25 July 2018

North Korea: We Asked 9 of the World’s Leading Experts What Happens Next

by Mitchell Blatt 

After a heavily choreographed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, 2018, talks between the two countries appear to have hit roadblocks one month later. Kim refused to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited North Korea in early July, and North Korea accused the American side of having a “gangster-like mindset.” On July 12, North Korean officials didn’t show up at a scheduled meeting at the DMZ to discuss returning the remains of U.S. troops. However, the meeting took place on Sunday, July 15 instead.

What does this mean for the future of United States-North Korea relations? Where will the talks go from here? The National Interest asked nine scholars and experts for their views on the following question:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with North Korean officials on July 6-7 to further talks between the U.S. and North Korea on denuclearization—talks that seemed to have not gone well. In your judgment, what are the prospects for denuclearization and/or peace, and what should the parties do going forward?

Michael Auslin , Williams-Griffis Fellow in Contemporary Asia at the Hoover Institution:

The Trump administration has committed itself to negotiations until North Korea crosses a line that proves undeniable bad faith, such as more nuclear testing (including a potential atmospheric test), repeated missile launches, unambiguous evidence of proliferation, or a military provocation directed at South Korea, Japan, or the United States. Short of such actions by Pyongyang, it is unlikely that the administration will declare their engagement a failure.

This means that the North Koreans effectively control the pace of relations and have successfully instituted a dynamic that keeps the Americans in a largely reactive mode. While the President and Secretary of State Pompeo repeatedly have cautioned that any denuclearization effort will take a long time, they continue to maintain that progress is being made, for the present, thus relieving the North Koreans of having to actually do anything more than they already have (i.e., release of U.S. hostages, de facto moratorium on missile and nuclear tests, destruction of a nuclear test site).

If the Administration believes there is a realistic chance of beginning a process of serious negotiations, then it will have to get Pyongyang to commit as soon as possible, thereby putting the North Koreans in the position of failing to live up to their promise. One leverage point may be the Singapore joint statement, as vague as it was, signed by Kim Jong-un, and the administration may have to directly call out Kim and lay future failure at his doorstep. Moreover, the administration needs to try to figure out what role China is playing in encouraging North Korea’s on again-off again antics. Through it all, the policy of so-called “maximum pressure” should remain, though the effectiveness of future hardened American rhetoric is probably limited.

Overall, however, the prospects for meaningful negotiations, let alone actual denuclearization, look slim, leaving Pyongyang on the cusp of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. While it is possible that the North will come to the table for a real deal (which would require major concessions on Washington’s part), it increasingly appears likely that the North will engage in diversionary tactics or make only limited agreements.

If Trump fails now with Kim, future U.S. presidents may well eschew any type of negotiations. Even if talks fail, Kim may feel that Singapore legitimized him as a world leader and may believe that there is no risk in returning to the status quo ante and alienating the Americans, perhaps permanently.

John Feffer , Co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies:

The Trump administration wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons by 2020 after which it would get sanctions relief. Pyongyang insists on a phased and synchronized approach with incentives and concessions along the way. On paper, these are not entirely incompatible approaches.

In reality, however, nuclear weapons occupy too important a place in North Korea’s national security – as deterrent against attack, as bargaining chip, as shortcut to achieving strategic balance on the Korean peninsula – to be given up easily. Meanwhile, the U.S. foreign policy establishment is skeptical of any process that rewards North Korea for actions short of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID).

The most likely post-Singapore scenario, then, is a protracted set of negotiations over the very terms of negotiations. The first (unsuccessful) step in this process took place in early July with Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. If both sides can agree on terms, however, some hesitant moves toward denuclearization can follow.

Meanwhile, as Washington and Pyongyang negotiate their differences, the two Koreas can use this extended pause in hostilities to restart the slow-motion reunification of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun years. That means a resumption of direct links (hotline between capitals, direct marine radio communication), joint economic projects (tourism, Kaesong Industrial Zone), infrastructure coordination (inter-Korean rail), NGO initiatives (reforestation), and cultural exchanges.

The two sides are potentially going further. On the table are such proposals aspulling back long-range artillery pieces from the DMZ and establishing a Pyongyang bureau for the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Inter-Korean reconciliation depends at least in part on an ongoing détente between Washington and Pyongyang. That détente in turn requires at least the promise of denuclearization. As long as the United States and North Korea keep talking, the two Koreas can get on with the business of creating a more durable peace on the ground.

Nuclear disarmament is an important goal. But denuclearization was not one of the demands the United States made of China during the détente of the 1970s. Détente, however, ensured that China, once embedded in the international system and the global economy, would be considerably less likely to use nuclear weapons.

