Answers to: NFU Leads to North Korean Denuclearization

In the demonstration debate, the Pro team argued that US adoption of NFU would result in North Korean denuclearization and they claimed multiple advantages from such denuclearization.

While there are many benefits to North Korea denuclearizing, it is unlikely to result from a US NFU pledge.

If I were debating, how would I tackle this argument?

First, I would challenge their evidence that says a US NFU pledge would result in North Korean denuclearization. Frankly, I haven’t seen any evidence that makes such a direct claim. The Pro may bluster about how North Korea doesn’t like US nuclear threats, but I doubt have a card that says that a US NFU announcement would cause NK to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

Second, I’d point out why North Korea would fear that the US would break the pledge or even that it could be changed after the next Presidential election, as NFU is just a declaration made by the executive branch. North Korea isn’t going to simply trust the US not to attack it or think that the US will keep the NFU policy forever.

Roehrig 17 [Terence Roehrig, Ph.D., Professor of National Security Affairs and the Director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Group. He has been a Research Fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard University in the International Security Program and the Project on Managing the Atom and a past President of the Association of Korean Political Studies. He has published numerous books, articles and book chapters on Korean and East Asian security issues, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S.-South Korea alliance, human rights, and transitional justice. Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War. 2017. Chapter 7.]

These credibility questions are also tied to the Obama administration’s reluctance to provide a “no first use” guarantee and its willingness to go only so far as a negative security assurance. There is merit in providing a “no first use” guarantee, particularly in regard to China. While these guarantees are suspect, they can contribute to overall strategic stability, particularly in a crisis. However, in the case of North Korea, Pyongyang is unlikely to believe it regardless. Even if the United States rescinded the nuclear umbrella in a formal declaration, North Korea and other adversaries could never be certain whether Washington would use nuclear weapons. As long as the United States possesses a nuclear arsenal, the DPRK will likely have little trust in a U.S. commitment not to use nuclear weapons first or a declaration that removes the nuclear umbrella from Japan and South Korea.14 U.S. skeptics place little faith in the “no first use” statements of North Korea and China, and the reverse would also likely be the case.

Third, the fundamental assumption of their argument is flawed. It assumes the US would negotiate NK giving up nuclear weapons in exchange for a US NFU pledge. Their advocacy means the US simply makes the pledge, meaning that NK would just pocket the concession and move on.

Fourth, The US is not credible and North Korea thinks the US will invade it if it gives up its nukes. History proves their fears are correct.

Tom Le, July 11, 2019,, It’s Not Just Trump: Why North Korea Won’t Denuclearize

Hard bargaining legitimizes Kim’s leadership and scores political points domestically. More importantly, a nuclear capability may be the only thing preventing the international community from intervening in North Korean affairs. The U.S. has a history of withdrawing support from, and even overthrowing, states that have willingly relinquished their nuclear programs. onsider the case of Libya, which John Bolton has argued as a potential model for North Korean disarmament. Muammar Qaddafi’s abrupt 2003 announcement of his intention to discontinue Libya’s nascent nuclear weapons program was a sort of best-case scenario of non-proliferation. In exchange for improved economic and diplomatic relations with the U.S. and the West, Qaddafi’s government was remarkably cooperative, welcoming international monitors to oversee its compliance, acceding to international non-proliferation agreements, and even calling upon other states to discontinue their nuclear programs. But eight years later, U.S.-Libya relations crumbled. Facing reports of human rights abuses and rhetoric from the Qaddafi regime that revealed a potential genocide, the Obama administration authorized NATO air strikes that ultimately enabled its overthrow. Although Trump has displayed less interest than his predecessors in punishing state-sponsored human rights abuses, disarmament would nonetheless make North Korea vulnerable to more forceful international criticism, and perhaps even action, on its dismal human rights record.The case of Iraq is similar. Although inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iraq’s WMD programs had been dismantled, the Bush administration launched the Iraq War on the allegation that Iraq had renewed its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Like Libya, the regime that willingly conceded to U.S. demands for disarmament was toppled by the U.S. military.North Korea blames the regime changes in both states on their unwillingness to disarm, stating “The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Qaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord.”U.S. presidents have struggled to articulate a consistent message regarding North Korea. On the one hand, departing from Clinton’s policy of engagement and the 1994 Agreed Framework, Bush labeled North Korea a member of his Axis of Evil, noting “America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security.” Similarly, Obama stated he: “will not hesitate to use our military might.” And lest we forget, it was Trump that ratcheted up tensions with North Korea by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”On the other hand, they all sought peaceful engagement with North Korea. Bush through the Six-Party Talks, Obama secured a brief halt of North Korean nuclear testing, and Trump characterizes his relationship with Kim as a “Great Friendship.” A tit-for-tat strategy may be the norm, but not all nations have the luxury of turning on a dime like the U.S Apparent is an American desire to have it both ways, seeking greater cooperation, while resorting to the language of fire and fury whenever North Korea misbehaves. While doing so appeals to a segment of the American electorate, it diminishes the U.S.’ negotiating credibility, as North Korea is unable to trust American intentions. Another interpretation is North Korea knows exactly what it wants and can point to U.S. waffling to justify its inaction.Indeed, in April 2019 Kim stated: “Though the United States calls for a negotiated settlement of issues, it is stirring up hostility to us day after day, which is an act that is as foolish and risky as an attempt to put out a fire with oil. The U.S. made clear to the world the power, clout, and security that nuclear weapons brought when it dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. U.S. anti-nuclear actions have not been as ambitious or quick as necessary. Observers may point to U.S. led efforts that have resulted in an 85% reduction in global nuclear stockpiles, yet for weak states such as North Korea, there is no qualitative difference between 30,000 warheads and 6,000 warhead Concerning disarmament and non-proliferation, the U.S. suffers a legitimacy deficit. The future of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is in doubt, as non-nuclear states have grown frustrated with the piecemeal approach to non-proliferation and disarmament. The U.S. has been perfectly willing to criticize North Korea (here, here, and here) and Iran (here, here, and here), while committing $1 trillion to renovate its nuclear arsenal and announcing its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms control treaty. Additionally, the Trump administration has made no effort to extend the New START Treaty, set to expire in 2021. When Trump has promised to make American nuclear capability “top of the pack,” there are few carrots the U.S. can offer that does not seem entirely self-serving.North Korea is also mindful of the U.S.’ constant military build-up. Approving a 2019 defense budget of $717 billion, Trump proudly stated: “we are going to strengthen our military like never ever before and that’s what we did.” Meanwhile, the continued escalation of tensions with Russia and threats to “invade” Venezuela leave little uncertainty what this militarization is meant to accomplish. It certainly does not help that one-third of Americans would support a preemptive strike on North Korea.This is not to argue that North Korea is blameless – its mercurial nature and flagrant disregard of its commitments more than warrants scrutiny. However, since the end of WWII, the U.S. has shown that it respects nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons buy a seat at the table. If the U.S. is serious about getting North Korea to denuclearize, it needs to take steps towards reining in its militarization, which includes more aggressive disarmament.

