So what’s the catch on Kim Jong-un’s sudden desire to end all conflicts and achieve Peace In Our Time®? South Korean president Moon Jae-in insisted earlier today that there is no catch. North Korea wants denuclearization without conditions, and just wants to settle all conflicts — including with its historic bête noire, the United States.
North Korea has expressed its commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday, as the United States vowed to maintain “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang.
Moon said big-picture agreements about denuclearization, establishing a peace regime and normalisation of relations between the two Koreas and the United States should not be difficult to reach through summits between the North and South, and between the North and the United States.
“I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea. The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” Moon said during a lunch with chief executives of Korean media companies.
“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.”
Moon appears to have offered these observations as a reaction to Donald Trump’s pledge to walk out of the Kim summit if it’s not “fruitful.” Moon may be worried that the US is coming into the process with too much skepticism, and that it might sour the mood on the other side of the 38th Parallel. If so, it’s skepticism borne of hard experience with North Korean promises. And these promises seem especially too good to be true.
Moon says that Pyongyang is not seeking “conditions” — preconditions, presumably — but that they do want to do some horse-trading on “guarantees of security” and the cessation of “hostile policies.” What might those hostile policies be? Obviously, North Korea wants the sanctions lifted, and just as obviously, complete denuclearization would make most of them unnecessary, if not all of them. Joint military drills might be a thing of the past, but then again, a permanent peace settlement might make those moot too. After all, the purpose of those drills is to promote readiness in case of an attack by North Korea, and perhaps even more, to demonstrate what a really bad idea that would be for Pyongyang to even consider. Absent hostilities, the South Korean military might feel comfortable on its own.
Guarantees of security might be a little trickier. The US would happily join a permanent peace settlement between the two Koreas that eliminated all nuclear weapons from the peninsula. However, that might not be enough for Kim, who might define “security” as the removal of all nuclear platforms from the region. China would love that too, but Japan’s security is based on American nuclear power. That would be a much different meaning of “denuclearization” than the US has.
Moon’s comments suggest that Kim won’t make that demand, but his assurances have a Lucy-and-the-football feel to them. Kim could have gotten this deal years ago; his father could have gotten it during the Clinton administration. Instead, both Kims violated agreements and UN sanctions to develop a nuclear-weapons and ICBM platform, spending untold billions that could have gone to feeding their starving population. And now that they have apparently succeeded in this program and made themselves a nuclear nation with whom world powers have to reckon, suddenly they’re going to give it up for a deal that the free world would have offered at any time?
Perhaps the latest round of sanctions really did hurt that much. Maybe Kim’s western education gives him a longing for more connection to the world. And maybe Moon’s a sucker who’s getting played, too. Having a skeptic like Mike Pompeo on this is safe approach for the US.
Update: Double hmmmm:
North Korea has dropped its long time demand that the US withdraw its forces from South Korea in exchange for denuclearization, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at a meeting with the press on Thursday.
— Zachary Cohen (@ZcohenCNN) April 19, 2018
Our forces in South Korea do not have nuclear weapons, but we have around 28,000 military personnel on the 38th Parallel as a tripwire for a military response to an invasion. If a real peace settlement results, we should be able to phase that out, but the US would certainly prefer to remain in South Korea just to guarantee its security and verify compliance. It’s a big concession … if Kim’s serious.