While the latest Munich Security Conference where world leaders and ministers gathered in Munich, Germany, illustrated rifts among countries, it served as a place for exchanging diplomatic wisdom. In chaotic times diplomacy takes on renewed importance as a means of restoring international order.
It was a strange scene. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up what he claimed was a piece of debris from an Iranian drone at the podium and said, “Iran violated Israel’s sovereignty. We will take action if necessary.” The conference was held in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s recent announcement of the introduction of low-yield nuclear weapons, which China and Russia oppose. Under the circumstances, confrontation and concern about nuclear weapons in response to the “America First” policy became conspicuous during the conference.
The focus of participants’ concern was North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
“We agreed that we need to have North Korea stop its nuclear development,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster urged the international community to put “the highest level of pressure” on North Korea. Foreign Minister Taro Kono agreed, saying, “We will gain nothing from dialogue now.” However, there are ways for North Korea to evade sanctions and no prospect for resolving the problem is in sight.
There was a successful precedent for deterring nuclear development. Foreign Minister Gabriel cited the Iran nuclear deal as an achievement in consequence of international cooperation, emphatically saying, “We closed the door to an atomic bomb.”
Under anti-U.S. hardliner Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 – 2013), Iran advanced its nuclear and missile development. While six countries–the U.S., UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–imposed sanctions against Iran, they continued negotiating with the country, eventually getting Tehran to agree to restricting its uranium enrichment in 2015.
Although President Donald Trump calls for revising the nuclear deal with Iran, European countries maintain a stance of keeping the deal, which Japan supports. A Japanese foreign ministry official gave high marks to the deal, saying “The deal is well devised, allowing officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect Iran’s nuclear-related facilities.”
The deal is also significant in that China and Russia, which often oppose the U.S., participated in the agreement.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who as foreign minister had been involved in negotiations with Iran, visited Japan early this month. In response to questions about the North Korea issue, he said, “We negotiated with Iran while putting pressure on Tehran. Applying pressure and seeking a solution are not mutually exclusive.”
North Korea, an authoritarian state with nuclear weapons, is tougher than Iran. However, there is an effective lesson that must be learned from the precedent of the multinational agreement. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger points out that restoring the framework of the six-party talks will be the key to resolving North Korea’s nuclear problem. The U.S. has played the role of protecting the “free and open international order.” Iran’s nuclear deal was realized under such an order. We hope the U.S. will again exercise its latent diplomatic power to resolve the North Korea issue.