North Korea

Previewing Trump’s Trip to Seoul: There’s Something Happening Here

President Trump’s upcoming visit to South Korea has gained new importance. Several developments over the last month suggest that something big is about to happen, though it is unclear what this “something” is precisely. Trump’s two-day summit with Moon Jae-in should provide greater clarity and help make sense of the interesting signals that the various players in North Korean nuclear diplomacy have recently sent out.

U.S.-South Korea Alignment and the Hanoi Summit

The outline of the tentative Hanoi agreement released by Vox this morning indicates that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will make significant progress on improving U.S.-North Korea relations at the summit. The two most important points in this respect are the signing of a peace declaration and the establishment of liaison offices. The peace declaration does not carry the same legally binding power as a peace treaty, but it represents a significant U.S.

The Revenge of Expectations: Trump’s Rhetoric and Kim’s Missile Bases

The high hopes and inflated expectations of U.S. diplomacy with North Korea set by Donald Trump after his summit with Kim Jong Un are quickly coming unraveled.

Trump confidently declared an end to the nuclear threat from North Korea on the heels of the Singapore summit, and has since repeatedly declared that the United States is making progress in its efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

However, many arms control and nuclear experts have warned that the actual substance of the agreement between the United States and North Korea leaves much to be desired. North Korean promises to denuclearize are vague at best and there is no real system in place for verifying the few steps Pyongyang has already taken, such as dismantling an engine test stand and closing its nuclear weapons testing site. While Kim declared a moratorium on ballistic missile and nuclear testing, he has not agreed to give up any missiles or warheads. In fact, in his New Year’s address he explicitly stated, “The nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry should mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”  

North Korea Revelations Should Neither Surprise the U.S. Nor Derail Talks

Several media reports citing the U.S. intelligence community and arms control experts indicate that North Korea has upgraded its infrastructure for building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in recent months. The revelations counteract Trump’s optimistic tweet that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat [sic] from North Korea” following his summit with Kim Jong Un last month.

The United States should not be surprised by these developments. The Trump-Kim summit was not the culmination of a long, arduous diplomatic process as most summits are, but a high-profile meeting that had far more symbolic value than nitty-gritty arms control substance. This was the expected outcome given the short period of time to prepare for the summit and the fact that it almost fell apart just a few weeks before it happened. Additionally, Kim made no pledge to halt construction of ballistic missiles, fissile material, or related infrastructure, and it isn’t surprising that he would want to keep expanding these capabilities until it is necessary to give them up.

Concessions made by Washington and Pyongyang have built some trust and momentum for diplomacy, but this is not sufficient to achieve denuclearization. Looking ahead, U.S. negotiators should take these recent revelations seriously and press Pyongyang to reveal more information about its nuclear and missile infrastructure. The United States should also demand that North Korea allow inspectors to keep tabs on nuclear and missile facilities and verify North Korean compliance with promises to dismantle facilities as negotiations progress. Creating a robust inspection and verification regime is a necessary step to ensure that North Korea is living up to its rhetoric and taking steps toward denuclearization.

Keep Calm and Summit On

Last Tuesday, North Korea canceled a high-level diplomatic meeting with South Korea and threatened to call off next month’s summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea’s statements came just one week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from Pyongyang with three American citizens held prisoner by the Kim regime and the date for the Trump-Kim summit in hand.

The current episode of tension reflects a wide and dangerous expectation gap between the United States and North Korea, but it should not dissuade the Trump administration from going through with the summit.

If the Trump administration wants to take away the right lessons from North Korea’s display of anger it needs to first understand the root cause of North Korea’s ire. When Pyongyang announced that it was calling off a high-level diplomatic meeting with South Korea it cited the U.S.-South Korea military exercise known as “Max Thunder,” a large-scale air force exercise that has occurred every year since 2009, as the culprit. A statement released by state broadcaster KCNA said, “The maneuver [Max Thunder] is the largest-ever and a reflection of the invariable stand of the U.S. and south (sic) Korea to persist in the ‘maximum pressure and sanctions’ against the DPRK.” In particular, North Korea objected to U.S. F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers participating in the exercise, as the former can easily penetrate North Korean airspace with little chance of detection and the latter is nuclear-capable. After the KCNA denunciation of Max Thunder, the Pentagon released a statement clarifying that B-52s were not slated to participate but North Korea did not drop its opposition to the exercise.

