May 3, 2018
AJC Asia Pacific Institute (API) strives to form key alliances with leaders and relevant organizations throughout the Asia Pacific region and Asian diaspora communities in the U.S. Aiding us in this mission is our Advisory Council, experts from public, private, and non-profit backgrounds representing an array of nations and knowledge. API advisors counsel API leadership and staff, and share their insights on developing events in the region affecting AJC interests and goals.
The world has turned its attention to the events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula. Ahead of the U.S.-DPRK summit, which is scheduled to take place in either late May or early June, and to form a better picture of what we may expect to see in the coming months, we have asked four of our advisors to respond to the following prompt:
Following the inter-Korean summit at the end of April, what are your thoughts on likely developments for the Korean Peninsula and other regional nations with vested interests? What are your predictions on outcomes from the U.S.-DPRK summit planned for the end of May?
(The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC, a non-partisan organization.)
Dr. James KIM, Asan Institute for Policy Studies
The historic inter-Korean summit on April 27th yielded mixed results. On the one hand, it provided a platform for Kim Jong Un to remake his image. The media no longer paints Kim as a reclusive dictator of a rogue regime responsible for imprisoning and executing thousands of his own people. As a result of the carefully orchestrated meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim is now portrayed as a rotund wine and peace-loving leader of a country forced to develop nuclear weapons all because of the threat posed by the United States. The Blue House spokesperson stated that Kim assured President Moon that he “is not the kind of person who would shoot nuclear weapons to the south, over the Pacific or at the United States.” Let the record show that this is the same man who executed his own uncle and likely ordered the assassination of his half-brother in order to further tighten his grip on power. It was only months ago that he openly threatened to “bury the entirety of the U.S. under water” and declared that “the whole of [the U.S.] is within the range of [DPRK’s] nuclear strike.” North Korea under Kim Jong Un so far conducted 89 missile tests—nearly three times as many conducted during his father (Kim Jong Il) and grandfather’s (Kim Il Sung) rule combined. Whatever the intention, Kim Jong Un’s charm offensive has clearly made it difficult for the Trump administration to now back out of the planned U.S.-DPRK summit in May or June.
On the other hand, the summit failed to yield substantive results on the issue that matters most (i.e., denuclearization). Heading into the summit, there were many questions regarding North Korea’s seriousness about denuclearization given its past statements on this matter. Most notably, North Korea insists on framing the issue as “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” to imply that the process does not only apply to North Korea but also to the South and the U.S. nuclear umbrella. It bears mentioning that the Panmunjom Declaration subjugates the nuclear issue under the broader heading of “peace.” Where the issue of denuclearization is mentioned, it is referred to as “complete denuclearization,” “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” or “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It is not at all clear from the declaration whether this implies the Trump administration’s demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID). As a point of reference, the 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement is far more explicit and detailed in describing this concept. What this means, of course, is that the inter-Korean summit fell short of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that this places greater weight and burden on the coming U.S.-DPRK summit.
As many expert analyses of the Panmunjom Declaration have pointed out, however, there are some notable accomplishments. For instance, there are promising signs of increased cultural and humanitarian exchange. Efforts to institute confidence building measures to minimize the risk of miscommunication and better manage unintended escalation are all positive developments. But there is still much to be desired as the two Koreas promised to increase economic cooperation without explaining exactly how they would work around the existing sanctions regime to make this possible.
Ultimately, however, it is important that the key stakeholders not lose sight of the issue around which this summit was arranged in the first place. The U.S. and South Korea have been down this road before. Two previous agreements along with numerous joint statements with Pyongyang have yielded a North Korea that has only gotten closer to perfecting its nuclear capability. It is not at all surprising that China is openly supporting the summit as Beijing seeks a diplomatic solution to the current crisis. Given Kim Jong Un’s recent meeting with Xi Jinping, we should expect Beijing to push for greater diplomatic engagement to manage the North Korean nuclear issue. There is reason to believe that China is already loosening sanctions implementation ahead of the U.S.-DPRK summit. While China is weary of a nuclear-armed North Korea, Beijing is even more averse to the idea of a unified Korean Peninsula aligned with the United States.
