A return to the Six-Party Talks?

Parliament house flag post

A return to the Six-Party Talks?

Posted 6/10/2011 by Marty Harris

In diplomacy, as in comedy, timing is everything. Recent diplomatic signals suggest that the time for a return to the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program has arrived—even if the incentives of the participating countries do not match.

The Six-Party Talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, seek a negotiated end to the North Korean nuclear weapons program. The talks started in August 2003 and have been effectively stalled since 2008. Since that time, relations between the two Koreas have deteriorated, culminating in the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and the November 2010 North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

North Korean incentives

At this stage, there appears to be no clear long-term strategic incentive for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The program has to date maintained international focus on North Korea, and allowed it to obtain substantial concessions, which have strengthened the regime. The examples of Iraq and Libya demonstrate that abandoning the threat of a nuclear weapons program weakens a regime's ability to resist external pressure for reform.

Further, the domestic narrative on the issue in North Korea runs contrary to current diplomatic signals seeking a return to the talks. The domestic narrative demonstrates no intent to abandon the nuclear program, but rather continues to demonstrate a conviction to its further development.

However, at this stage, there appear to be several clear short-term incentives for North Korea to recommence negotiations with South Korea and the US. The Six-Party Talks could provide North Korea with:

  • aid and relaxation of sanctions to alleviate its deteriorating economic situation;
  • concessions to demonstrate strength as planning for political succession continues; and
  • increased negotiating leverage as it balances major power interests.
 Accordingly, North Korean aims are focused on short-term goals. It appears highly likely that negotiations would proceed until North Korea has obtained maximum concessions without impact on its long-term strategic aim of developing a nuclear weapons program. Several commentators have convincingly argued that considerably stronger disincentives should be communicated to North Korea on a return to the Six Party Talks.

South Korean incentives

The history of negotiation with North Korea on nuclear issues does not provide for much optimism. This suggests that there are other incentives pushing the resumption of the Six-Party Talks in South Korea. These could include:
  • presidential legacy—the desire to secure a 'legacy' in inter-Korean affairs is apparent in the administration's current efforts. With one year left in the five-year presidential term, there remains time for a summit meeting and an agreement on North-South cooperation.
  • electoral pressure—the Lee administration is making moves to play down its hard line North Korea policy. Conservatives fear a voter backlash if North Korea becomes a major issue in the National Assembly and Presidential elections in April 2012 and December 2012, respectively.
  • political pressure—in emotional terms, the prolific images of malnutrition and hungry children emanating from North Korea outweighs the equally prolific images of military parades and overweight leaders. Accordingly, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in South Korea are pushing politicians to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea. Indirect pressure is also applied through diplomatic channels, with US and EU NGOs also putting pressure on politicians to provide humanitarian aid to North Korea.
It could be argued that very few people in South Korea believe that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program. At the same time, it is accepted that dialogue, and ultimately concessions, will suspend further provocative behaviour by North Korea. This reduces the potential for negative effects on the South Korean economy and the subsequent effects on the average citizen's socio-economic well-being.

Timing is everything

While the current indications are that the Six-Party Talks may soon once again recommence, few hold much hope for them ever reaching their objective. In 2012, elections will be held in South Korea, the United States and Russia, while China and Japan are also going through important changes in domestic leadership.

Accordingly, attention on the Six-Party Talks will be secondary at best. This provides the best opportunity for North Korea to obtain its objectives of a relaxation of sanctions; the securing of further economic incentives; and the bolstering of its negotiating position vis-à-vis major powers. In diplomacy, as in comedy, timing is everything.

Post authored by Jeffrey Robertson, Senoir Researcher, Foreign Affairs, Defence & Security Section


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]




Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

Refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment indigenous Australians Sport illicit drugs gambling people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations health financing Asia Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA income management Industrial Relations emissions trading dental health Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention 43rd Parliament Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police people smuggling poker machines National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service constitution International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection Aviation debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment Census politics High Court skilled migration election results voting mental health Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS governance youth paid parental leave environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs Senate doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur Electoral reform political parties banking firearms public policy Population violence against women domestic violence China ADRV terrorism science research and development social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation accountability public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning Senators and Members United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs health reform Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing health system money laundering early childhood education Canada Financial sector UK Parliament national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity transparency Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration Australia Greens federal election 2010 servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship human rights emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency productivity human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia United Kingdom GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits ANZUS qantas counselling

Show all
Show less
Back to top