On 15 September 2021, Republic of Korea (ROK) Minister of Unification Lee In-Young delivered a keynote speech at the first of three APLN webinars on the potential for an effective Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Cooperative Threat Reduction plus (CTR+) initiative. Below is the official English translation of his speech, which was made in Korean.
The three DPRK CTR+ webinars were sponsored by the ROK Ministry of Unification and the MacArthur Foundation, and supported by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). To learn more about them, click here.
“CTR and the Future of Denuclearization in Korea”
Minister Lee In-Young
[Official English Translation]
Mr. Chairman Moon Chung-in,
Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn,
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia Marty Natalegawa,
and Distinguished guests,
Good Morning, I am delighted to be here with you on this meaningful occasion.
I am Lee In-young, Minister of Unification of the Republic of Korea.
It gives me great pleasure and is meaningful that the Republic of Korea and the United States co-host the international conference on ‘Discovery of cooperative solutions for denuclearization of North Korea’.
First, I would like to convey my special thanks to Asia-Pacific Leadership Network who co-hosts this conference.
Furthermore, I would like to extend my gratitude and warm welcome from the bottom of my heart to many experts and government officials who prepared keynote speeches, presentations and discussions.
In particular, I hope this international conference provides a venue to discuss what possibilities and implications the international community’s experience of nuclear disarmament in the past can present for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Given the urgency of resolving North Korean nuclear issue and a need to engage with North Korea due to a stalemate in talks between North Korea and the United States, I think the conference is held at a particularly timely moment.
At this conference, I look forward to seeking more effective strategies to resolve North Korean nuclear issue and opening a ‘window of opportunity’ together for the new future of the Korean Peninsula.
The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a crossroads where one can neither be optimistic nor pessimistic.
There are opportunities to move forward denuclearization and establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula once again and concerns about returning to a vicious cycle of confrontation and heightened tension at the same time.
As you well know, North Korea–United States negotiations as well as inter-Korean dialogue and contact have been at a standstill since a no deal in Hanoi in 2019.
Meanwhile, I think close coordination and cooperation between the Republic of Korea and the United States laid an important foundation to resume dialogue among South, North Korea and the United States after the inauguration of the Biden administration early this year.
The Republic of Korea and the United States shared a common understanding of peaceful resolution through diplomacy and dialogue as well as a calibrated and practical approach. The two sides also agreed to build on the outcomes of the existing agreements, including Panmunjom Declaration and DPRK-US Joint Statement in Singapore.
Moreover, the United States emphasizes that they do not hold any hostile intent toward North Korea and offers to meet North Korea for dialogue without preconditions and expresses consistent support for inter-Korean dialogue, cooperation and engagement.
Given the final objective to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, to which South, North Korea and the United States agreed, is still effective and each country still keeps doors open for dialogue, I reckon we already have better situation than before to resume negotiations.
However, the fact that DPRK-US talks cannot be resumed for a long period of time is attributed to a lack of confidence between the two countries to a larger extent.
Therefore, it is our task to keep seeking and considering how to devise effective strategies for denuclearization and a realistic roadmap so that North Korea make determinations and implement the process of denuclearization without any security concern, while facilitating resumption of DPRK-US talks.
The efforts to draw North Korea closer and urge them to resume negotiations and dialogue and to seek creative and fundamental solutions encompassing the process and result of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have become immensely important.
I think that ‘Cooperative Threat Reduction’ which we will discuss today is a case study which provides an important historical experience and implication in the process of keeping detailed discussions on resolving North Korean nuclear issue.
As you all know, the CTR was a successful program which enabled a peaceful dismantlement of nuclear weapons in countries including Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus which inherited such weapons following the collapse of a Soviet Empire in exchange for security guarantee and economic support.
In the course of the end of the Cold War in early 1990s, the countries concerned including the United States recognized denuclearization as the task of mankind and actively mediated and supported to resolve such problem in a peaceful manner. Also, the countries which dismantle nuclear weapons were able to complete the CTR program successfully by receiving aids in commensurate with its dismantlement of nuclear weapons based on their right and realistic estimation that it is more beneficial for their social and economic development than possessing nuclear weapons.
