Jeffrey Robertson, "Resolving the North Korean Nuclear Crisis—Options and Constraints", Issues Brief, Parliament of Australia, June 2003

Executive Summary

The current North Korean nuclear crisis commenced in October 2002 and has been marked by the erratic escalation of the crisis and the strong reluctance of both the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to agree upon a framework for the commencement of negotiations to resolve the dispute. The trilateral talks between the United States, the DPRK and China in Beijing 23–25 April 2003 took the first steps toward the possible resolution of the crisis. However the path towards a resolution of the crisis remains difficult given both the lack of politically tenable options and the powerful constraints on these options.

The constraints and influences on options to resolve the crisis vary widely, but are firmly based on both United States domestic politics and the opacity of DPRK intentions. The November 2004 US Presidential Elections, potential nuclear proliferation and the war against terror, combined with the media emphasised split in the Bush administration, reinforce the influence of domestic politics on DPRK–US relations influences that remain strong given not its current prominence, but rather its potential to become both prominent and politically dangerous. Further constraints and influences on options to resolve the crisis include the maintenance of the US alliance framework and the historical mistrust between the US and the DPRK.

The options to resolve the crisis from the US perspective can be categorised into the diametrically opposed long-term aims to either tolerate the regime or to seek regime change. These categories intersect to form a third short to medium-term category which allows deferral of the decision on regime change or tolerance to the longer term. Seeking regime change could include military strike or enforcement and escalation options. Tolerating the regime could include internationalisation or regionalisation of the crisis, or tacit acceptance of a nuclear North Korean state. The short to medium term options include continuing the current US policy of 'strategic neglect' or undertaking comprehensive negotiations.

All options, in considering the powerful constraints and influences likely to play on them, retain the common features of a prolonged period of policy formulation accompanied by flexibility in the initial stages. This provides an increased opportunity for the pursuit of middle-power diplomacy given Australia's unique situation as a regional state and US ally, having diplomatic relations with the DPRK. Further interest by other non-directly involved middle-power regional states such as Canada and Indonesia could add force to the pursuit of a resolution reflecting Australia's regional interests.

North Korea Nuclear Options Constraints.pdf