North Korea’s Foreign Ministry yesterday released its ‘Memorandum on the N-Issue’. The majority of material is nothing new. For example the memo states that the North’s nuclear program was motivated primarily in response to the threat of the U.S., that its weapons have ‘drastically’ reduced the potential for a war, and that a peace treaty is required as a prerequisite to denuclearization. But beyond these recognizable declarations, the document does delve into some new areas – all of which are seemingly interlinked by an underlying attempt to assert and legitimize North Korea’s international nuclear status…
Although North Korea’s desire to be formally recognized as a nuclear weapon state are nothing new, yesterday’s document expresses these desires in a new context. The document suggests that North Korea’s external relations department have been keeping a close eye on the recent flurry of non-proliferation activity and news. Consequently it seems that North Korea has concluded that jumping on the non-proliferation bandwagon is now the best way for it to assert its nuclear weapon status.
First – in the context of the recent Nuclear Security Summit, the Foreign Ministry’s call to ‘join the international efforts [on] nuclear non-proliferation and on nuclear material security’ can be read as an attempt to inject some credibility into the concept of North Korea as a responsible nuclear steward. A country that should be regarded on an equal footing with others in the nuclear ‘club’, that could presumably even contribute expertise to the next Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in 2012 in South Korea.
Next, it seems the mostly positive international reaction to the U.S Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) has motivated North Korea to attempt to win similar praise. Thus the articulation of the ‘mission of the nuclear armed forces of the DPRK’, which describes Pyongyang’s arsenal largely in defensive terms, appears to be an overt attempt to emulate Washington’s mainly defensive posture. By going down this path, North Korea may be hoping to win some hearts and minds and be seen in a similarly responsible and non-aggressive light – characteristics it realizes are required in order to get the recognition it so desires. Note: It’s worth pointing out that Pyongyang didn’t catch up to Washington in one respect: It’s posture statement includes its own version of the so-called “Warsaw Pact” clause, which the U.S. NPR just ditched.
Finally, North Korea’s PR people seem to have also picked up on the momentum surrounding the forthcoming NPT Review Conference as a way of aligning their nuclear status with that of the five recognized nuclear states. Indeed, part of the Memorandum is strongly reminiscent of the language and obligations found in Article VI of the NPT. Compare:
From North Korea’s posture memo: ‘[North Korea will] neither participate in [a] nuclear arms race nor produce more than it feels necessary… [And will] join the international nuclear disarmament efforts’
And from Article VI of the NPT: ‘[Parties will pursue] effective measures relating to [the] cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.’
This similar choice of language attempts to paint North Korea as an advocate for disarmament and as a responsible nuclear steward – again, no matter how incredible that might sound to some.
In short, it appears the objective of this Memorandum is to present North Korea’s nuclear weapon status to the rest of the world as an irrefutable and justifiable fact, using the language and rationales traditionally used by the other nuclear weapon states (apart from Israel). Just like them, North Korea is now saying that it will keep nuclear weapons until ‘they are eliminated from the peninsula and the rest of the world’. You could say imitation is the best form of flattery.