Truly, the courses, ways and corresponding measures for denuclearization to resolve North Korean nuclear issue need to be worked out in negotiations. It is difficult to simply compare and apply denuclearization of the former Soviet Union to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula considering differences in geopolitics, time, and interests of the countries concerned.
Even so, I always believed that contemplating the CTR of the Korean Peninsula at this point is a useful approach in some aspects in consideration of some implications in the CTR cases to resolve North Korean nuclear issue.
First aspect is to establish a ‘comprehensive denuclearization model’ which includes security guarantee and economic cooperation. For this aspect, the CTR provides very important lessons-learnt.
Given that North Korea has great expectations for specific corresponding measures such as gradual lifting of sanctions, peace treaty, and normalization of DPRK-US relations depending on the progress in denuclearization, the fact that we provide a clear blueprint after dismantlement of nuclear weapons by reflecting the CTR could provide incentives and power for North Korea to come to negotiation tables.
In fact, the CTR guaranteed the security of the countries which dismantled nuclear weapons through treaties among the countries involved while it reduced the cost burden of the countries concerned in the process of dismantling nuclear weapons and converted manpower and facilities from military to civilian use and provided various economic cooperation projects simultaneously.
Second aspect is to provide institutional strategies to support the process of denuclearization. For this aspect, the CTR provides important lessons-learnt.
During the process of the implementation of the CTR in the past, the United States created the Nunn-Lugar Act in bipartisan action co-sponsored by the senators including Senator Sam Nunn who is with us today.
It appears that thorough compliance of the treaty and implementation of corresponding compensation measures based on the Act greatly contribute to the successful denuclearization.
There is already Panmunjom Declaration adopted by South and North Korea and Singapore Joint Statement signed by North Korea and the United States. Therefore, I think that we could support specific agreements and implementation options institutionally as much as possible through future negotiations.
Third aspect is to secure transparency of the process of denuclearization through multilateral participation and support. For this aspect, the CTR provides very important lessons-learnt.
This is because I think that we can carry out more verifiable and transparent denuclearization process through early engagement with participant countries and smooth cooperation between North Korea which dismantles nuclear weapons and the countries which support it by applying the CTR.
Going forward, it will be difficult for North Korea to derail from a virtuous cycle of such denuclearization process if the countries concerned including the Republic of Korea and the United States cooperate, support and divide roles. As a result, it could facilitate irreversible denuclearization as we build sustainability.
Additionally, in the Korean Peninsula version of the CTR, which will be more discussed in detail in the following discussions, I think that we can seek creative solutions which resolve North Korea’s energy supply problems through microgrids.
Apart from the aforementioned implications, I think that we could gain enough wisdom and insights which can be applied to the Korean Peninsula as we have many experts here including Dr. Hecker who personally experienced and researched the CTR program.
North Korean nuclear issue is a very crucial and essential matter which must be resolved to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Without the process of denuclearization, we can never make any fundamental progress in building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and developing inter-Korean relations.
The path we now have to walk on is the path that nobody has ever walked.
There is also no case to which we can perfectly refer.
But I recall President Nelson Mandela’s saying that “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great”.
And it falls upon South, North Korea, United States and the international community to be great for peace as now is the time to go over the most important threshold to resolve North Korean nuclear issue.
We stand ready to make progress again in the Korean Peninsula Peace Process by including past outcomes, trial and error as our assets.
I hope that North Korea pauses their long consideration and begins discussing how to resolve denuclearization, lifting of sanctions, a firm peace regime, normalization of DPRK-US relations and progress in inter-Korean relations at an early date with a view to accomplish ‘complete denuclearization’.
To this end, it is my sincere hope that a long view and strategic wisdom are gathered here in order to take one step forward to transform conflict and confrontation into genuine peace and co-prosperity.
Once again, I would like to thank you for your participation.