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Questions about North Korea's nuclear
weapons and the international response to it

Gunnar Westberg, TFF Board member*

May 29, 2009

North Korea is again at the centre of the world stage. The regime has challenged the strong powers in the world and in the UN Security Council (UNSC). The strong reactions from international politicians and media serve the interest of the leader of the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea and give him an undeserved but highly desired important role in world politics.

At the same time this reaction shows that the rules of international law as applied by the UNSC are unequal. Laws that restrict and condemn smaller countries are not applied to the nuclear weapon states themselves. This decreases the respect for international law and agreements.

I wish to express as strongly as I can that the nuclear weapons test and the test of long distance missiles by North Korea increases the tension in the region and decreases chances of a lasting peace. It is most unfortunate that the Government of DPRK does this at a time when hopes for a solution to the problems on the Korean peninsula seem to be on the increase. One must strongly protest these irresponsible decisions.

Furthermore, the enormous amount of resources, human and economic, which are used for the military build-up reduce the resources available for education, health and development in the country. While this is seen by the DPRK government as an interior problem for the DPRK, there is reason to point out that when the leaders of the country choose to support military spending instead of the health and welfare of the population, it is not serving its needs as it is obliged to do.

However, while almost all the criticism in the media is directed against North Korea, this international reaction itself needs to be questioned.

Here follow a few questions to leaders of the nuclear weapon states who are also permanent members of the UNSC and to journalists, commentators, experts and politicians who have reacted to North Korea almost as one chorus:

1. In the media we read and hear, as an amplified echo of the voices of the politicians, that the actions of DPRK constitute a threat to the security of the whole world. This is indeed an impressive role to be designated to a poor and underdeveloped country. Do the political leaders of the mighty powers really expect that North Korea will attack another country and thereby cause its own destruction? If not, in what ways does DPRK threaten the world’s security?

2. Representatives of the permanent members of the UNSC have expressed the opinion that the nuclear weapons test breaks international law. While the test must be condemned, we must remind these countries that some of them have not ratified the treaty against nuclear weapons testing, CTBT, whereby they prevent this treaty from becoming international law.
The nuclear test defies the demands made by the SC, but, unfortunately for the argument, there is no law or treaty to be broken. We consider a ratification of the CTBT of great importance. So, will the US Senate take the nuclear weapon tests by North Korea as a reason to immediately ratify the treaty?

3. South Korea has declared it intends to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, PSI, and it is prepared to stop and board ships from North Korea if South Korea suspects that the ship contains nuclear weapons or material possibly useful for making such weapons.
The PSI, however, is not international law; it is actually probably contrary to the laws of international sea transport. Is South Korea prepared to board and inspect ships containing material sent from the USA to India suspected to be useful for India's nuclear weapon program? Will South Korea stop and board a US nuclear submarine?

4. The SC declares that the missile test conducted by DPRK is illegal. While the test was contrary to the decision by the UNSC, why is a missile test by DPRK illegal but the tests by the nuclear weapon states legal?

5. According to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, NPT, and to the interpretation of international law given in the advisory opinion of the International Court in The Hague, the nuclear weapon states are obliged to enter into and bring to a conclusion negotiations about the abolition of all their nuclear weapons.
These states have not done anything in that direction, and thereby have considerably undermined the NPT. If they had done so, they would be in a stronger position, morally and politically, to condemn the Government of North Korea for seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

6. According to the decision of the Hague Court, any use or or threat to use nuclear weapons is generally against international and humanitarian law. The doctrines of all the five nuclear weapon states imply a threat to use nuclear weapons. That is against the law. If DPRK threatens to use its nuclear weapons, it also breaks international law. Has DPRK already threatened to use its nuclear weapons, as the nuclear weapon states have?

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7. Several of the nuclear weapon states claim they need nuclear weapons for their security. Why do they need nuclear weapons but not North Korea?
8. The government of DPRK has repeatedly stated that it wants a treaty on a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula. Of course, this implies inspections by the IAEA according to an additional protocol. The DPRK also wants a peace treaty. There is no evidence in the reports from the six party talks that these questions have been seriously discussed.
One must therefore propose that sincere negotiations start with the aim of creating a peace treaty and a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) on the Korean peninsula, maybe also including Mongolia, which already is a NWFZ.
Such a NWFZ should include binding negative security guarantees i.e. that no nuclear weapon state should use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against an country in that NWFZ.


* Former President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, IPPNW. Read also Westberg's article about the relative size of the threat from North Korea compared with that of the US, Russia and others.




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