Denuclearizing North Korea: Washington’s Strategic Solitude

Pundits of many countries note that disagreement grows between Washington and Pyongyang on the issue of the DPRK’s denuclearization. First, no universal definition of the very concept of denuclearization has been determined and agreed upon. One side interprets it as the elimination of nuclear weapons while the other sees it as elimination of the entire nuclear-missile military-industrial infrastructure. It is well known that the United States demands Complete Verifiable Irreversible Denuclearization (CVID). In this case, North Korea’s peaceful nuclear energy remains out of the general formula.

Secondly, the US and North Korea have now reached the edge of the current stage of the denuclearization process, considered by many experts a dead end. Pyongyang has repeatedly emphasized that has already done enough unilaterally to confirm its good intentions and the firm will of the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to move on: unilateral moratorium on nuclear missile testing has been in force for almost a year, and the dismantling of the number of key objects of the nuclear infrastructure is a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the United States’ policy is rather ambivalent. Rhetorically, Donald Trump makes conciliatory, benevolent statements about the DPRK; once he even called Kim “a great man”. At the same time, on the practical level the US continues an extremely tough and uncompromising line, building up “maximum pressure” and comprehensive sanctions against Pyongyang until it fulfils American requirements in full, which means irreversible nuclear (and not only nuclear) disarmament.

During expert consultations, representatives of North Korea strongly rejected this approach. Northerners keep stressing that the first out of the four points of the Singapore joint statement following the summit between US President Trump and the Supreme Leader on July 12, 2018 says that the United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity. It is only the third item of the statement that mentions the commitment of North Korea “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Since the level of US confidence to Pyongyang is very low, the prolonged pause in bilateral dialogue irritates Washington even more. Americans continue to insist on North Korea’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. That means the elimination of the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon; dismantling the ICBMs; withdrawing the largest artillery group targeting Seoul from the demilitarized zone deeper into the DPRK’s territory.

At the moment, despite the rapid progress in inter-Korean relations and the broad international support – primarily, from Russia, China, as well as South Korea, the EU and Japan, – the denuclearization process is stuck at an early stage. In addition, Pyongyang regards the end of the denuclearization process as the “crown” of all the painstaking and long work, including the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington, Pyongyang and Tokyo, the setup of all bilateral elements (US – North Korea) and multilateral military-political guarantees for Pyongyang. Naturally, it assumes that by that time, all trade and economic sanctions will be lifted, so North Korea could join the structure of regional economic development.

North Korean diplomats substantiate this approach with a number of arguments. The key ones are the following: the constitutional structure of the US and South Korea does not guarantee the continuity of foreign policy by the newly arrived administration in case if it represents another party. In this regard, Pyongyang’s spokespersons often cite the examples of withdrawal of George Bush’s administration from the “Agreed Framework”, signed in 1994 by Clinton, and the withdrawal of Donald Trump’s administration from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions, or the so-called “Iranian nuclear deal” as highly alarming facts. These objective factors make Pyongyang be overcautious and not to “give up its ‘last resort’ means of survival” beforehand (as Libya) until it obtains full confidence in the security guarantees for the DPRK’s future.

North Korean diplomats have repeatedly emphasized that for Washington, the time has come for reciprocal, real and practical steps allowing North Korea to continue the process of further dismantling its nuclear missiles. Yet, we do not see these real actions. Pyongyang stresses that by refusing to sign the Declaration to End the Korean War, the US does not want it to end, still considering the DPRK an enemy. The signing of the Declaration to End the Korean War between the two countries can mark a new stage in bilateral relations, as a symbol that a peace era between Washington and Pyongyang begins. It would make a great contribution to strengthening mutual trust and classical confidence-building measures in the Peninsula.

Kim-Trump Summit: Strategic Planning on the Way to the ‘Crystal Dream’
On June 13 the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion in the wake of the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore featuring prominent international relations experts. They discussed who was the winner of the summit and who was the loser, and how strong the reached agreements are.
Club events

It is also noteworthy that the possibility that the US could be isolated due to its refusal to sign the Declaration, which exposes the unwillingness of the ruling elite in Washington to do away with the status of war, bothers the White House seriously. In the current situation, from the White House, which de-facto does not want to reconsider its non-constructive and increasingly unpopular policy of maximum pressure on North Korea, it would be logical to expect attempts to prevent the formation of a united “anti-American” front of many countries voting for gradual mitigation of sanctions to continue the denuclearization process of the Korean Peninsula. While skilfully working “one on one” with their opponents, the Americans often use such tactics successfully.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.