Denuclearizing North Korea requires trust

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Science  09 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6415, pp. 649
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav4636

A freeze in military exercises could help to establish trust during nuclear negotiations with North Korea.


In their Policy Forum “Denuclearizing North Korea: A verified, phased approach” (7 September, p.981) A. Glaser and Z. Mian describe a pathway for verified denuclearization of North Korea. I agree that such an approach is necessary and, equally importantly, technically feasible. However, Glaser and Mian only highlight the disarmament side of the denuclearization agreement, without a plan to develop the mutual trust and the assurances on which such a deal depends. Incentivizing North Korea to reduce nuclear weapons and fissile materials will require confidence-building measures, ease of sanctions, and security guarantees. These elements are strongly related to the disarmament questions and must be regulated with similar precision.

Coordinating with the proposed phased approach, the involved parties could pair North Korea's freeze on weapon-related activities with a freeze of new nuclear-related sanctions or military exercises in the region. Such commitments would lay the foundation for an interim agreement, paving the way for long-term denuclearization. In a final step, the facilitation of humanitarian trade in areas such as health and nutrition would initiate the ease of sanctions and the establishment of credible security guarantees.

These measures need control and verification mechanisms, too. In case of nonfulfillment of such an agreement, it must be possible to swiftly reinstate the United Nations Security Council's sanctions. The structure of this contingency could be similar to the snapback mechanism in Article 37 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran (1). Likewise, North Korea will insist on similar guarantees if it dismantles its nuclear weapons. It is always a challenge to create mechanisms that can credibly assure such guarantees for both parties, and this has become even more difficult after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.


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