Editorial: End of North Korea’s nuclear program must be permanent

North Korea announced yesterday that it would suspend its nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches, as well as shut down a nuclear test site. Considering last year’s tense international conditions after a succession of North Korean nuclear and missile tests, it is a stunning development.

While we would like to see this as a favorable development toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the pledges made by North Korea must be viewed with caution.

The leaders of North Korea and South Korea are scheduled to meet on April 27, and the first-ever summit between the United States and North Korea is expected to take place in early June. The international community, including Japan, must help strengthen this trend toward denuclearization. To do so, a concrete roadmap for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal must be made and that nation’s agreement to follow this plan is needed as soon as possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is apparently seeking to demonstrate his seriousness by making this decision prior to the important summits with South Korea and the United States. Of course, Mr. Kim’s highest goal is to ensure the continuance of his regime. Even so, we will highly appreciate it if he takes further steps toward the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” that Japan, the United States, and other countries seek.

The document adopted at the plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party central committee states that the country regards the suspension of nuclear testing as “an important process for global nuclear disarmament” and will “join the international efforts for a total ban on nuclear tests.” These are noteworthy words and may reflect their awareness of the global trend toward a world without nuclear weapons. If so, we would like North Korea to seriously consider rejoining the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which they withdrew from, and to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that the A-bomb survivors are calling for all nations to join.

However, our concerns are not dispelled when we study the whole document because it indicates that the reason for dismantling the testing site is due to the fact that the country “has completed its development of nuclear weapons.” If North Korea attempts to start disarmament negotiations as a nuclear state at the summits, South Korea and the United States should adopt a stern stance.

The document contains another concern: “North Korea will not use nuclear weapons unless it faces a nuclear threat.” This is the same position that the nuclear powers have repeatedly taken in the past. North Korea, too, must understand that a nuclear-free world will never be realized as long as these nations cling to the logic of nuclear deterrence.

We also mustn’t forget that North Korea has a history of breaking promises to dismantle its nuclear development program. Initially, they showed a willingness to abandon their nuclear ambitions through dialogue in the six-party talks. However, they continued to develop atomic weapons behind the scenes and pressed on with their nuclear testing.

Strict inspections by an independent body like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be needed to effectively dismantle the nuclear testing site. If North Korea refuses such inspections, or puts them off, it is natural to think that they have no true intention of shutting down the facility. It is is also reasonable for Japan, the United States, and South Korea to consider setting a time limit, around the summer of 2020, for North Korea to complete its abolition aim.

Two days ago, a telephone hotline was set up between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea. A telephone call is likely to take place between the two leaders before their summit on April 27. The first face-to-face meeting of the leaders of these two nations in ten and a half years will be broadcast live around the world. Along with denuclearization, we are eager to see if this tide helps turn the Korean Armistice Agreement into a long-awaited peace accord.

At the same time, the abduction issue between Japan and North Korea still lingers. No matter how much effort is expended by North Korea toward denuclearizing, there can be no economic assistance, let alone a lifting of sanctions, unless we see an early homecoming of the Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea. Japan must press this point repeatedly.

(Originally published on April 22, 2018)