The United States currently has few options which can be applied to solve the North Korean (DRPK) situation. The use of military force is one of them, however the consequences of military action would be devastating even under the best scenarios, and thus require some time to show that it is the only solution.
One option that is rarely discussed in public but nevertheless is certainly being debated behind closed doors is the silent approval of DRPK as a nuclear state. For this option to succeed at this time, the cessation of missile (ICBM or similar missiles) tests and nuclear tests by DRPK would be required. The probability that the U.S. government will select this option is very low because of the high probability of DRPK missile or nuclear tests. It is also unlikely that North Korea will accept such conditions as they have not yet completed development of their nuclear program and ICBM missiles.
China and Russia both promote an option called Suspension for Suspension. With this option, the U.S. would be required to minimize drills with South Korea and Japan, or even eliminate them altogether. This option also means U.S. acceptance of the Russian or Chinese narrative and would propel one or both countries to the forefront of the narrative of the area.
The U.S. is currently applying this option due to the Olympic Games and temporarily allows the U.S. to take the initiative and wait for DRPK to make a move, or make a mistake. Now that the Olympics are over, it is just a matter of time to see if one or both sides resume their previous trajectory. Already the United States has planned drills with South Korea in the area.
The probability that DRPK will give up its nuclear weapons in the next few months is almost zero. There is, however, an alternative. Is nuclear sharing a solution which can help resolve the DRPK crisis? Some propose it may be, just as the nuclear sharing program between the United States and some NATO members give those members limited access to U.S. nuclear weapons.
As DRPK and China have formally signed a defence agreement, that agreement can be extended to include nuclear weapons. Such a change in the agreement would allow the DRPK to transfer responsibility for its nuclear forces from DRPK to China. Use of nuclear weapons by the DRPK would at that point would require China’s approval. A portion of the DRPK nuclear inventory would be allowed to stay on its territory, such as short-range missiles with small warheads, but all medium and long range missiles would be transferred to Chinese territory. Some Chinese troops would be located in the DRPK to control nuclear weapons. DRPK nuclear facilities would be closed and later replaced by a nuclear power plant built by the United States or France. A small number of DRPK troops would be transferred to a base in China where the missiles would be stored. Missile factories would be subject to inspection and all special tools, machines, and technical documentation specific to long and medium range missiles would also be removed from DRPK territory.
Why should the United States promote such a solution? A DRPK/China nuclear sharing program provides benefits for both the US and the DRPK. If DPRK were to agree, they would have following advantages:
1. DRPK will have its nuclear weapon dream realized, but under Chinese control.
2. DRPK can say that their nuclear program is complete.
3. DRPK will remain safe since a limited number of China troops will be located there.
4. Cancellation of UN sanctions against DRPK.
5. Kim Jong-Un can claim that in order to improve DRPK’s safety he agreed to create combined Chinese-Korean nuclear forces. Kim can also claim that by placing missiles in Chinese territory, it further increases the safety of the DRPK because those missiles are protected by Chinese armed forces.
6. A window of opportunity would open for a peace treaty with the United States.
7. A fast economic improvement of DRPK’s economy could be expected.
8. DRPK weapons would be under Chinese control. No military preparation is required.
9. DRPK tests crossing Japanese air space would cease.
10. The number of US, ROK, and Japanese military drills could be reduced.
11. The DRPK nuclear energy program would be tightly controlled since the reactor would be of US or French design. The U.S. could request Germany to purchase the reactor since the German SPD party does not want to increase military spending.
12. The United States can say that Russian and Chinese narratives did not solve problems and use it as an example on other cases.
13. The United States would essentially be delegating the DPRK nuclear problem to China.
This concept has advantages even if the DRPK were to reject the idea because then the United States can:
Claim that it was the DRPK’s choice to reject the possibility of having legally accepted nuclear weapons. The U.S. proposed an idea which should have been acceptable for both sides, creating a win/win scenario.
Claim that the DRPK rejected the chance to improve its safety by placing ICBMs on Chinese territory.
Claim that the Chinese and Russian narratives led to a frozen conflict, hurting the DRPK economy, basically not solving the problem for both sides, creating a lose/lose scenario.
Place blame the DRPK for the US utilizing a military solution with no other options available.
Claim it is looking for a long-term solution while China and Russia continue to use a frozen conflict strategy. In the case of the DRPK, a frozen conflict strategy has been used for more than 50 years.
If the DPRK were to accept the proposal, a DPRK/China nuclear sharing program would have the following ramifications in the event of a DRPK versus US/ROK/Japan conflict:
If the US/ROK/Japan attacked the DPRK. China would assist the DRPK according to their defence deal. The US would not be subject to a nuclear attack until China perceived such a move was necessary.
If the DRPK were to attack first, China would not have to support the DRPK’s actions. Again, the U.S. would not be subject to nuclear attack until China perceived that such a move was necessary.
While radical, and certainly to be a tough sell to the United States, a DRPK/China nuclear sharing program is a possible solution which could resolve the DRPK nuclear challenge. Unlike proposals from Russia and China, this concept would lead to a final solution. Both parties could say that they achieved their goals due to implementation of this deal.