Japan has good reasons to worry given the Trump administration’s lack of predictability. Tokyo’s primary concern is the likelihood that the U.S. may prematurely agree to completing a peace treaty with China and the two Koreas without having denuclearized North Korea. Given the rise of China and the uncertainties surrounding the Trump administration’s commitments in the Asia Pacific, Japan is likely to watch nervously on the sidelines of the planned U.S.-DPRK summit.
For now, the mood is positive leading up to the historic meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. But policymakers should prepare for a rainy day scenario in the Korean Peninsula. History suggests that the likelihood of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is low even if the upcoming summit concludes with an agreement.
J. James KIM is the director of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies (Washington, D.C.) and research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies (Seoul).
Dr. Mercy KUO, Columnist, The Diplomat
Style, substance and strategy are three key criteria to assess the April 27 Inter-Korean Summit and the forthcoming U.S.-North Korea talks. Style consists of the tone and tenor of the proceedings. Symbolism in choreography and rapport between the two principals are also intangible, yet essential facets of style management. Substance spells out key issues in detail. Strategy is a metric to ascertain how the outcomes helped or hindered each country’s national interests and strategic positioning on the Korean peninsula.
Backdrop. The April 27 Inter-Korean Summit was high on rhetorical style, but low on policy substance. The semblance of goodwill between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in resulted in agreement on mutual weapons reduction, formalizing the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War in consultation with the United States and China, and replacing the long-standing armistice with a peace treaty. History shows that the April 27 pronouncements fundamentally reiterated those of Inter-Korean talks in 2000 and 2007. If history is a prologue of the future, how far Kim Jung Un will go in actually delivering credible results on these declarations remains questionable. In capitalizing on this strategic ambiguity, Kim’s “Triple Stakes”—meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March, meeting with President Moon a week ago, and the anticipated meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in May or June—advances Kim’s ambition to legitimize his statesman stature on the global stage and ensure that Beijing and Washington recognize and engage with him directly.
Center Stage. How might upcoming talks between the United States and North Korea unfold? Assuming no adverse factors derail current plans to bring the meeting to fruition, a plausible scenario might transpire as follows:
Understanding the magnitude and symbolism of this historic, first-ever meeting, Trump and Kim adhere to standard diplomatic protocols and stay on script. The prospect of a “Nobel Prize” moment refrains Trumpian truculence. For the North Korean supreme leader, meeting the leader of the world’s most powerful country cements the Kim family power legacy. Despite the absence of brotherly hand-holding akin to that between Kim and Moon, the body language of both Kim and Trump is respectful with collegial hand-shaking. On matters of substance Trump and Kim agree to define denuclearization, including its framework, process, procedures, and timeline. Trump makes no consequential concessions on denuclearization, U.S. troops in South Korea, and sanctions relief until Kim offers credible and verifiable steps to demonstrate the viability of negotiations. On a strategic level, the U.S. optimizes the meeting to reaffirm U.S. leadership in Northeast Asia—signaling U.S. security commitments to Japan and South Korea and Washington’s intentions for Beijing to keep Pyongyang in check.
In this scenario, Kim’s token promises of closing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site would only stoke U.S. skepticism. Clarity on specifics in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal will be a key indicator of whether a real deal is in the offing.
Supporting Cast. Defining the details of denuclearization remains a paramount priority for the United States and its regional allies – South Korea and Japan – as well as China. Beijing will be watching closely for any inferences to China’s role in future talks. Tokyo will focus on how the U.S. will handle extended nuclear deterrence commitments to Japan in the context of denuclearization. With increasingly high stakes for the future of the Korean Peninsula, the onus is on Seoul to ensure South Korea does not get played by Pyongyang’s playbook.
Mercy A. Kuo is President of the Washington State China Relations Council (WSCRC). She authors a weekly column on U.S. Asia policy at The Diplomat. The views reflected are solely those of the author Dr. Kuo and not of the WSCRC."
Dr. Jamie METZL, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
If their goal is to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons threat, the planned talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are doomed before they even begin.
There is nothing inherently wrong with negotiating with North Korea, but the Trump administration seems to have found the negotiation path that maximizes the potential benefits to the North Koreans while minimizing the benefits to the U.S. and its allies.
