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Can America, Japan and South Korea Convince Kim Jong-un To Give Up His Nuclear Weapons?

The United States, Japan and South Korea are united in their quest to compel North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. The threat from Pyongyang is now imminent following North Korea’s tests of multiple types of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons of various yields.

“Threat posed by North Korea was grown to unprecedented, critical and imminent level,” Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera said during a trilateral ASEAN defense ministers meeting in the Philippines on Oct. 24.

“Therefore, we have to stay collaborated in defense responses to meet that level of threats.”

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Onodera noted that over the past five months North Korea has repeatedly test launched ballistic missiles that have overflown Japan.

“Over these months, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of China] repeatedly launched ICBM [intercontinental] ballistic missiles, as well as ballistic missiles that overflew Japan,” Onodera said via a translator.

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“North Korea forcibly conducted its sixth missile testing and we cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb...North Korea conducted a series of ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests since last year.  There have been six  [tests of] its nuclear and the missile capabilities.”

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South Korean defense minister Song Young-Moo underscored the importance of the trilateral meeting to coordinate policy on North Korea. Like the United States, Seoul seems to believe that denuclearization of Korean peninsula might still be a possibility.

“And at a time when North Korea's nuclear and missile threats continue to heighten and at a time when North Korea's provocative behavior is becoming worse and worse, I believe today's trilateral meeting holds a lot of potential,” Song said.

“I look for, as Secretary Mattis has said, in order to compel North Korea to come out to a path of denuclearization. I look forward to having an honest and candid conversation between the three ministers and the secretary.”

U.S. secretary of defense Jim Mattis reiterated Washington’s position that it will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea and that the United States will not settle for anything less than a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

“North Korea's provocation threaten regional and global security despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations Security Council,” Mattis said.

“As United States Secretary of State Tillerson has said, quote, ‘Our goal is the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ unquote.”

Mattis said that he is seeking input from Japan and South Korea on how to deal with North Korea so that the three nations can coordinate their policies and speak with one voice.

“I look forward to receiving your insight and your wisdom on this grave security concern,” Mattis said.

“Our security is interconnected and we speak with a single voice in holding DPRK accountable.  And America's commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan, two of our most respected allies, remains ironclad because we recognize we are stronger together.”

However, while the threat from North Korea might be imminent, it is unclear what the United States and its allies can do about Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is exceedingly unlikely to give up his one trump card that guarantees the survival of his regime for any reason. Thus, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula looks likely to be impossible goal unless Washington is will to consider a preemptive nuclear first strike.  

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.