The joint statement issued by several nations’ foreign ministers at the G7 meeting in London this week is a huge step backwards for North Korea policy, reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric from the early 2000s.
Unless quickly walked back and qualified, this statement effectively kills any chance of engagement with Pyongyang.
The G7 countries — which include the United States, the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying they will work on the “complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment” of all North Korean nuclear and ballistic missiles. South Korea, attending the high-level meeting as a guest, seemingly signed off on the statement as well.
For the G7, denuclearization is not enough. North Korea must hand over all its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Some have even suggested that cyber capacities could be viewed as a WMD. Leaving that aside, the implications are that, if the DPRK was headstrong enough to engage and bullish enough to enter into a deal, it would need to open itself to outside inspections spanning the length, breadth and depth of the country — a sort of treasure hunt for nefariousness.
As a further provocation, the statement unhelpfully calls on North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile programs in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The resolution in question is 1718 from Oct. 2006, which instructs the DPRK to “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program … in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.” Should North Korea acquiesce, it would mean dismantling weapons programs that are several decades old.
UNSC Resolution 1718 was heavily influenced by America’s then-U.N. ambassador John Bolton, a North Korea hawk who boasts about killing the Agreed Framework in 2003 and sabotaging the 2019 Hanoi summit between the United States and North Korea. He is also apparently proud of introducing the U.N.’s first sanctions resolution against the DPRK, which demanded that the country hand over its missiles in response to a nuclear weapons test.
I hope Bolton’s got a solid alibi for early this week, because if he didn’t do the drafting of the G7 resolution himself someone was plagiarizing him. If the G7 resolution is not walked back, he may take credit for killing any prospect of a long term deal with Pyongyang under three different U.S. presidents: George W. Bush, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
It’s easy to understand why an uber-hawk like Bolton prefers potentially catastrophic regime change over compromise. What’s mystifying is where the State Department is coming from. Early indications are that the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review will offer nothing but hard pills to swallow in Pyongyang.
Washington’s positioning of human rights front and center is further exacerbating things. Most understand that the North Korean people live in grim circumstances, but conflating disarmament with human rights threatens to make a difficult situation impossible. Biden similarly fails to distinguish between unilateral U.S. and the multilateral U.N. sanctions that most interest Pyongyang.
Relying on the U.S. Congress is nearly as unhelpful as the G7 statement. Democrats rejected Trump’s summit diplomacy with North Korea while Republicans merely tolerated it with woeful countenance. With Biden in the White House, Republicans will reject anything Biden does on North Korea the same way Democrats did with Trump. There is also not the slightest prospect of sanctions relief being approved by Congress, as each layer of sanctions legislation passed over the years is tied to mitigation of human rights, religious freedom and democratization. The G7 statement sidesteps this problem by saying, “It is critical that sanctions which target the DPRK’s unlawful weapons development remain in place while its programs exist.”
The history of U.S.-DPRK negotiations is a story of failure. All of these negotiations — effectively limited to denuclearization — have failed in different ways, but none have failed because they weren’t comprehensive enough. It’s time for Washington’s national security community and the U.S. State Department to quit playing games, get their eyes back on the ball and quickly move past the G7 statement.
Originally published in NK News.