The United States was already at a disadvantage in its dealings with North Korea because the Trump administration has no coherent strategy for dealing with North Korea, while North Korea's leaders have an extremely smart strategy for America. Beginning from the first day of the planned Kim-Trump talks, the U.S. will have already given North Korea the legitimation Pyongyang has sought for decades, a reduction in tensions and a nod toward ending the state of war on the Korean peninsula—in exchange for very little.
From North Korea's perspective, the legitimacy that comes from a leadership meeting with a U.S. president and ongoing negotiations as an equal are big wins. Now that it has established a credible nuclear deterrent, North Korea has every incentive to reduce tensions in the region as long as the Kim regime retains its absolute control inside the country and uses the leverage nuclear weapons provide internationally. That's why the series of confidence-building measures North Korea has already announced and likely will negotiate—including a hotline phone connecting North and South Korea's top leaders, a nuclear testing and long-range missile launch freeze, and perhaps even some preliminary inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency—make sound strategic sense for North Korea.
But because North Korea's leaders see nuclear weapons as the primary survival strategy of their regime, they will not ultimately give up those weapons unless the costs of keeping them are greater than the costs of giving them up. The only way they will reach this conclusion is if they believe either that the U.S. is going to use military force to overthrow their government or that China is going to completely cut the country off from trade and aid if they don't give up their nukes. Neither of these scenarios is possible.
The U.S. will not attack because the only way to ensure escalation dominance over North Korea is by being prepared to launch an all-out war and accept hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. There is no viable "bloody nose" military strategy for the United States and everybody knows it. This gives the North Koreans an advantage.
China will not pressure North Korea to the point of regime collapse because Beijing has already decided it would rather have a nuclear armed and semi-hostile North Korea on its border than a reunified Korea, allied with the United States. China is very willing to pressure North Korea, just not to the point where Kim would have to choose between giving up nuclear weapons and remaining in power. Sanctions are definitely hurting North Korea, but Pyongyang is smartly betting that China will make sure the sanctions never hurt so much as to destabilize the North Korean regime.
Given these strategic realities, the Kim-Trump talks will be a great photo opportunity and certainly lead to some feel-good, confidence-building measures. Trump will continue to tweet about the progress being made, and he won't be entirely wrong. If the goal of the talks is to decrease tensions on the Korean peninsula, they will succeed but with a significant catch.
When it becomes clear that North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons, the U.S. will have a choice of accepting North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and working to contain it like it did with the Soviet Union; going to war to overthrow the North Korean regime and eliminate the nuclear threat; or putting more pressure on North Korea to start a new round of negotiations that will at best end in the same stalemate it faces today. Ultimately, the U.S., holding its nose and under pressure from South Korea and China, will most likely choose the first option. The cost of forcing North Korea to give up all of its nuclear weapons will simply be too high.
It is possible to imagine a comprehensive U.S. grand strategy that pressures China to play a more decisive role in helping denuclearize North Korea and offers North Korea a palatable alternative to nuclear weapons. This path would require thinking strategically, supporting and deploying America's combined diplomatic, economic and military power, embracing the Trans Pacific Partnership, working closely with allies and doing a host of other things the Trump administration has proven wholly incapable of doing.
Even with current levels of U.S. strategic incoherence, a collapse of the North Korean regime under the weight of its own brutality and contradictions could change everything and be great news for almost everyone. Hoping for this outcome is just not a strategy.
By bumbling into face-to-face talks with Kim, Trump has certainly helped reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, but the Trump administration has so far done very little to counter North Korea's nuclear threat. When this becomes clear, today's feel-good moment will feel more like an awful hangover.
This article originally appeared on CNN on April 22, 2018.
Jamie Metzl is a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council. He has served on the U.S. National Security Council, at the State Department and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Kuni MIYAKE, President, Foreign Policy Institute
Last week I asked Japan Times readers which is the case for North Korea’s “denuclearization”: “The third time is real” or “What happens twice will happen three times.” Despite all the somehow positive statements or optimistic news articles so far, Tokyo is still puzzled by the latest inter-Korean summit.
Yes, media reports on the April 27 extravaganza in Panmunjom seem encouraging. The summit might have cooled tensions there. South Korean officials even said Kim Jong Un had pledged to give up his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promised not to invade. Really?