Max Thunder itself is probably not the real reason why North Korea is threatening to call off the Trump-Kim summit. If Kim viewed the exercise as unacceptable he had ample opportunity to raise the issue with the United States and South Korea. The exercise began on May 11 and there was no indication given before or during the exercise that North Korea viewed it as a potential deal breaker. Moreover, if Kim had voiced concerns Washington and Seoul probably would have adjusted some elements of Max Thunder to preserve diplomacy considering they agreed to postpone the annual Foal Eagle exercise so it would take place after the Winter Olympics and adjusted the length of and forces that participated in Foal Eagle to ensure a smooth inter-Korean summit.

Maintaining Peace Is the End, Denuclearization Is the Means

Demonstrating the capacity to surprise, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un acted like a modern statesman when he ventured into the Republic of Korea for his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. That doesn’t mean Kim and his heavily armed nation are not potentially dangerous. But after watching Kim in action, as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, “we can do business together.”

Reasons for caution are many. After all, Kim’s father had summits with two successive South Korean presidents, but by earlier this year people were talking about the possibility of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea. However, despite the danger of excessive expectations, the diplomatic option first advanced by Kim has shifted the peninsula away from military conflict, at least in the short-term.

Which is a major benefit. As I point out in a new study for Cato, war simply is not an option. It wouldn’t be “over there,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) infamously assured us. Americans would be directly involved, even if the North was not capable of striking the U.S. homeland. In any case, if war resulted, the likely death and destruction on the peninsula, with South Korea a major part of the battlefield, and likely beyond, including Japan, would be far too great to justify the risk.

Kim Jong-un’s New Line and U.S. Negotiating Strategy

If President Trump wants to have a successful summit with Kim Jong-un then it’s important to understand the domestic political incentives that will shape Kim’s approach to negotiations. On April 20th, Kim gave a major speech at a plenum meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Most U.S.

TELs on Parade: The Missiles in North Korea’s Army Day Parade

Kim Jong-un threw a big military parade earlier today, reminding the world of his military power on the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony. Compared to the massive annual parade that takes place on April 15th (the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth), today’s parade was smaller and less significant, though it did feature some interesting missile systems.

The first missile system of note was a new type of close- or short-range ballistic missile (C/SRBM) that, at first glance, looks similar to the Russian-made Iskander-M SRBM.

 

(New type of North Korean C/SRBM, February 8, 2018. Source: YouTube)

(Iskander-M SRBM system. Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Like the Iskander, the new North Korean system carries two missiles side-by-side in a four axle transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle. Another similarity of the two systems is fuel type: most C/SRBMs use solid rocket fuel. Although the type of fuel used in the new North Korean missile system cannot be determined from the parade video alone, it would be very unusual for a missile of its size to not use solid fuel.

The Trump Doctrine and Public Opinion at One Year

In advance of the January 30 conference here at Cato—The Trump Doctrine at One Year—I review public attitudes toward Trump’s “America First” vision and his foreign policy handling over his first year in office. Join us for a what will undoubtedly be a spirited conversation with a fantastic group of experts.

Donald Trump’s America First rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign marked a sharp departure from the fundamental tenets of liberal internationalism that have guided U.S. foreign policy since World War II. Trump’s tirades against free trade, NATO allies, immigrants (legal and otherwise), and his general disinterest in engaging with the world unless there was money in it for the United States horrified the foreign policy establishment of both parties.

Beyond concerns about Trump, many observers worried that his success reflected the demise of public support for internationalism. Though the public supported robust internationalist policies after World War II and during the Cold War, Trump’s emergence coincided with rising economic insecurity and inequality, intense political polarization, and dropping confidence in government to solve the problems facing the nation. Had the public perhaps decided that internationalism’s time had come and gone? Would Trump’s presidency usher in rising support for nativist and protectionist policies and calls to turn inward, away from the international arena?

A wide array of poll data from Trump’s first year in office strongly suggests the answer is no. A large majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of foreign policy and his America First policies are among the most unpopular elements of his foreign policy.

Trump’s fiery attacks on unfair trading practices by China and Japan and his criticism of NAFTA as “the worst deal ever made” may have energized his base during the campaign, but since taking office Trump’s course on trade has not been a popular one. Though Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as soon as he took office and appears likely to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Americans remain committed to free trade. A June 2017 survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 72% of the public thinks international trade is good for the United States. An October 2017 poll from the Pew Research Center echoed this result, finding that Americans are more likely to believe NAFTA is good for the United States by 56-33%. 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - North Korea