North Korea continues to heavily produce nuclear and ballistic missiles capable of mass destruction as the rest of the world continues to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada has long stood against Kim Jong Un’s regime and committed to defending the Korean Peninsula. Since 2002, Canada’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Threat Reduction Program has prioritized the government’s efforts in countering North Korea’s nuclear proliferation networks and condemning their human rights violations.
Following the 2018 Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula hosted by Canada and the US, Canada had committed $3.25 million aimed at more effectively implementing United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea and countering their nuclear proliferation networks.
Though Canada and the US have previously been reliable allies in defending the Korean Peninsula, President-elect Joe Biden may not be as much of a cooperative ally for Canada as some may believe. The global response to Kim Jung Un’s regime may suffer if the Biden administration adopts the same “strategic patience” policy strategy as the Obama administration that has been criticized as being too passive. Canada may need to adjust their plans as the Biden administration takes office to facilitate a stronger approach to preventing North Korea from building up its nuclear proliferation networks and continuing their human rights violations.
South Korea has begun lobbying President-elect Biden for “summit-level” attention to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s unveiling of a new intercontinental ballistic missile at their military parade in October 2020. However, it is still unknown to what extent the Biden administration will assist.
Following the Trump administration’s failed talks with the authoritarian regime and hostile threats of “fire and fury,” Canada may be better off independently pursuing their negotiations with North Korea.
Since 2018, Ottawa has engaged with North Korean senior officials from their Foreign Affairs Ministry and is on a path to establishing “enhanced diplomatic engagement.” They reportedly held secret meetings with six North Korean officials, established a dedicated North Korean task force inside Global Affairs Canada, supported academic exchanges between North Korean and Canadian universities and approved humanitarian exports through the Vancouver-based First Steps company.
While seeking diplomatic solutions with North Korea, Canada has continued its efforts in supporting the UN Security Council sanctions regime. Canada has in recent years joined a coalition effort under Operation NEON, deploying ships, aircraft and personnel to stop smuggling in the Korean Peninsula. Canada has also enacted sanctions on North Korea under the United Nations Act and the Special Economic Measures Act in response to the DPRK’s nuclear tests, ballistic missile launches and continued human rights violations.
However, in May 2020, Canada deferred their mission to the waters off North Korea as part of the COVID-19 efforts to delay the movement of forces. As the vaccine for the COVID-19 virus will soon be distributed and Canada’s forces are once again mobilized to a fuller capacity abroad, Trudeau will have to decide whether they will continue to negotiate without the US for a diplomatic solution to peace and security in the region or convince the Biden administration to play a larger role.
Judy Perpose is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University with a specialization in diplomacy and foreign policy. Her research interests include comparative public policy and Pacific Asia history and politics.
Banner image of Monument to Party Founding, Pyongyang, North Korea by Steve Barker, courtesy of Unsplash.