Ultimately, that should be the U.S. goal with North Korea as well. CVID may well be a chimera. But Washington and Seoul can engage Pyongyang in ways that make it less likely to use any of its weapons.

Kim Sung-han , Professor, Korea University; former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for South Korea (2012-2013):

There was both good news and bad coming out of Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. First, the bad: Pompeo was unable to win North Korean acceptance of Final, Fully Verified Denuclearization (FFVD). Next, the good: He refused to accept North Korea’s demands for an official End of the War Declaration before North Korea shows significant progress in denuclearization.

Overall, North Korea is likely to drag its feet by relying on salami slicing tactics—separating the bilateral agenda into smaller pieces and maximizing its benefits for each concession—unless the United States can draw genuine support from South Korea and China. North Korea could try to dismantle ICBMs if it sees President Trump getting impatient as he approaches the mid-term elections, thereby driving a wedge between the United States on the one hand and South Korea and Japan, on the other, who are more concerned about short-to-mid-range missiles than they are about ICBMs.

In this vein, the United States and South Korea, in particular, need to try utmost efforts to agree on a detailed roadmap for FFVD and persuade China to get on board so that Beijing will delink the North Korean nuclear issue from the structure of U.S.-China strategic competition. The core of the roadmap is the strategic framework to exchange FFVD with the peace regime of the Korean Peninsula, not just a peace treaty (or End of War Declaration) alone. The peace regime should be defined as a comprehensive concept which includes denuclearization, U.S.-North Korea and Japan-North Korea diplomatic normalization, economic normalization, arms reduction, and a peace treaty.

In light of North Korea’s long-time position, North Korea will likely try to focus on the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the U.S.-North Korea peace treaty in exchange for denuclearization. In this sense, a premature declaration of the end of the war should be avoided since it could provoke unnecessary controversies over its political and legal impacts on the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and the ROK-U.S. alliance let alone the United Nations Command.

If North Korea agrees, the four parties, which include the two Koreas, the United States, and China, should start talking about the establishment of the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. If the End of the War Declaration is agreed to be inevitable, however, it needs to be done only when North Korea agrees to a specific timeline and roadmap for complete denuclearization.

Bruce Klingner , Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation:

A month after the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, euphoric U.S. claims that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea” are running into North Korean intransigence. The sparse Singapore Communique was a shaky foundation upon which to build a comprehensive agreement to compel Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear, missile, and BCW programs.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s post-summit mission to Pyongyang was to put meat on the bare bones summit agreement. His trip was a critical test of how much the two leaders had actually agreed to. Pompeo needed North Korea to affirm—publicly and unambiguously—that it would abandon its WMD arsenals in an expeditious manner. Such a declaration would combat mounting skepticism, which had been fueled by evidence that the regime was expanding its nuclear and missile programs.

Pompeo asserted that he’d made progress, only to see Pyongyang unleash a lengthy and vitriolic rebuke within hours. The regime categorically rejected Trump administration proposals, accused Washington of violating the spirit of the Singapore summit, and threatened to retract its denuclearization pledge.

It is clear that the U.S. and North Korea remain far apart over even the definition of “denuclearization,” let alone the sequencing, linkages, and timeline for achieving it. North Korea’s insistence on addressing its security concerns prior to implementing denuclearization runs counter to U.S. policy and statements by senior Trump administration officials.

As a prelude to a formal peace treaty, Pyongyang is demanding that the U.S. first improve bilateral relations and provide security assurances, including signing a declaration ending the Korean War.

Yet, despite its harsh missive, Pyongyang didn’t totally pull the plug on diplomacy. The regime did, however, express a clear preference for dealing only with President Trump, trying to decouple Pompeo from the process. By praising Trump and criticizing Pompeo, Kim Jong-un seeks to distinguish support for the president from his unwillingness to implement the agreement they reached in Singapore.

The diplomatic path with Pyongyang remains open, but it will be far longer and bumpier than has been depicted by the Trump administration. The U.S. should maintain maximum pressure until Pyongyang makes significant, tangible steps toward denuclearization. Washington must also continue to confront the regime on its human rights violations.

Jean H. Lee , Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson Center:

It’s no surprise that North Korea is playing hardball now. Giving up its prized nuclear program is not something North Korea will do without getting everything it can—security assurances, diplomatic and financial concessions—in return. That price will be high, perhaps forcing the United States and South Korea to settle for something less than “complete denuclearization” in exchange for peace.