Has the third inter-Korean summit meeting bore any fruit? Watching from Japan, it remains to be seen. How often have we been cheated by Pyongyang? Actually, it is at least the seventh, not the third, time for Tokyo to see such inter-Korean “agreements” and, most ominously, they have never been implemented.
In a nutshell, the latest Moon-Kim summit may be just more kabuki acting with exaggerated gestures based on the decades-old scripts or librettos that were first written on July 4, 1972, and then revised on Dec. 13, 1991. Lo and behold, it was well before the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.
If you carefully read relevant North-South agreements and study their historical background, you will know how consistent North Korea has been. What matters most are documents, not a flamboyant political show televised worldwide. Let us now take a brief look at those agreements once again. The devil is always in the detail.
1. North-South Joint Statement (July 4, 1972): This is the first inter-Korean agreement on reunification. It stated that the process “must be achieved internally, peacefully, as a united people” and by “stopping military provocation.” These principles have been incorporated into every inter-Korean agreement thereafter. What is more noteworthy, however, is the date of this agreement.
It may not be coincidental that it was just five months after then U.S. President Richard Nixon visited Beijing. The historic U.S.-China rapprochement might have prompted Kim Il Sung, the founding father of North Korea, to improve relations with South Korea so that he would not be isolated diplomatically.
2. Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression and Exchange and Cooperation (Dec. 13, 1991): This agreement with 25 articles just elaborated the 1972 agreement. What is more intriguing again is the date. It is no coincidence that the agreement was reached just before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which might have instigated Kim to secure his survival against the “fall of communism” domino effect in the 1990s.
3. Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (Feb. 19, 1992): This is the first inter-Korean agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which the two sides promised not to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons. This agreement was referred to in the 2005 six-party talks’ joint statement but was never implemented.
4. North-South Joint Declaration (June 15, 2000): Although this was the first inter-Korean document officially agreed on at the summit level, the agreement was never fulfilled partly because it was as generic and ambiguous as the 1972 joint statement. It should also be noted that the agreement did not refer to the North Korean nuclear issue at all.
5. Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks (Sept. 19, 2005): In this statement, North Korea “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and to returning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. The U.S. and South Korea affirmed that they have no nuclear weapons deployed and no intention to attack North Korea. So far, this is the only multilateral agreement on the denuclearization.
6. Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity (Oct. 4, 2007): This eight-point agreement only elaborated on the June 2000 joint declaration with some details and, therefore, had virtually no new or substantive elements on such key issues as unification, ceasing hostilities and, most importantly, North Korea’s denuclearization commitment.
7. Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula (April 27, 2018): All three inter-Korean summit declarations called those meetings “historic” but the past two declarations were never realized. Can we trust the young grandson this time? Are we finally witnessing that “This third (or seventh) time is real”? Or, are we repeating the same old mistake that dishonesty outsmarts wishful thinking?
Empirically, leaders of North Korea seem to have resorted to charm offensives whenever they faced a serious crisis of possible regime collapse. That was the case for the 1972 Joint Declaration in the middle of the U.S.-China normalization process and also for the 1991-1992 agreements made during the demise of the Soviet Union.
That is probably also the case for the Panmunjom Declaration. Recent maximum pressure with strict economic sanctions might have induced Kim Jong Un to improve relations with the South in order to halt, like his father and grandfather, the hostile tide and survive his regime’s most serious crisis.
Does Tokyo have to tremble and feel uneasy now? Is Japan being left out in the Korea diplomatic game? Hardly. Although Japan is not a direct Korean War party, it will definitely continue to be involved. It is also crystal clear that without Japan there will be no economic rejuvenation in the post-reunification Korean Peninsula.
All in all, if Kim is honest and serious about his survival, unlike his father or grandfather, he must make strategic decisions for the regime he inherited. If not, nobody can guarantee his political survival. At least, the young Kim doesn’t seem to act on a whim and let’s hope so.
More worrisome is the U.S. president. He may be more likely to think, react and behave on a whim. Don’t call him a Nobel Prize candidate. Never make him believe he can win international spotlights broadcast live from the summit venue. Seen from Tokyo, dangers may come not only from Pyongyang but also from Washington.
This article originally appeared in The Japan Times on May 1, 2018.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.