Fifth, North Korea isn’t going to give up nuclear weapons because it fears a conventional attack by superior US and South Korean nuclear weapons.

Mark Deptris wrote on July 31st, 2020, Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a columnist at the Washington Examiner, The Diplomat, Peace in Korea Can Happen Without Denuclearization,

If the Trump administration still possessed an inkling of hope that North Korea would denuclearize, Kim Jong Un gave an unambiguous answer during a July 28 address — not in your wildest dreams. “We have become able to reliably defend ourselves against any form of high-intensity pressure and military threat by imperialist reactionaries and other hostile forces,” the Korean Central News Agency reported Kim as telling a group of war veterans that day. “Thanks to our reliable and effective self-defense nuclear deterrence, the word war would no longer exist on this land, and the security and future of our state will be guaranteed forever.” Struggle through the flowery jargon typical of North Korean state media and one can’t miss the elephant in the room: North Korea’s nuclear weapons are here to stay. It is far past time for U.S. policy to account for that reality.  Since North Korea’s first underground nuclear test in 2006, three consecutive U.S. administrations have based U.S. policy on the same set of dubious propositions: that peace on the Korean Peninsula is not possible until the Kim dynasty proves its willingness to surrender its nuclear program; that economic sanctions will over time force Pyongyang to meet Washington’s denuclearization demands; and that North Korea is a dangerous, revisionist state ruled by an irrational government one of these assumptions has grown more irrelevant with the passage of time and should be immediately discarded. The third assumption — North Korea as a suicidal state — is the easiest to refute. While no one can doubt Pyongyang’s ability to ruthlessly suppress its own people or ignore its talent for massive displays of propaganda, the Kim dynasty has revealed itself to be shrewdly focused on its own survival and imminently rational. Attaining a nuclear arsenal to ensure regime survival is actually a wise choice for North Korea, an isolated and impoverished state with no real allies, the United States as its long-time adversary, and neighbors infinitely wealthier and more technologically capable than anything the Kim dynasty could hope for. You don’t need a doctorate in political science to recognize why asking North Korea to trade away its ultimate security guarantee for promises of sanctions relief, economic development, and diplomatic normalization is the definition of a tall order.    This leads us to the second assumption about sanctions. Utilizing the U.S.-dominated financial system to punish adversaries and force competitors to change their behavior has become perhaps the favored tool in Washington’s foreign policy toolbox. Yet time and again, U.S. policymakers and lawmakers are unable to grasp the concept that targeted countries have independent agency and often an incentive to resist this kind of economic pressure from more dominant powers. As the North Koreans have demonstrated for the last 14 years, they are far more likely to skirt the banking and trading sanctions by exploiting an ever more innovative list of tactics than take the risk of submitting to U.S. policy demands and leaving Pyongyang exposed to a number of unpleasant future scenarios. No amount of U.S. or international sanctions, export quotas, or military exercises in the region will scare Pyongyang into signing away its nuclear life insurance policy.  But the most significant reason Washington’s North Korea policy has failed is because the U.S. foreign policy establishment continues to link peace on the Korean Peninsula with Pyongyang’s denuclearization. By this logic, one can’t occur without the other. Any outside-the-box thinking on this matter is shunted aside as unworthy of discussion. Unfortunately, this is the same logic that prevents the two Koreas from making even the slightest diplomatic progress with one another. Despite efforts from South Korean officials who aim to increase cross-border trade and incrementally break down barriers with the North, Washington’s unwillingness to give Seoul the flexibility to implement in its own policy toward its neighbor is gumming up South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s inter-Korean initiative to the point of immobility. The conventional paradigm that has dominated Washington’s outlook on North Korea for so long presupposes that Washington and Pyongyang are incapable of coexisting peacefully, decreasing hostility, and improving their relationship. But recent history shows how inaccurate this kind of statement is. If the United States and the Soviet Union could maintain a degree of comity with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons between them, there is no reason the U.S. and North Korea can’t at the very least manage their relationship to ensure miscommunication is checked and war is avoided. Let’s face it: Pyongyang is going to remain a nuclear weapons state for the foreseeable future. U.S. policymakers must learn to live with this reality. They can begin by replacing the tired, stale approach of yesteryear with one that is new, bold, and far more realistic.

