Stockholm breakdown reflects N Korea’s failure to compromise

15-Oct-2019 Intellasia | TheHill | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Working-level talks in Stockholm between the United States and North Korea broke down last weekend. While pursuing diplomacy is important in fostering bilateral trust, the Trump administration’s efforts have not yielded any success. Washington must re-think its North Korea policy, because Pyongyang shows no sign that it takes these talks seriously.

Kim Myong-gil, North Korea’s chief negotiator, blamed the US for the failure in talks. He threatened that if the US is “not well prepared” for future discussions, a “terrible incident could happen.” Despite North Korea’s persistent attacks on Washington’s unwillingness to provide concessions such as sanctions relief, the Trump administration rightly continues to withhold them due to North Korea’s lack of reciprocal actions. Washington recognises that diplomacy cannot succeed unless Pyongyang makes a strategic decision to relinquish its nuclear programme.

Unfortunately, the regime has yet to get the message. In a post-Stockholm propaganda blitz, North Korea introduced a new acronym to describe its broad demands of America: “complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy” (CIWH). This formulation appears to be a tongue-in-cheek answer to the US demand for “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

North Korea’s harsh response to the Stockholm meeting is a near replay of the failed Hanoi summit last February. In Vietnam, Kim Jong Un kept pressing Trump to lift all sanctions implemented after 2016 and to provide other concessions before providing proportionate reciprocal actions, leading Trump to walk away. Now, in Stockholm, Kim’s working-level negotiators continued to issue these demands and then walked out after more than eight hours of discussion, hoping they could pressure the US negotiators to capitulate in order to keep the dialogue open.

Kim Myong Gil’s caustic statement is an example of North Korea’s negotiating strategy of employing threats and provocations in order to extort political and economic concessions from the US and its allies. For instance, just days prior to the Stockholm meeting, North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile designed to enhance deterrence and eventually provide the regime with a second strike capability. Kim likely believed that developing this crucial deterrent capability would enhance his negotiating leverage. The missile test was one of 12 ballistic missile and rocket tests that North Korea conducted since this May to threaten South Korea, Japan, and the US

Kim likely feels confident continuing his hardball tactics because he perceives a lack of resolve from the Trump administration. The burden-sharing negotiations between the ROK and the US, including the US demand for $5 billion to pay for US troops in South Korea, has severely strained the ROK/US alliance. In the last year President Trump decided to suspend large-scale exercises, calling them a waste of money and “provocative” war games. These moves appeared to reflect Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to remove US troops from South Korea.

Kim is also likely heartened by President Trump’s decision on Sunday to withdraw US troops from Northern Syria in response to a demand from Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. President Trump’s decision in the Middle East has sparked expert criticism that Trump forces allies to lose trust in the US commitment and credibility as security partners. If President Trump cut a similar deal with Kim Jong Un in exchange for Pyongyang’s dubious promises toward denuclearisation, Kim would pocket a significant concession of US disengagement from the Korean peninsula that helps North Korea achieve its divide and conquer strategy divide the ROK/US alliance to conquer the ROK.

These US moves may have sent Kim the message that the US wants an agreement more than the DPRK. A deal could give President Trump a foreign policy success prior to the 2020 election cycle and possibly help Trump garner popularity in the upcoming presidential race. As far back as April, Kim put an expiration date of the end of 2019 on direct US-DPRK diplomatic engagement, demanding the US make a “bold decision” to improve relations. Furthermore, Kim likely believed Stockholm would give him his usual victory of getting something for nothing.

Still, to Kim’s chagrin, both President Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-in continue to state that there can be no sanctions relief without substantive progress toward denuclearisation of the north. Unfortunately, Kim refuses to accept this reality.

The US can only break this diplomatic deadlock by considering a new North Korea policy that forces Kim to rethink the strategic value of his nuclear weapons programme. To achieve this, the US should carry out a renewed maximum pressure campaign integrating stronger and smarter sanctions, enhanced military deterrence, cyber operations, and information and influence activities, in short, unrelenting pressure.

Such a campaign may increase risk and tensions in the near term. However, the US and its allies have more to risk by continuing the status quo. This is because as long as the North Korean regime seeks to maintain or advance its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes, the regime will want to conduct periodic missile and weapons tests. Such tests would aim not only to create diplomatic provocations, but also to ensure its weapons can actually be used in wartime situations. In turn, Kim may feel emboldened to initiate a limited military operation to assert his dominance on the Korean peninsula.

The success of a new US pressure campaign will depend on the Trump administration’s ability to establish a shared consensus among key allies and partners. Washington must be clear with South Korea and Japan that the objective of this new pressure campaign is to persuade Kim to permanently relinquish his nuclear and missile programmes. This would entail the North Koreans and U.S negotiators reaching a consensus on defining and detailing Pyongyang’s path towards its verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear programme. Such a process would include creating a comprehensive roadmap for the dismantlement process and a declaration of Pyongyang’s hitherto undeclared facilities.

Given the longstanding intransigence of the Kim family regime, optimism is hardly warranted. However, so long as the US remains steadfast and committed to its alliances with South Korea and Japan, it is worth the effort to try to influence Kim Jong-un to make the right strategic decisions.


Category: Korea

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