Trump-Kim sum­mit: What about de­nu­cle­ariza­tion?

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - ALEXAN­DER VERSHBOW

In terms of per­sonal rap­port be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit on June 12 looked like a suc­cess, but on the sub­stan­tive is­sues – not so much. As the United States’ am­bas­sador to South Korea from 2005 to 2008, I wit­nessed first-hand the tense mil­i­tary stand­off at the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone (DMZ). So I can­not help but be hope­ful that this could be the be­gin­ning of a fun­da­men­tal change for the bet­ter in U.S. re­la­tions with North Korea and the first step to­ward peace on the penin­sula

But peace is not go­ing to be pos­si­ble if the main threat to peace – in the re­gion and be­yond – is not elim­i­nated in a ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible way.

De­spite fran­tic ne­go­ti­a­tions among ex­perts in the days lead­ing up to the sum­mit, the Trump-Kim joint state­ment is ac­tu­ally weaker and vaguer than sim­i­lar doc­u­ments that were agreed dur­ing pre­vi­ous U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions. The North Kore­ans were tough ne­go­tia­tors, as in the past, and gave noth­ing away.

The joint state­ment did not pro­duce any con­crete progress to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. It merely reaf­firmed pre­vi­ous North Korean com­mit­ments in gen­eral terms. In fact, there is noth­ing on the scope of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion (will it cover not just war­heads and mis­siles, but fis­sile ma­te­rial pro­duc­tion and other in­fra­struc­ture?); there is no com­mit­ment on the timetable or ver­i­fi­ca­tion; there is no men­tion of North Korea re­join­ing the nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty and ac­cept­ing In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency safe­guards

And it is not clear what the North Kore­ans will de­mand in re­turn be­yond se­cu­rity guar­an­tees and nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment of a sus­pen­sion of U.S.South Korea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, to­gether with in­di­ca­tions of a readi­ness to re­duce or with­draw U.S. troops de­ployed in South Korea, is a ma­jor con­ces­sion to North Korea with­out ob­tain­ing any­thing sig­nif­i­cant in re­turn.

The promised de­struc­tion of an ICBM (in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile) en­gine test stand (not men­tioned in the joint state­ment) is a mi­nor ges­ture, since the North Kore­ans have al­ready tested an ICBM suc­cess­fully sev­eral times. It does not get at the real re­quire­ment of dis­man­tling North Korea’s weapons and mis­siles that threaten the United States, South Korea and Ja­pan.

Mil­i­tary ex­er­cises are vi­tal to de­ter­rence. They en­sure that U.S. and al­lied troops are at a high level of readi­ness and in­ter­op­er­abil­ity. Since U.S. units usu­ally are de­ployed on one-year ro­ta­tions, there must be a reg­u­lar rhythm of ex­er­cises ev­ery year to en­sure that we and our South Korean al­lies are able to “fight tonight” in the event of North Korean ag­gres­sion.

In sum, Kim gave up noth­ing on his nu­clear pro­grams, yet re­ceived the boost in stature and le­git­i­macy that comes from a meet­ing with the pres­i­dent of the United States. De facto, he gained recog­ni­tion of North Korea as a nu­clear weapons state. In pro­pa­ganda terms, he came out ahead when you look past the soar­ing rhetoric and warm at­mos­phere dur­ing the sum­mit.

For­tu­nately, the United States did not ease the pres­sure of sanc­tions, and made clear that sanc­tions re­lief can only come with con­crete steps to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. So we have not given up our most im­por­tant lever­age as the ac­tion shifts to fol­low-on talks led by U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo.

It will be im­por­tant for the United States to reaf­firm that no peace regime or nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions is pos­si­ble with­out de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

We should con­tinue to press for a “front­loaded”

We need to keep the pres­sure on, con­tinue to work closely with our South Korean al­lies

timetable for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, with early steps by North Korea to dis­man­tle some of its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties as a demon­stra­tion that we are not see­ing the same movie once again.

Al­though Trump’s amaz­ing video showed the ben­e­fits for North Korea if it makes a strate­gic choice to aban­don nu­clear weapons in fa­vor of eco­nomic pros­per­ity, we still have no ev­i­dence Kim has made that choice – or that he is re­ally con­sid­er­ing it.

We need to keep the pres­sure on, con­tinue to work closely with our South Korean al­lies and with Ja­pan, to achieve an out­come that re­ally opens the way to a brighter fu­ture for the United States, its al­lies, and all the peo­ple on the Korean Penin­sula.

Alexan­der “Sandy” Vershbow is a dis­tin­guished fel­low in the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Scowcroft Cen­ter for Strat­egy and Se­cu­rity. He served as U.S. am­bas­sador to South Korea from 2005 to 2008. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ARVer­sh­bow. This com­men­tary is pub­lished by per­mis­sion from the At­lantic Coun­cil and can be ac­cessed at: http://www.at­lantic­coun­cil.org/blogs/newat­lanti­cist/trump-kim-sum­mit-what-about-de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

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