Sixth, Turn – a reduction in the US security commitment to South Korea causes them to go nuclear

Terry 16 [Sue Mi Terry, a managing director for Bower Group Asia, is a former senior North Korea analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. An American Nuclear Umbrella Means a Lot to Northeast Asia. 2016.]

North Korea is racing ahead with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Publicly available estimates suggest that by 2020 it will have the ability to hit the continental United States with a nuclear-missile; by that point it may have as many as 100 nuclear warheads. Even before then North Korea poses a growing danger to its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, which both have the technology to field their own nuclear weapons in relatively short order.

Why haven’t South Korea and Japan gone ahead and nuclearized already? A big part of the explanation is the faith they have placed in the American nuclear umbrella. But that faith is starting to erode.

There are growing calls from South Korean lawmakers in the conservative, ruling Saenuri Party to develop nuclear weapons — an option that was endorsed by 54 percent of those surveyed by Gallup Korea in January 2016. What would happen if South Korea were to go nuclear? Japan would follow suit. And then we would be in the midst of a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear-arms race involving Japan, South Korea, North Korea and China, similar to the nuclear competition that already exists between India and Pakistan. The chances of a catastrophic conflict would greatly increase. That would not be in the interests of Northeast Asia or in the interests of America.

The North nukes for prestige, they can’t solve this

Yangmo Ku, May 2017,  North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence, Kindle edition, page number at end of card   Yu – Professor of poltical science, Norwich University

Considering these circumstances, I think there is currently no panacea for resolving the North Korean nuclear problem. It also appears unrealistic to expect the Kim Jong-un regime to return to the NPT and/ or to the negotiating table for denuclearization. The regime has  already declared North Korea to be a nuclear state, and it places enormous weight on nuclear weapons for enhancing its regime security and legitimacy. In this adverse circumstance, one feasible option might be to try to manage the North Korean nuclear crisis more safely through an engagement policy. Given the history of the nuclear standoff between the DPRK and the international community over the last two decades, I realize that North Korea’s nuclear development was at least frozen and delayed during diplomatic talks. Of course, this goal would not be easy to achieve owing to the DPRK’s recalcitrant actions and top US leaders’ notably negative view of the DPRK.

Evans J.R. Revere Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution, February 8, 2017, 2017: Year of Decision on the Korean Penninsula,

One of the most fundamental challenges President Trump faces is that there is now almost no prospect that diplomacy, dialogue, and conventional pressure can convince North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program. With one possible exception (to be discussed below), the range of approaches that might have convinced Pyongyang to denuclearize have been tried; all have failed. As a result, the faint hopes optimists once harbored that North Korea could be persuaded through diplomacy and dialogue to give up its nuclear weapons have all but evaporated. Bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral and six-party dialogues have all come to naught. UN Security Council resolutions, incremental up-ticks in economic and diplomatic sanctions, and even redlines have not worked. Neither has the provision of economic, agricultural, and energy assistance – including supplying the North with light-water nuclear reactors. Cultural exchanges and assurances of a better life for the North Korean people have left Pyongyang unimpressed. Promises of diplomatic and economic normalization and offers to give the DPRK membership in international financial institutions and to bring it into the community of nations have fallen on deaf ears. Declarations of non-hostility and promises of high-level summitry have done nothing to move North Korea’s leadership. And multiple security assurances by U.S. presidents and promises to accept the legitimacy of the North Korean regime have failed. Instead, Pyongyang has slammed the door on denuclearization and made the pursuit of nuclear weapons a formal part both of its constitution and its national development plan. Nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them are now part of North Korea’s national identity. These weapons are, in the mind of the North Korean leader, the tools by which the regime will be preserved and by which it will defeat attempts to overthrow it. North Korea has decided it will not go the way of Iraq or Libya or, for that matter, Syria.