Thursday, 7 September 2017

Dealing with North Korea is significantly more difficult because of Libya 2011

The current confrontation over North Korea's nuclear weapons is probably the most serious such crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Unlike in 1962, when the two main actors John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev could be expected to act rationally, the same does not apply to Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.

Under any circumstances, the position would be highly difficult and dangerous. What happened in Libya in 2011 makes a successful resolution - of this or any future similar nuclear stand-off - significantly more difficult.

North Korea claims the same justification as the eight other known nuclear armed countries - the USA, Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan and Israel - for having nuclear weapons, namely that they are needed for its own defence. 

If the world community and in particular the USA is going to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, it needs to persuade him that North Korea will not then be invaded and that he personally will be safe.

However, NATO's action in Libya in 2011 makes this almost impossible. In a recent interview Gary Locke, a former US Ambassador to China and an expert on North Korea, gave his assessment of the thinking of Kim and the North Korean leadership  “they believe that as long as they have a nuclear capability, the United States and South Korea will not invade them. They look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi [in Libya]. He gave up his nuclear weapons, and where did it get him? … North Korea feels like the nuclear weapons represent their safety net.”  

Why should Kim now trust any guarantees given by the US (let alone by President Trump)?

Between 2003 and 2009 the Gaddafi regime voluntarily disarmed its nuclear capability. There have only ever been five voluntary nuclear disarmaments and this was the fifth. The others were three ex-Soviet states which found themselves with nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid era South Africa which disarmed before black majority rule.

The US and the UK promised repeatedly that they would not attack a non-nuclear Libya. In 2011, they did precisely that and Gaddafi was killed.

If Gaddafi had retained his nuclear weapons, in all likelihood he would still be in power and alive today. From the perspective of the regime in Pyongyang, the way the West behaved with Gaddafi must look rather like a sheriff in the Wild West telling the bad guy that if he puts his gun down he will be safe; and then, when he does so and is defenceless, shooting him.

Here is some relevant history. 
  •   Gaddafi led a coup against the US-backed King Idris in 1969
  •   For the next thirty years or so, Gaddafi was an enemy of the West and was held responsible for a number of terrorist outrages such as the Lockerbie bombing in 1988
  •    Libya surprised the world by announcing that it would disarm its nuclear weapons on 19 December 2003. 
  •   The key part of the 2003 deal was George W Bush, fresh from regime change in Iraq, explicitly guaranteeing there would be no such policy in Libya. There were words of reconciliation on both sides. Tony Blair said: -“Problems of proliferation can, with good will, be tackled through discussion and engagement.” 
  •     Professor Jentleson, an expert in the field, wrote in the academic journal International Security in 2005, that in order to understand why Libya agreed to disarm : - “The repeated assurances the US and Britain gave Libya about not pressing for regime change were absolutely crucial.”
  •     When IAEA and US inspectors visited Libya in January 2004 they found that Gaddafi’s nuclear weaponry was significant and larger than they had presumed
  •     On 27 January 2004, a US plane left Libya with the first consignment from its nuclear arsenal. George W Bush attended for a photo op to celebrate the unexpected and welcome victory against non-proliferation. The White House hailed Libya for its co-operation and said its good faith in dismantling weapons would be reciprocated
  •     Libya became an ally in Bush’s “war on terror” and sanctions were lifted 
  •     In 2007, George W Bush sent the first US ambassador to Tripoli for 35 years
  •     In 2008, Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Tripoli
  •     On 9 July 2009, Gaddafi shook hands with Obama during the G8 summit. The White House said that Obama ''wants to see cooperation with Libya continue in sectors such as Tripoli's decision a few years ago to give up its nuclear program, an absolutely voluntary decision that we consider positive."
  •      On 21 December 2009, a Russian plane removed the last nuclear material from Libya
  •       In March 2011, only 14 months after the six year disarmament program was finally complete and Libya no longer had nuclear weapons, NATO attacked Libya and effected regime change. Gaddafi was killed.
In 2011, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, that what happened in Libya “fully exposed before the world that “Libya’s nuclear dismantlement”, much touted by the US in the past, turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.”

Whatever the justification for breaking the pledges made to Gaddafi, doing so has seriously harmed the chances of dealing with nuclear-armed "rogue states" - not only North Korea but potentially elsewhere too in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Kim needs the US as an enemy to retain power over his own people, as does Trump. You are assuming a one dimensional characteristic to this 'conflict', when the layers underneath the rhetorical squabbles reveal two enemies that need each other for the same reasons... Don't you think its interesting that the 'heat' over NK has risen, as the temperature in Iraq has cooled for the US. Trump and Kim are useful for each other and are wheeled out as major problems when one is needed.