Hugh Chalmers: North Korean testing may close door on talks

CONDEMNATION has been widespread and nearly universal in response to North Korea’s nuclear test.

But the most important response will come from the United Nations Security Council.

At this early stage it is very easy to object to, or to condemn, North Korea’s plainly provocative actions. However, it will take time for the international community to agree a co-ordinated response.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A key issue will be the long-stalled six-party talks. These talks, involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are aimed at finding a peaceful, multilateral resolution to security concerns caused by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

These talks have had a chequered history, and while they maintain support in the broader international community, many of those involved have little enthusiasm to return to the table.

This was not always the case. Despite North Korea’s rocket launch in December, there was still optimism at the start of 2013 that leadership changes in North and South Korea, China and Japan might be accompanied with a fresh approach to a regional dialogue.

However, there is now very little chance for any substantive diplomatic engagement between regional states (aside from China) and North Korea in the short to medium term.

The UK still has an embassy in Pyongyang, but it will treat any engagement with its hosts with extreme caution: engagement could be exactly what North Korea wanted.

While China will keep close relations with North Korea, these relationships will certainly be strained. And although China has called for a return to the six-party talks, it is highly unlikely any negotiations will take place.

Unfortunately, in recent inflammatory statements North Korea has made it plain that even if any regional dialogue were to begin, the nuclear issue would be firmly off the table.

• Hugh Chalmers is a nuclear analyst with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.