The North-East Asian nuclear situation often casts North Korea as a rogue player, however the situation is far more complex than it initially seems.
The world needs a Nuclear Free Zone in North East Asia.
The region is awash with plutonium, over 40 tons of which is concentrated in Japan. South Korea made it publically known in September 2004 that it had uranium enriched far beyond that needed for peaceful nuclear use.
Since1994 North Korea has alternated between agreeing to halt all nuclear weapons development in exchange for energy assistance and development aid, and continuing to move forward with its nuclear weapons programme. To address this stalemate the Six Party talks, which include Japan, China, the US, Russia and the two Koreas began in 2003. The Joint Statement emerging from the 5th round of talks in September 2005 committed the parties to joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in North East Asia, with an agreement 'to explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in northeast Asia.'
Those ways and means should include a Nuclear Free Zone, through which North Korea would agree to abandon plans for a nuclear energy and weapons programand submit to IAEA inspections. This process should be encouraged by a renewable energy aid package. Offering assistance to North Korea in developing renewable energy would both meet North Korea's stated energy requirements while completely allaying fears those offering assistance would be supporting North Korea's weapons program. Additional benefits would include reduced costs related to repairing North Korea's electrical grid and stimulation to the renewables industry in North East Asia.
The meetings however have been marred by hypocrisy and fault on all sides, as China, Russia, and the US fail in their international obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament, and are actively upgrading their nuclear arsenals. A Nuclear Free Zone would ensure that these countries, in particular the US, offered assurances to North Korea that as long as it does not pursue nuclear weapons, the US will promise not to have weapons in or aimed at any location on the Korean peninsula. These nuclear weapons states urgently need to take active steps towards disarmament if they expect these talks to move forward in good faith.
The onus is also on Japan, another major player and a non-nuclear state in the current Six Party Talks. It has an important role to play in reducing the proliferation dangers in East Asia by abandoning its advanced plutonium program. Specifically, it should abandon plans to start up its Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant in 2006, which will produce as much as 6-7,000kg of plutonium each year, dwarfing North Korea's plutonium production capacity.