‘Sanctions alone can’t stop North Korea’s nuclear program’ – global security expert

© Kim Hong-Ji
Sanctions alone won’t make North Korea give up its nuclear program, and should be coupled with negotiations, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, Joe Cirincione, has told RT’s Ed Schultz. If that problem is solved, the global spread of nuclear weapons may be tackled, he added.

The US and South Korea are conducting their largest ever joint military exercises that are aimed at testing their capability to respond to potential North Korean strikes on the Korean Peninsula. Over 300,000 South Korean troops and about 17,000 US personnel are engaged in the drills, which follow North Korea's fourth nuclear test on January 6 and a long-range rocket launch on February 7. 

Pyongyang warned both states on Monday of a “preemptive nuclear strike” against the “undisguised nuclear war drills aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty” of North Korea.

A number of UN powers are concerned by North Korea’s alleged H-bomb test in January. The US and China drafted a resolution proposing new UN Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang. They have called for a stepping up of cargo inspections, both air and sea. 

Joe Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy and conflict resolution, says that this really puts the squeeze on North Korea.

“It tightens up an arms embargo; ships have already been searched in the high seas as result of these sanctions. It tightens up their supply of jet fuel – of key ingredients that they need to go forward with their nuclear program,” he told RT.

However, Cirincione argues that sanctions alone can’t stop North Korea’s nuclear program.

“Sanctions alone have never coerced a country into giving up a program,” he said. “But if you couple those with negotiations, the way we just did for Iran – then you have a shot at freezing the program and maybe rolling it back.” 

Kim Jong-un’s response to the sanctions was to fire short-range missiles and later on alert his country to be ready for nuclear war.

“It is a lot of nuclear bluster: prepare to deploy the weapons; prepare to have them on alert so that they could be used at a moment’s notice,” Cirincione told RT.

He said that in part North Korea gets the strategy from the US.

“We have about a thousand weapons on hair-trigger alert ready to go on a moment’s notice. So do the Russians,” Cirincione continued.

“If the big boys are doing it, he wants to have the same nuclear posture. But it is really more bluster than threat at this point,” the expert concluded.

The UN sanctions call for a ban on small arms and light weapons. However, some politicians believe that it will have little or no impact on the North.

North Korea is the last state of its kind, says Cirincione.

“We just concluded the deal with Iran, which has ended or at least postponed a nuclear threat from that country for a good two decades. There is no other country besides North Korea that is developing a new nuclear capability,” he told RT.

Cirincione believes that if the current North Korean problem is solved, the international community will be able to tackle the global spread of nuclear weapons that has plagued us for 70 years.

Speaking about American military capabilities, he is relatively positive and views US conventional military power as extremely formidable.

“We don’t need to pre-emptively hit North Korea with the nuclear weapon,” he said.

North Korean capabilities, according to Cirincione, are on the contrary very primitive and limited.

“It takes them days to assemble the rocket, for example, that they just tested launching a satellite into space. We can see that, we can observe that, we can hit that anytime we want. If we thought that was going to be a nuclear armed rocket, we would take it out before it left the launch pad,” he told RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.