korean Peninsula will be an indispensable precondition. Moreover, the success of “the five-year plan for the national economic development” established at the WPK Congress in January 2021, after the officially acknowledged failure of 2016 “five-year strategy for the national economic development,” is an absolute imperative for the Kim Jong Un regime. In this respect, diplomacy leading to the relief of tension on the Korean Peninsula could be a clue for the US as it develops its approach to the DPRK.

The DPRK has not closed off the path leading to negotiations with the US toward peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It is well known that Kim Jong Un said at the 8th WPK Congress in January 2021, “(T)he key to establishing new DPRK-US relationship lies in the US withdrawal of its hostile policy toward the DPRK,” and “(I)t would approach the US on the principle of power to power and goodwill to goodwill in the future” [13].

What is needed for the US at present is not a call like “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.” Rather, it is concrete proposals including unilateral measures for confidence building based on the history of US-DPRK negotiations since 2018. The reason why it is the US turn to take unilateral measures is described in Watch Report #32, and is not repeated here, but it is a matter of common sense that the US will need to reciprocate actions that the DPRK has already taken and sustains.

In this discussion, we would like to note two points that the US has to take into consideration in relation to its concrete proposals. One is related to withdrawal of the US-ROK joint military exercises and the other is related to relief of economic sanctions against the DPRK. Recently Kim Jong Un referred to the US tendency and said, “(T)he United States has frequently sent signals that it is not hostile to our state but its behavior provides us with no reason we should believe in them” [14]. The two points are important for the US to get rid of the grounds upon which Kim Jong-Un insists demonstrate the persistence of the US hostile policy.

The DPRK has repeatedly required US and the ROK to end their joint military exercises. The recent two stage joint military exercise starting on August 10 2021 were conducted against the warning of the DPRK government [15]. For the DPRK, a joint military exercise on Korean Peninsula soil, will never fail to be considered as a rehearsal for its invasion as long as the exercise is conducted by the US and the ROK, irrespective of its scale. This is even more so at a time when the Korean War has not yet officially ended. Any change in the very necessity and the mode of joint US-ROK military exercises resulting from the withdrawal of the US hostile policy against the US should be officially reexamined, especially in light of the United Nations Command and Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and ROK. This is a common problem facing the US and ROK when they want to sustain and develop the inter-Korean agreement on the reduction of tension and phased disarmament on the Korean Peninsula that was declared in the “Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain” attached to 2018 “September Pyongyang Joint Declaration”. If it takes time to reach a conclusion as to concrete changes, the US and the ROK should declare the initiation of such a reexamination and a moratorium on joint exercises until such reexamination is concluded.

A hint of tangible measures to show that the US no longer has hostile policies toward the DPRK is included in a speech given by Kim Song, DPRK Permanent Representative to the UN, at the UN General Assembly in September 2021 [16]. This was not a new assertion, but he strongly demanded equity and justice within the UN. For example, in the current UN Security Council (UNSC), a situation exists in which, although many countries conduct test launches of short-range missiles, only those launches by the DPRK are blamed as “the threat of peace”, and in some cases, they might lead to the imposition of economic sanctions against it. Here we put aside the arguments about the plausibility of UNSC resolutions to impose sanctions against the DPRK for its nuclear tests and test-launchings of missiles from 2006 to 2017. What we have to consider now is the fact that the DPRK voluntarily made the decision to stop nuclear testing and test-launching of long-range attack missiles in April 2018 and has been implementing that decision faithfully for three and a half years. Meanwhile, a new situation has emerged in which the ROK, another party to the conflict on the Korean Peninsula, has demonstrated its first successful test launch of a SLBM from its submarine [17]. Under these circumstances, fair-minded people around the world think that it is high time to review the validity of on-going sanctions against the DPRK.

It is reported that Russia and China have already taken actions in this respect at the UNSC [18]. However, it is the Biden Administration that could take a more effective initiative to propose concrete ideas leading to sanction relief. Such US initiatives would serve to demonstrate a reversal of its hostile policy toward the DPRK. Fortunately, “The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Declaration” of the CTBT on September 22, 2021, an official document agreed upon through multilateral deliberation including the US, points out the importance of “review clause” in relevant UNSC Resolutions, while reaffirming the importance of full implementation of those resolutions and the denuclearization of the DPRK [19]. The “review clause” states, “(The Council) is prepared to strengthen, modify, suspend or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance.” The US should take positive actions, taking advantage of this opportunity when the international community is paying close attention to this clause. (Hajime MAEKAWA and Hiromichi UMEBAYASHI)

[1] Remarks by President Biden before the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, The White House, 21 September 2021  


[2] “New U.S. envoy for North Korea looks forward to ‘positive response’ on dialogue,” Reuters, 21 June 2021


[3] “U.S. envoy says no hostile intent toward North Korea, calls for talks,” Reuters, 23 august 2021


[4] “Department Press Briefing by Ned Price, Department Spokesperson,” US Department of State, 1 July 2021 and 24 September 2021



[5] “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki,” The White House, 31 August 2021


[6] “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki,” The White House, 1 October 2021


[7] “Department Press Briefing by Ned Price, Department Spokesperson,” US Department of State, 7 October 2021


[8] “When asked about the “specific proposal”, Department Spokesperson’s answer was very ambiguous. Department Press Briefing by Ned Price, Department Spokesperson,” US Department of State, 15 October 2021


[9] For example, see Watch Report 12 and 32



[10] “Singapore US-DPRK Summit Joint Statement,” The White House, 12 June 2018


[11] “Press Briefing by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho,” Hankyoreh, 1 March 2019  


Japanese translation in “NUCLEAR WEAPON & NUCLEAR TEST MONITOR,” Volume 565.


[12] “Press Statement by Kim Yo Jong, First Vice Department Director of Central Committee of Workers' Party of Korea,” KCNA, 10 July 2021   


[13] “Report on the Review on Work of WPK Central Auditing Commission: For Independent Reunification of the Country and Development of External Relations,” KCNA, 10 January 2021  


[14] KCNA, 12 October 2021 http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm   

[15] “Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Kim Yo Jong Releases Press Statement,” KCNA,1 August 2021 http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm   

[16] “Statement by Head of the DPRK Delegation H.E. Ambassador Kim Song, Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations at the General Debate of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly,” The UN, 29 September 2020


[17] President Moon Jae-in visited SLBM launching test site, and said, “Strengthening Missiles Makes Deterrence to the Provocation of the DPRK Ensured.” Yonhap News,15 September 2021


[18] UNSC plans to hold unofficial meeting, 30 December 2019, about loosening sanctions imposed on DPRK proposed by Russia and China, Reuters, 30 December 2020 


[19] “The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Declaration, section 7”, CTBTO, 23 September 2021,



Watch Report No.36

   Watch Report No.36    December 26, 2022 Declaring the Intention to Cease US-ROK Joint Military Exercises is the First Step for Easing Ten...