North Korea is a nuclear power. Get used to it

From the White House aka Destiny Pictures Productions, comes “A Story of Opportunity,” described by David Litt, a former speech writer for Obama, as “a word salad topped with gratuitous appeasement of a monstrous regime”:

 

Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda write:

North Korea has arrived as a nuclear power, and there is no going back. Once the reality-show theatrics of the Singapore summit meeting subside, we are left with the reality that North Korea was just recognized as a de facto nuclear weapons power.

President Trump went to the meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea to try to take the keys to Mr. Kim’s nuclear kingdom. Whatever the terms of the statement released at the end of the meeting, Mr. Kim has not committed to anything concrete. He is not surrendering North Korea’s nuclear weapons and has walked away the big winner.

North Korea declared its nuclear weapons force technologically complete at the end of 2017, with its third successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Now, less than a year later, North Korea’s nuclear power is politically complete, thanks to the legitimacy that comes from a handshake with an American president. Mr. Kim did what neither his father nor grandfather could do before him: sit down and negotiate with a president of the United States. The Singapore summit meeting looks indistinguishable from a meeting between the leaders of two states with normal diplomatic relations. But this is far from where Washington and Pyongyang have ever stood. It was Mr. Kim’s development of nuclear weapons — and the credible means to deliver them to America — that made the meeting possible.

Didn’t he just agree to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”? He did. Just like his grandfather’s deputies did in 1993. That phrase — “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — is a term of art that the United States and North Korea can interpret to suit their interests.

Mr. Trump can walk away claiming that the phrase encompasses unilateral “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement,” or disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea can interpret the phrase to mean a termination of the American security guarantee and nuclear umbrella to South Korea, or more literally, as universal disarmament by all nuclear countries. And the phrase commits North Korea to no concrete action — especially since it pledged only to “work towards” it. The canyon separating these two ideas of “denuclearization” is wide enough to park all of North Korea’s ICBMs. This works to Mr. Kim’s advantage. [Continue reading…]

Zack Beauchamp and Jennifer Williams note:

Trump canceling US military exercises with South Korea is a big, big deal.

The exercises are fairly regular — the next one is scheduled for August — and an important tool for reassuring South Korea that the US is committed to its defense. They also show North Korea that the alliance is durable and serious, thus deterring it from any kind of military probe to test American and South Korean resolve.

It’s even more significant because the South Koreans didn’t know about it in advance, and still aren’t sure what it means. Alliances function through trust and cooperation; allies need to at least be consulted on issues of vital mutual concern. Unilaterally canceling the exercises makes the US seem a lot less trustworthy. Trump, according to Pusan University’s Robert E. Kelly, threw South Korea “under the bus.”

The irony here is that South Korean President Moon Jae-in was the driving force behind the peace talks. His diplomatic outreach to both sides — he met with both Trump and Kim multiple times before the talks to lay the groundwork — was vital to the meeting actually happening. Moon assured both sides that a deal could be struck, but what ended up happening wasn’t what the South Korean leader anticipated.

This is a bigger problem than you might think. North Korea’s longtime strategic goal is something political scientists call “decoupling,” which means using its nuclear arsenal as a wedge to break the alliance between the United States and South Korea. Classically, decoupling is supposed to work as a kind of threat: If the North has nuclear missiles that can reach US cities, then the US breaks off the alliance because it’s not willing to put San Francisco at risk to save Seoul.

What’s happening now is a bit different. Kim is dangling the carrot of denuclearization to convince Trump to make concessions against the South’s interest, pitting the allies against each other and making an alliance fracture more likely in the long term. It’s a canny maneuver by Kim, and it’s not clear if Trump knows he’s being played. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email