The Tokyo Conference 2018Is North Korea's nuclear development program a threat to the world?

March 10, 2018

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Session 1: The destabilizing liberal world order, the present state of democracy and the role of the G-7


Between March 9 and 11 2018, Genron NPO hosted its second Tokyo Conference, invited experts from ten think tanks around the world - in addition to four observers from South Korea and the People's Republic of China - to come together and engage in dialogue regarding some of the most important issues facing our planet. The discussions resulted in the drafting of an appeal to be presented to the next G7 host - Canada - regarding issues Genron and its partners have deemed to be of some urgency.

On March 10, the second day of Tokyo Conference 2018, an open forum was convened at United Nations University in Shibuya, where the experts and observers could present their arguments and counterpoints before the general public. While there was some disagreement about the means of solving the issues, there was consensus from all regarding the benefits of working together in a multilateral way, and the dangers we face if the root causes of the problems are left unaddressed.

The article below is a summary of the keynote speech provided by Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera, some of the main points covered by the speakers during the second session, and information about the statement presented to the government representative from Canada, which will be hosting the next G-7 Summit in June.


Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera opened Session 2 with a keynote address that laid out the history of interactions with the regime in North Korea.

Onodera began by mentioning the previous day's news regarding the announcement of a summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, scheduled to take place by the end of May 2018. He expressed his hopes that these talks would lead to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but he warned that past dealings with North Korea suggest that success will not be so easily achieved.

North Korea first threatened to leave the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in 1993, and it launched a Nodong missile that May. For some time after, North Korea "pretended to come to the table" but continued to develop its arsenal as it did so.

"They are one of the most serious threats to the world," Onodera warned. He went on to mention its continued nuclear weapon tests - three of which were conducted in 2016 and 2017 - and reminded the audience that the last test had been estimated as having a yield that potentially matched that of a hydrogen bomb.

North Korea's ballistic missile testing program has also continued unabated, Onodera continued. It has conducted as many as 40 tests in the previous two years, leading up to its latest missile which the country claims can travel 10,000 km, a distance that brings the mainland United States into range.

Onodera reiterated that North Korea's programs are a serious threat to Japan and the rest of the world. In response to its provocations, the international community has come together to enforce various sanctions in the hopes that it will return to the table to engage in dialogue. Onodera emphasized that we must be sure that they are "serious about the dialogue this time," and diplomatic efforts should be backed up by military defense, a point on which both Onodera and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis are in agreement.

Session 2 Discussion

The discussion in Session 2 was moderated by Ichiro Fujisaki, President of The America-Japan Society and former Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Fujisaki began the discussion by asking the panel to consider solutions to an issue brought up in Onodera's keynote, asking, "How can the international community ensure it is not betrayed by North Korea during the peace process?"

Yuji Miyamoto, Chairman of the Miyamoto Asia Institute and former Japanese Ambassador to China, was first to respond. He said that the panel should consider why North Korea chose this particular time to make its approach. Miyamoto believes it is due to the actions of the international community.

Miyamoto explained that no one knows if North Korea is a "rational player" or not, and this issue has become more important now that it has its own nuclear weapons. That ambiguity has caused some to worry about how the U.S. will respond in the case of a North Korean attack on South Korea or Japan.

"If we can't rely on US anymore," he said. "The strategic environment will change completely."

He also warned that allowing North Korea to become a nuclear power lowers the threshold for other countries to take the same steps, which could result in terrorists or other groups obtaining nuclear weapons.

"At all cost, we must eliminate nuclear weapons from North Korea before they have the chance to share them," he said.


Former Administrative Vice-Minister of Defense Masanori Nishi built upon that point by noting that sanctions have had an effect on North Korea. Nishi also said that we should recognize Kim Jong Un's "nerve" for bearing up under the strain of sanctions and other measures. However, his invitation to negotiate likely means that he has a reason for being confident that he will do well in such negotiations.

The stake for the rest of the world is denuclearization of the peninsula, Nishi continued, but that isn't the goal of North Korea. Nishi mentioned that he is not sure the U.S., Russia, Japan and other countries can trust what North Korea says, and we "must be prepared for any hidden traps."

Ming Liu is Executive Director of the Institute of International Relations at China's Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and he had a different opinion about North Korea's willingness to engage in dialogue, pointing to continued back-channel talks between the U.S. and North Korea through Europe. The reason it took until this year to have public talks was, Liu believes, due to poor timing after various diplomatic spats between the two countries that took place at the U.N. and in the media last year.

Another reason he may have waited was that he wanted to ensure his Hwasong-15 missiles were complete, which put him in a better position to negotiate.

"I think we underestimated him," Liu continued. "I think he is quite sophisticated."

Liu is pessimistic about what results are possible from the upcoming talks, but much depends, he says, on the demands of the U.S. He said that China, South Korea and Japan all agree on wanting a denuclearized North Korea, "but maybe the U.S. has other goals."

Liu also warned that the international community must prepare for the consequences of these two "unpredictable leaders" getting together.


Next to speak was Dukmin Yun, Chair Professor at Hankook University of Foreign Studies in the Republic of Korea. Yun agreed with the Minister of Defense's comparison of the current situation to the situation in 1993. President Bill Clinton had been prepared for the military option at that, and the North Korean leadership eventually invited former President Jimmy Carter to take part in a summit. Yun suggested that, "Kim Jong Un is more or less doing the same thing."

The major difference now, Yun noted, is that North Korea has nuclear weapons and missiles that have a range that can reach South Korea, Japan, and further. Yun stressed that international society must come together, and that denuclearization is a goal that "everybody in this room shares."

"But the North also knows that," he added. "And they are skilled at breaking up international alliances."

