SINGAPORE, June 1 (UPI) -- Over the weekend, defense ministers from around the world and specifically Asia pondered the North Korean nuclear issue and what could be done to resolve the current crisis.
But while everybody agreed a nuclear North Korea was "unacceptable," as put by Australian Minister for Defence Robert Hill, there was no clear consensus on a solution,
While U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz described North Korea's nuclear weapons program as the biggest threat to regional security, France Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, not always in agreement with the United States nowadays, noted "the situation there is very serious."
At the end of last year, North Korea acknowledged it is conducting a nuclear program using enriched uranium and then announced its withdrawal from the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. These developments have been accompanied by escalatory statements, a provocative cruise missile test and the interception of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace.
"Developments there are very disturbing," Hill echoed, adding "whatever the explanation, North Korea's decision to reactivate its nuclear program and withdraw from the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is clearly unacceptable."
Even Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba raised concerns and warned that "further escalation of the situation by North Korea would require tougher measures."
Yes, but which ones?
When it comes down to a solution to the nuclear stand-off, there are many different proposals, but so far no clear solutions, though one consensus is emerging: a solution will have to come from a multilateral approach.
Speaking on the sideline of a security summit organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Wolfowitz called for a "firm, common, multilateral position" among the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
"We are working with Japan and South Korea, our northeast Asia allies, as well as Russia and China to develop a common approach in North Korea to persuade them the course they are going down is a blind alley," Wolfowitz said, adding a consensus was beginning to build that "it's the only way we will be able to resolve this problem peacefully ... by carefully managing a multilateral approach to Pyongyang."
Hill added "all the evidence is that only concerted pressure has any prospect of influencing North Korea's behavior."
"We look to North Korea's North Asian neighors in particular to continue their efforts to convince North Korea to change course and welcome the efforts of Japan, China and South Korea in this regard," Hill said.
Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi agreed that continuation of the multilateral talks including Japan and South Korea was important. "At the same time, however, in my opinion, peaceful solution of the issue requires dialogue and pressure, and the U.S. position that all options should be on the table is an understandable one," Ishiba told delegates at the conference.
So far, the United Nations Security Council has not made any statement on the North Korea's nuclear issue, although a number of countries (France, U.S. and U.K.) would like to see it take a very strong position on North Korea and at least condemn the violation of North Korea's its treaty commitments.
"But Russia and China opposed the council taking a strong position because they fear it would be provocative and North Korea would respond in an inflammatory way, making it more difficult for the talks currently under way to make any progress," pointed Gary Samore, director of Studies at the ISSS.
Samore believed there is a general appreciation that "all of the options available have some pretty serious downside."
"This is not a situation where there is an obvious solution, which is easily grasped by everybody. Most people accept that the use of military forces is very unattractive, and there is a general acceptance that it would be counterproductive to succumb to North Korea's blackmail of bribing it," noted Samore.
Indeed, Wolfowitz admitted Saturday that neither military action nor "large scale bribery" would solve the issue.
Wolfowitz hinted North Korea's neighbors should use economic pressures on the country, pointing that at the opposite of Saddam Hussain's regime which was floating "on a sea of oil," North Korea "is teetering on the edge of economic collapse."
But this solution is unlikely to be accepted by either China or South Korea.
"They are very concerned that policy sanctions would be very dangerous and could either cause North Korea to react in a very negative way, perhaps even a violent way, or it could cause North Korea to collapse, which from Seoul and Beijing's standpoint could be very destabilizing and very costly," Samore said.
Japan appears closer to the United Statets in term of using some instruments of pressure, like trying to cut off North Korea's drug trade. "I think the problem should be tackled by the entire international community by further strengthening policing of such illegal activities," said Ishiba.
One option is the negotiation of a new agreement that would reframe the agreement that has now collapsed. This is an option that has "many attractive elements," but it would be a very difficult feat to achieve with the North Koreans, Samore said.