The North Koreans are tough negotiators, and entirely transactional. They will demand concessions every step of the way. They will remind the Americans of gestures offered so far—the release of the three American detainees, the blowing up of tunnels at a northern nuclear site, and the reported offer to destroy a missile launch pad—and demand action from Washington in return.

Though the Singapore summit was a huge moment for Kim, in building his stature abroad as well as cementing his legitimacy at home, he did not get everything he wanted at that meeting. The North Koreans are conveying their displeasure by giving Secretary of State Pompeo the cold shoulder. They will use this stalling technique to pressure the Americans to concede. We’ll also see both sides invoking the promises their two leaders made at the Singapore summit to try to pressure the negotiating teams to escalate the issue to the top level again.

This is the start of a very long series of negotiations between the United States and North Korea. The negotiations will have their ups and downs. Secretary of State Pompeo and his team of negotiators will need to be patient, smart and inventive in dealing with their North Korean counterparts, and assume that the North Koreans are tough, savvy and skillful. There’s no need to panic quite yet—obstacles need to be handled calmly as a matter of diplomacy—but the Americans will need remain skeptical as well as skillful if they want to find a lasting path toward peace with the North Koreans.

Vipin Narang , Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

After Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un made it abundantly clear that he will not unilaterally surrender his nuclear weapons. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, because he has never offered to unilaterally surrender his nuclear weapons. Not once.

The Singapore Declaration clearly sets forth a sequence where, only after trust has been built and a peace regime established between the United States and DPRK, will North Korea “work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” President Trump and Secretary Pompeo triumphantly declared that this meant that North Korea would “denuke” or that it meant Chairman Kim agreed to the “final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK.” It does not.

And after Pompeo’s visit, the North Koreans were not going to allow him to paper over these differences anymore, since they are more than semantic. For North Korea, demanding that it surrender its nuclear weapons without first working toward a peace regime and building trust in a phased manner—which presumably includes some sanctions relief—is tantamount to “robber like” behavior, and they are clearly stating: stop saying we agreed to unilaterally disarm, and stop asking for it, because it’s not going to happen.

Does that mean the process is dead in the water? Not at all. It is a classic North Korean strategy to fire back like this, and also to run out the clock on meetings, which it sounds like they did by stonewalling even on commitments that the Trump administration believed were secured: return of remains and destruction of presumably the Sohae engine test site.

The North Koreans signaled several things going forward. First, they are willing to discuss things short of unilateral disarmament, but it will cost the US a lot and it will burn a lot of clock, so be prepared for a long slog. For example, in a section that received little attention, North Korea linked the destruction of Sohae—for the first time in an official statement—with a suspension of ICBM production (not just flight tests). That does not mean they will freeze ICBM production immediately, and it could be word-play, but it is not nothing and is worth pushing on.

Second, they appealed to Trump directly to rein in the “headwinds” that are slowing down trust-building and a peace regime, which was a signal to stop opening up with unilateral disarmament as a prerequisite to peace talks. They suggested the process was in critical condition, but it was not dead.

It now remains to be seen how the administration will react to North Korea’s tactics. The President might believe he was betrayed by Kim, despite Kim having never actually agreed to unilaterally disarm, as Trump believes. This might lead to heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula such as a resumption of exercises and missile testing if talks fall apart. Alternatively, the President might live in denial about North Korea’s nuclear weapons, wanting to chalk up Singapore as a win and willfully overlooking evidence that North Korea is not only not disarming, but continuing and possibly expanding nuclear production. That avoids direct conflict, but does little to help cap what could potentially be a monster of a nuclear weapons arsenal.

The best outcome would be continued engagement on issues of overlapping interest but abandoning the demand for unilateral disarmament up front and kicking that can down the road. There are meaningful objectives—such as declaration of facilities and freezing production—that can still be achieved, but they will require a lot of patience and a lot of long meals in Pyongyang.

Ankit Panda , Adjunct Senior Fellow in the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang did not go well. Though the United States and North Korea have set up a working group-level process to see through the implementation of the June 12 Singapore declaration signed by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it appears that the U.S. side has a considerably different interpretation of what the document says compared to the North Koreans.

Before going to Pyongyang, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert outlined that Pompeo would be seeking the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed by Chariman Kim in Singapore.” There’s just one problem with that: that’s not what Kim agreed to in Singapore and there’s a document with his name on it to prove it. North Korea signed on to work “towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Pompeo should know this, but he chose to make unilateral North Korean disarmament the objective in Pyongyang. This was why the North Korean Foreign Ministry pushed back in the aftermath of his trip, telling the secretary to leave demands for unilateral denuclearization at the door if he wants to set up a productive diplomatic process.

