Experts: Summit only a first step in long denuclearization process

Experts: Summit only a first step in long denuclearization process

Tom Abke

Shortly after the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018, Trump described the meeting as “the beginning of an arduous process.”

The president acknowledged the breakdown of past negotiations with Pyongyang, adding that it takes “a long time to pull off complete denuclearization.” Experts on North Korea’s nuclear program agree: A detailed and arduous task awaits.

“Comprehensive, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program sets a high bar and rightly remains the goal of U.S. policy, but it is a long-term process,” said Kelsey Davenport of the Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA). “Kim Jong Un is not going to give up his nuclear weapons quickly or easily, and the United States should not reward cosmetic achievements that do little to set back Pyongyang’s program.”

Davenport added that the Trump administration needs to “walk a fine line” providing incentives for Pyongyang to reduce its nuclear and missile programs while retaining sufficient leverage to “see the process through.”

The ACA has catalogued the past breakdowns of negotiations with Pyongyang. Beginning in 1993, Pyongyang has demonstrated a consistent pattern of making agreements to end these weapons programs only to break the agreements later. Examples include: allowing foreign nuclear inspectors into the country, then barring them from sites when suspicions arose (1993); revealing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program in violation of an earlier agreement (2002); repeatedly affirming a moratorium on missile tests, then launching them anyway (2006); committing to “verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” then detonating an underground nuclear device (2006). (Pictured: People watch a news report about North Korea’s first hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6, 2016.)

The last round of negotiations, the Six Party Talks, ended in 2009 when Pyongyang tested a long-range rocket under the guise of a satellite launch before detonating another nuclear device a month later after sanctions had been reimposed by the U.S.

With this history in mind, Davenport emphasized the need for more than Pyongyang’s assurance when it comes to gauging the efficacy of any agreement. “That is why it will be critical that any agreement include intrusive monitoring and verification,” she said.

Joost Oliemans, co-author of North Korea’s Armed Forces: On the Path of Songun, told FORUM that a denuclearization agreement needs to require all North Korean nuclear facilities to be declared and open for inspection. “A strong response should be in place if such inspections are barred for any reason whatsoever after a deal has been reached,” he said.

Davenport advised that negotiations focus on eliminating the missiles that pose the greatest threat, specifically “freezing long-range and solid-fueled missile tests to prevent Pyongyang from further advancing its systems and then turn to verifiable dismantlement of the existing missiles and production facilities.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.