Germany and France have backed the stance of Russia and China for negotiations to avert the Korea crisis. South Korea and Japan also seem to be amenable to recent calls by Russian President Vladimir Putin for exclusively diplomatic efforts. Any other option in the alarming standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program portends disaster.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has endorsed the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran as a model for possible negotiations.
That puts the United States on the margin of international consensus, with its repeated threats to use military force as an option against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
Last week, following another North Korean ballistic missile test that overflew Japan, US President Donald Trump’s top national security adviser reiterated Washington’s self-declared right to use pre-emptive military force, tacitly including the deployment of nuclear weapons.
«For those who have been commenting on a lack of a military option, there is a military option», said General HR McMaster to reporters in Washington.
While McMaster and President Trump, as well as Pentagon chief James Mattis, have said on other occasions that the US would prefer to seek a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis, such purported preferences do not inspire confidence.
For a start, the whole doctrine of «pre-emptive» or «preventive» war is a violation of international law, if not outrightly criminal. The concept was earlier formulated by Nazi Germany as a pretext for aggression, and was duly criminalized at the Nuremberg Trials. Today, the United States stands alone as the only nation to invoke the self-declared prerogative to use military violence in «self-defense».
Also, when Washington talks about a «diplomatic solution» what it is referring to is a unilateral «denuclearization» by North Korea. There is absolutely no indication from the US that it reciprocates a responsibility to stand down its «overwhelming» military power aimed at the Korean Peninsula. Thus, what Washington means by «peace» is a one-sided surrender by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
For this reason, international calls for diplomacy and negotiations have to be underpinned by a proper foundational premise.
The proper starting point is for the US to finally sign a full peace treaty with North Korea to mark the definitive end of the Korean War. It seems almost bizarre that 64 years after the end of that war (1950-53), the US refuses to commit to a peace treaty. The matter is hardly permitted into public discourse by the US government and Western news media. Even though the issue is key to finding a peaceful solution.
The absence of a binding peace settlement means that, technically, the US and North Korea still view each other at being in a state of war. This gives profound substance to North Korea’s existential fears over the US continually conducting «war games» around the peninsula.
Former US President Jimmy Carter and former US ambassador to South Korea James Laney have both recognized the fundamental onus on Washington of now, at last, having to abide by international norms towards Korea.
The US-based Campaign to End the Korean War quotes ambassador Laney as saying: «One of the things that have bedeviled all talks until now is the unresolved status of the Korean War. A peace treaty would provide a baseline for relationships, eliminating the question of the other’s legitimacy and its right to exist. Absent such a peace treaty, every dispute presents afresh the question of the other side’s legitimacy. Only with a treaty in place will both sides be relieved of the political demand to see each move as conferring approval or not.»
Nevertheless, despite these reasonable voices from within the US, the dominant position of Washington is one of strong-arming North Korea to capitulate to American demands – or face the threat of catastrophic military force.
Such an American position is totally unacceptable to international norms. Russia, China and Europe must take a firm stand and let Washington know in no uncertain terms that its unilateralism is unacceptable, and at worst, a reckless collision course for a nuclear war.
Diplomats from Russia and China last week both condemned US threats of violence against North Korea, as well as censuring Pyongyang for its missile tests.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, pointed out that the latest UN resolution 2375 voted on September 11 explicitly calls on all parties, including the United States, to re-engage in multilateral talks. Those talks involving North Korea were abandoned during the GW Bush administration more than a decade ago. How is that dereliction of diplomacy by Washington even remotely acceptable?
But, again, the push for diplomacy and negotiations must be founded on a proper and viable premise.
This is where German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to pursue a P5+1 formula comes unstuck. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in July 2015 between the US, Russia, China, Europe and Iran has been continually undermined by the Trump administration.
Iran committed to stringent limits on its nuclear energy program in return for sanctions relief. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has filed seven reports since January 2016 confirming Iran’s full compliance with the JCPOA.
Yet, the Trump administration is threatening to scrap its participation in the internationally binding nuclear accord with Iran. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made the wholly irrational claim that Iran’s «technical compliance» with the JCPOA is not enough. He and US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have said that Iran «is not living up to the spirit of the deal». Absurdly, Washington is claiming that Iran’s support for the Syrian state in its war to defeat US-backed terror groups is grounds for resiling from the JCPOA.
President Trump has called it the «worst deal ever». He said that a White House review due next month may finally signal the US walking away from it. If that happens, Washington will be able to reimpose sanctions on Iran, and extend those sanctions to Europe, Russia and China for doing legitimate business with the Islamic Republic.
Clearly, the US rulers cannot be trusted. If they cannot comply with obligations under an international legal agreement, which has been ratified by the UN Security Council, then any residual trust in US diplomacy is completely shattered.
North Korea has no doubt taken note of the US bad faith over Iran. Pyongyang has already pointed to the grim fate of Iraq and Libya which were invaded and destroyed by the US when it became evident neither possessed chemical or nuclear weapons.
Western corporate news media tend to portray North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as «crazy». The reality is that Kim would be crazy if he were to somehow surrender the country’s nuclear weapons under prevailing conditions.
Washington’s hints at diplomacy are threadbare and have no credibility. Any proposed negotiations to genuinely resolve the Korean crisis must start with the US signing a peace treaty with North Korea and foreswearing the use of any military force. Any other format is bereft of confidence building, as the Iranian nuclear deal is unfortunately showing.
A declaration by the US that the Korean War is over is a bare minimum requirement in order to begin peace and security talks. Even then it still not failsafe given Washington’s perfidy.
However, anything less than a peace treaty signed by the US is not feasible to end the spiral of conflict over Korea.
Incredible as it seems, the demand on the US is to simply abide by international law and to stop using aggression as a foreign policy. How damning is that.