It has been a long, unplanned hiatus for this blog, not due the lack of news coming from the peninsula for sure. As we approach meeting time, the world watches both President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jung-un as they wake up in Singapore, counting down the hours till they meet face to face. As I cannot write something that has not been written before, below is a brief breakdown of a possible path Trump can pursue to set North Korea on a path toward denuclearization.
(Image: Trump and Kim Jung-un. Source: CNN)
A diplomatic uncertainty, full of twists and turns only a Trump White House could produce, has increased the already high stakes of next weeks U.S.-North Korea summit. Topics will mainly focus on the weapons programs in North Korea, with a strong push for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.” Another key focus will be a formal ending to the Korean War with the possible signing of a peace treaty. Trump, in order to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea, can pursue three goals which will set North Korea on the path toward denuclearization and use the possibility of a formal peace treaty to bring Kim Jung-un into compliance.
First, Trump can pursue the safety of the North Korean nuclear program by pushing for strong updates to current North Korean nuclear testing and production sites. Such updates would ensure that nuclear waste is properly stored, proper measures for interacting with nuclear material are implemented, and ensure that any accident can be contained quickly. Adding such a strict, internationally mandated safety to the North Korean nuclear program ensures any inspections are thorough and provides structure to give the world a better understanding of the program. It also can ensure that the North Korean people themselves are less likely to become the victim in case of a major breakdown at any nuclear site in the country.
Second, Trump must push for enhanced transparency with regards to international reporting on North Korea’s nuclear program. This includes installing a strong structure for and stipulations on North Korea’s own reporting of its nuclear program. As David Sanger and Willam Broad reported in the New York Times, Pyongyang has hidden vast amounts of data on its nuclear program for decades—American intelligence agencies cannot even agree on how many weapons Kim possess. This means any strong transparency measures will also have to include a strong inspection regime to ensure compliance with implemented measures and the accuracy of North Korean reports. Violations or discrepancies within North Korea’s reports must then be investigated and punished appropriately; a stronger understanding of the capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear program greatly enhances the ability to verify any steps taken toward denuclearization.
Finally, Trump should push for the destruction of known nuclear sites such as Yongbyon in order to build upon the North’s actions at Punggye-ri while also greatly reducing North Korea’s capabilities to expand its arsenal. To prevent shallow gestures, international experts need to be able to attend and verify the destruction of such sites, and Pyongyang should face penalties if any site is not irreversibly destroyed. Though there are many unknown nuclear sites in North Korea, destroying the ones already known cripples Kim’s ability to build more weapons. A panel of interested nations—Russia, America, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and China—should convene to discuss the future of any sites discovered. Rewards should be granted if Pyongyang volunteers site information and follows through on its complete destruction.
A formal peace treaty should not be signed unless Kim Jung-U.N. is willing to commit to all of these steps, ensuring that he is making good on his promise to pursue denuclearization. Providing North Korea with the security assurances that come with a formal treaty without pressing for concrete steps toward denuclearization ensures that Kim is free to cheat on any deal, all while gaining concessions and legitimacy in the domestic and international arenas. Trump also needs to think about the future and ensure that strong measures are ready to be implemented should Pyongyang cheat on the deal. America simply cannot give Kim concessions without gaining concrete steps toward denuclearization.
If Trump can secure all three of these commitments from Kim, he will walk away having accomplished more than previous presidents have on the North Korea issue. However tantalizing, he must avoid giving away security guarantees for grand promises and instead focus on setting North Korea down the road toward denuclearization. With the hype and pressure surrounding the summit, Trump must think in terms of substance while refusing to fall for North Korea’s grand promises of peace and denuclearization that Pyongyang carefully crafts for their benefit.
Corrections: June 11, 2018
Typographical changes to make the post easier to read.