The “denuclearization” effort seems to be having rather the opposite effect.
Analysts who pore over satellite images of the isolated country paint a different picture: North Korea’s scientists have ramped up production of long-range missiles and the fissile material used in nuclear weapons…
Analysts at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency say North Korea’s scientists may have produced 12 nuclear weapons since the first Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore last year. In total, Pyongyang could currently possess between 20 and 60 nuclear bombs, according to estimates by various security analysts.
The evidence is circumstantial, as satellite surveillance always is, but watch below as the WSJ makes its case. North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility does appear to be humming along with activity. Which isn’t surprising, is it? The NorKs have suspended missile testing while the U.S. has scaled back military exercises with South Korea, but America continues to wield its big club, sanctions. Go figure that the NorKs are keeping their big club in hand too.
Plus, cranking out new nuclear bombs is North Korea’s way of buying more chips for its eventual negotiations with the U.S. A year ago they might have been expected to surrender, say, 30 bombs in exchange for major U.S. concessions. What can they get a year later in return for 40 bombs instead?
Having the NorKs arm up while Kim gladhands Trump at the DMZ is embarrassing for the White House, but in Trump’s defense, what’s the alternative? If he’s not willing to see the Korean peninsula laid waste, persisting with halting top-level diplomacy while the regime quietly increases its nuclear advantage over its neighbors is the only option. I doubt anyone in the administration believes at this point that the U.S. can intimidate North Korea into denuclearizing; Trump’s two summits with Kim are the best evidence yet that we’ve committed to a containment strategy with the North, with the White House possibly focused now on limiting Kim’s intercontinental reach than on limiting his nuclear supply. The NorKs have already tested missiles capable of reaching the U.S. but it’s unclear what sort of nuclear warhead they might carry and even whether the missiles could survive reentry into the atmosphere from orbit. If Trump could convince Kim to destroy his long-range missiles while retaining his weapons in return for sanctions relief, which would leave Japan and South Korea but not the United States under threat, would he go for that? America First!
If he did, would anything be left of America’s Far East alliances?
North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea just yesterday to show Trump that they’re impatient with negotiations. Three days ago they threatened to end the moratorium on missile tests, upping the ante; if Kim resumed long-range tests, lord only knows how Trump would respond. You can understand, though, why Iran would be reluctant to sit down with Trump as it watches this all play out. What has the North gained from diplomacy besides a shot of prestige for Kim in having the president of the United States’s undivided attention? Sanctions on North Korea have remained in effect throughout, and Iran doesn’t have the same thirst for legitimacy via a summit photo op as North Korea does since it enjoys relations already with most other countries in the world. What Trump could do to try to entice Iran to the table is lift some sanctions on North Korea preemptively as a reward for their willingness to talk, signaling to Iran that the path to relief from their own sanctions depends on them chatting with him first. But then he’ll be attacked by hawks here for weakness, and he’ll need a concession from Kim in return in order to save face. It’s unthinkable that he’d phase out some sanctions purely as a goodwill gesture, without reciprocation. I think that’s what he’ll end up doing — limited sanctions relief in return for some NorK concession packaged with arrangements for a third summit. Then it’ll be up to Iran to reach out.
Exit question: Based on everything that’s happened, if Iran wants a heart-to-heart with Trump, they should probably start building their own nuclear weapons, right? That’s the incentive scheme here.