Seong-Mook Moon is Director of Inter-Korean Affairs at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, and a former Brigadier General in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

Moon noted that Kim Jong Un seems to have changed tack in expressing an interest in dialogue, but he wondered how serious about it he is.

"Kim seems to be willing to denuclearize, as there is no reason for (nuclear weapons) if the regime is maintained," he said. However, Moon also believes that North Korea's ultimate goal is the unification of the peninsula through invading South Korea and making it communist. In order to achieve that, "the U.S. bases have to go. No more US exercises... that's why they've run those tests and launched missiles."

With the international community coming together in applying sanctions, Moon says that Kim Jong Un is now feeling cornered, which is why he had to shift focus to a dialogue with the U.S.

"Kim Jong Un is cornered, and he has to commit, not just with words...but if the partnership between South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. is strengthened, he cannot change our path."


James Goldgeier is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. Goldgeier hopes that Trump will succeed, but he also mentioned that he shares the pessimism of the other speakers on the panel.

"Trump is focused on his own publicity, and it makes no difference if his team is on a consistent message. Most foreign policy is boring, and that's best, but that doesn't appeal to Trump," he explained.

Regarding the planned talks, Goldgeier thinks that the Trump administration does not have the expertise it needs to do it correctly.

"What is more problematic is that even if he had the experts, he doesn't listen," he added.

One question that remains is what sort of result will be acceptable for the U.S.

"Kim already got he wants," Goldgeier said. "He looks like an equal to the US president, and not because he's cornered, but because he succeeded in getting nuclear weapons."

Goldgeier concluded by echoing Ming Liu's assessment about the unpredictability of the situation.

"What happens when Trump fails to achieve his goal?" he asked. "Expect tremendous uncertainty."


Thomas Gomart, Director of the French Institute of International Relations, believes that we are not facing a nuclear crisis yet, but are taking the first steps towards one. He emphasized the need for a relationship between the E.U. and North Korea, but noted that one of the barriers in any future negotiation arises from the current deal with Iran.

If that deal is "destroyed", Gomart believes, it will be difficult to expect a positive outcome out of negotiations with North Korea.

Ettore Greco is Executive Vice President of Italy's Institute of International Affairs, and he outlined three requirements that must be met in order to lay the proper groundwork for success. First, there needs to be a real deal under which North Korea gives up its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions. Second, there needs to be a multilateral framework that alleviates any regional concerns. Finally, Greco sees the need for a "robust and effective reeducation system" provided by an E.U. nuclear agency.

Carlos Ivan Simonsen Leal, President of the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil, pointed out that logic dictates that if Kim and Trump are now announcing talks, either an agreement has already been reached, or one of the parties wants to enlarge the agreement.

He wondered whether the U.S. is accepting an increased risk because their goal differs from the goals of the other parties involved. Perhaps, he said, this is the first step in a multi-stage strategy aimed at a major opponent in the area.


John Nilsson-Wright, a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House in the U.K., believes that it would be appropriate to adapt Ronald Reagan's Cold War strategy "trust, but verify" to read "distrust, and verify" when coming to an agreement with North Korea.

He added that the international community must also demonstrate to North Korea that military preparation will increase on the part of U.S. and its two key allies in the region if it fails to comply with any terms reached. He also warned that governments in the region should be concerned about what Trump is willing to trade to "get his deal" as negotiations could even result in the withdrawal of U.S. forces based in South Korea or Japan.

Rohinton Medhora is President of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada, and he raised the issue of non-nuclear threats posed by North Korea.

"(Nuclear weapons) are a threat, but so are cyber-attacks," he said. Medhora is worried that the international community is focusing too much on this single issue without thinking about the bigger picture.

"We need to talk about how to deal with a rogue regime," he stressed.

One way to deal with it, he suggested, would be by having a United Nations Security Council "with teeth, and more representative."


Chairman Sunjoy Joshi of India's Observer Research Foundation stated that there is consensus among the speakers regarding the end goal: "lose the nuclear weapons." However, all partners in the process must keep careful watch over negotiating a path to that end goal, because while the Western image of Kim Jong Un has him playing the role of a bully, he may actually be quite intelligent.

Wrapping up the initial discussion was Keng Yong Ong, Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He believes that more needs to be known about China's interests. As a member of ASEAN, Ong "would be happy to see a reduction in tension" as both sides attempt to find a way to deal with the situation, but for Ong, one major question that remains is "how clever Kim is." He wonders whether Kim's behavior is strategic, or if he is just playing a role that appeals to the character of Trump.

The discussion continued, and participants raised other issues that need to be addressed before successful negotiations can be expected. These included determining necessary exit strategies in the denuclearization process, presenting a unified front in negotiations, and alleviating worries about U.S. reliability on the part of both its allies and North Korea (due to recent statements by President Trump on the Iran nuclear deal framework.)

Once the discussions were complete, Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo took to the stage to present the Tokyo Conference 2018 Statement to the Group of Seven Summit. During the discussions between the think tanks, the experts agreed that the G-7 should deliver a "strong and effective message to the world in order to respect and protect values such as freedom, multilateralism and democracy, and that it should serve as the engine to drive the task of realizing such values and norms."


The experts in attendance agreed on the statement to the G7 Summit in Canada.

The 2018 G-7 summit will be held in June in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada, and in attendance to accept the Tokyo Conference 2018 statement was Nadia Burger, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Canada in Japan. She provided the forum with an introduction to Canada's goals during its presidency of the G-7, and expressed Canada's appreciation for the work Genron NPO and other think tanks do in coming together to engage in dialogue on global challenges and international priorities.


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