Shii Kazuo is chair of the Japanese Communist Party. He appeared on Japanese television network NHK’s “Sunday Debate” program on Feb. 19 and proposed ways to tackle the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. He stressed the need for diplomatic negotiations to have North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program. Afterward, he was asked by reporters to provide further information on his proposals. This op-ed was his response. It originally appeared in Shimbun Akahata newspaper.
If the United States chooses to take military action against North Korea over its weapons programs, including launching a preemptive strike, it will mean a war – a war which will inevitably cause vast numbers of victims. This will lead to the rejection of attempts for regional peace and place the whole world in danger.
In this regard, we have to remember that in 1994 the U.S. government led by President Clinton was at the brink of taking preemptive action against North Korea. At that time, South Korean President Kim Young-sam made all out efforts to overcome the military crisis. Kim phoned Clinton and condemned the U.S. move. In their conversation, Kim pointed out that if a war breaks out, millions of people on the Korean Peninsula will be killed.
He expressed his determination not to deploy a single South Korean soldier to assist the U.S. forces in the event of war. Later, the former South Korean president talked about this episode. Kim’s efforts worked to prevent an unnecessary tragedy and led to a visit by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the Democratic People’s Republic Korea (or DPRK, official name of North Korea). The 1994 crisis offered the international community a glimpse into hell. We need to bear this experience in mind.
In the light of this experience, it is crystal clear that along with the first-strike use of weapons, choosing to use military means is untenable.
In this context, working to reach a diplomatic solution is the only rational option. The next point is what diplomatic approach should be taken toward North Korea. We need to give careful consideration to this issue.
The Obama administration adopted the policy of “strategic patience” under which the U.S. government refused to go into negotiations with North Korea unless the nation expressed an interest in achieving de-nuclearization. As the DPRK repeatedly breached its promises to the international community, the U.S. fell short of achieving a success with this policy.
Under Obama’s presidency, the U.S. government for eight years maintained the “strategic patience” policy. During the same period of time, North Korea pushed ahead with its program to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.
In the February 14 House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that after Trump’s coming to power, the Trump administration is now considering replacing the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy.
Regarding measures to be taken in regard to the North Korea issue, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in the hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 12, asked if he thinks that the U.S. needs to maintain a military option. Mattis said that the country should not rule out any options. Since not “ruling out any options” includes the use of arms as well as the use of diplomatic approaches, Mattis’ remark suggests that the Trump administration has various choices – from the use of force to working for a diplomatic settlement.
Now is a significant moment in world affairs. As I already mentioned, a preemptive attack and other military actions should not be taken. The pressing need is to establish the direction in which the U.S. changes its policy and begins negotiating with North Korea while strictly implementing economic sanctions.
Furthermore, diplomatic negotiations can be used to push North Korea to become nuclear-free and the DPRK’s ability to develop nuclear weapons and missiles will be restricted and eventually abandoned. This is the path that should be chosen. With the Trump administration discussing a policy change, the Japanese government should encourage the U.S. to take a diplomatic approach. The international community also needs to unite to address the issue and push for peaceful negotiations.
This may be the only viable approach to put a stop to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs.