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North Korean proliferation challenges: the role of the European Union

Non-proliferation Paper No. 18

Non-proliferation Paper No. 18

Publisher: SIPRI
15pp.
June, 2012

The bête noire of the global non-proliferation regime, North Korea has defeated every effort to rein in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and illicit arms trade. Neither sanctions, incentives nor ‘strategic patience’ have succeeded in bringing about anything more than a temporary stall in the development of these weapon systems. There appears to be no prospect that North Korea would barter its nuclear arsenal for diplomatic or economic gain. Having fewer stakes in North East Asia than the actors in the Six-Party Talks process, the European Union (EU) has played, at most, a supporting role, providing aid when incentives were called for and applying sanctions when that was in the script, while consistently promoting human rights. Yet if North Korea, under new leadership, moves towards market reforms in order to overcome its poverty trap, there may be opportunities for a greater EU role. Whether in conjunction with the EU’s closer relations with South Korea or through finally establishing a delegation office in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a more direct application of European soft power would better position the EU to assist the Korean Peninsula in future crises and to benefit from any positive turn of events.