The future of the current round of U.S.-North Korea talks will depend primarily on whether the U.S. is willing to come back to the table with North Korea having read the Singapore declaration for what it is. If that doesn’t happen soon, this process might collapse like so many before it.

Joshua Stanton , OneFreeKorea founder and editor and fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies:

After a promising start, Donald Trump now risks throwing away our last chance to resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis peacefully. No, sanctions had not yet brought North Korea to an economic crisis, but they did present Kim Jong-un with that inevitability through a methodical cutoff of his banking, diplomatic, and trade relationships. Even more threatening were signs that Kim was losing the support of the ruling oligarchy. Defections of diplomats, soldiers, and elite workers surged in 2016, after a multi-year campaign to seal North Korea’s borders had reduced defections by more than half. Donald Trump’s speech in Seoul–arguably the best of his presidency–and his recognition of a North Korean defector in his 2018 State of the Union speech, threatened to strike at both of Kim Jong-un’s principal vulnerabilities–his dependency on external finance, and the latent unpopularity of his repressive regime.

Trump’s Singapore summit made great theater, but terrible policy. To get his photo op with a man responsible for large-scale crimes against humanity, Trump cancelled a round of sanctions designations designed to attack the funding sources for Kim’s WMD proliferation. He has announced no new sanctions since. Each day sanctions are not enforced, more of the financial ecosystem’s low characters decide that laundering Pyongyang’s money is worth the risk. The pressure sanctions exert is perishable, and even under the best circumstances, they need time to work. Even before Singapore, it was in doubt that they could work before Kim Jong-un proved his ability to destroy an American city. Trump may have thrown away our last chance to stop him, even as Kim speeds up its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Some now counsel us to coexist with a nuclear North Korea. Yet already, Pyongyang asserts its nuclear hegemony over a submissive government in Seoul. As Pyongyang calls for a U.S. withdrawal, Seoul erodes it by trimming away at missile defenses and welcoming Trump’s suspension of joint exercises. But fundamentally, the U.S. cannot coexist with any regime that proliferates nuclear and chemical weapons technology, sends assassination and kidnapping squads abroad, uses nerve agents to commit murder in crowded airport terminals, or wages cyberwarfare against our own freedom of expression. Today’s capitulation to Pyongyang puts us on a path to tomorrow’s war. So let Trump pretend his negotiation remains viable if he must. What is imperative is that he keep the financial pressure on.

Is war still possible? Could we convince Kim to give up his nukes? An all-star group of Korea watchers gives us some insights.

Zhu Feng , Director of the Institute of International Relations at Nanjing University:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang on July 6-7 is the latest example to show that Kim Jong-un is “not ready yet” to dismantle nuclear weapons. The sharp discrepancy between the two sides in their comments and their viewpoints on conditions is not unexpected at all as North Korea obviously prefers to take denuclearization as a long game to trade for what it wants, such as diplomatic normalization, a security guarantee, lifting of sanctions and financial remedies.

In fact, the Trump-Kim summit meeting at Singapore and their joint statement failed to precisely elaborate on under what conditions and in what order denuclearization could be achieved. In other words, should North Korea’s denuclearization acts precede diplomatic normalization, or should security guarantees from the U.S. come first? More importantly, the Singapore summit did not result in any agreements on a definition of denuclearization.

President Trump must be feeling bitter from his interactions with his counterpart Kim Jung-un. Contrary to his comments, it appears that Pyongyang hasn’t genuinely changed its mindset of holding nuclear weapons while seeking gains by dangling verbal pledges of giving up its nuclear weapons. It’s replaying old tricks we have witnessed more than two decades.

The international community now is at the crossroads on how to act on denuclearization of North Korea. One option is that we can retreat from current diplomatic détente and return to “maximum pressure” and military intimidation. The other option is to maintain diplomatic engagement until the Kim Jong-un regime is almost ready to change its reclusive country as well as changing its nuclear policy.

This definitely means a significant makeover of denuclearization objectives – putting time-lined benchmarks towards denuclearization behind and turning to continuous contact with North Korea and striving to pull North Korea out of its reclusiveness firmly and gradually. Thereby, denuclearization could be insured after real change has taken place with North Korea. Presumably, denuclearization is an outcome of sequential changes with North Korea rather than the precondition which will frame up our policy input. But my question is this: Can this second option conceivably win international consent?

The National Interest · by Mitchell Blatt · July 18, 2018

No comments: