The meeting between the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un, and the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27-28, 2019.
The primary aim, as stated by both leaders, is the solution of the North Korean and US nuclear issue in South Korea.
The news of the meeting had initially been delivered by President Trump, in his State of the Union speech, but also in a long series of now inevitable Twitter messages.
Indeed, after the Singapore Summit between Kim and Trump, in June 2018, the negotiations between the two countries had clearly stalled.
The results reached in Singapore, however, were very significant: the US Armed Forces’ cessation of the joint exercises with South Korea’s military structures; the certainty – as stated by President Trump – that Kim Jong-un would dismantle his nuclear system “very quickly,” but also the continuation of US economic sanctions against North Korea, unless “quick and new” choices were made by Kim.
It should also be noted that the decision to suspend the joint military exercises with South Korea was a real bolt from the blue for the country, above all while President Trump enabled North Korea to use the nuclear and conventional IAEA “safety measures” – an unavoidable and necessary factor of a future and quick disarmament.
Since the Singapore Summit, the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula has been the aim of both heads of state, but with a too generic approach on the procedures and time schedule of the checks on disarmament.
From the beginning of its autonomous negotiations with South Korea, North Korea has always avoided carrying out nuclear or missile exercises and tests. For the time being, however, no one has declared or shown interest in really endeavoring for denuclearization in both Koreas.
So why has Hanoi been chosen to host the meeting?
The choice has been made by President Trump because the capital of Vietnam, which is still a painful symbol for the United States, has managed to become a great pole of international economic development, after its reunification with Communist North Vietnam.
In a Twitter message, President Trump wrote: “North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse. He may surprise some but he won’t surprise me, because I have gotten to know him & fully understand how capable he is.”
It is not just flattering. President Trump has probably been fascinated by this young North Korean leader, heir to an extraordinary ancestry, who studied in Switzerland, followed his cursus honorum in the true control rooms of North Korea’s power, and was modest while he was learning and is now assertive, without rhetoric, when he rules.
Pending his visit to Vietnam, the North Korean leader will visit the factories of the Bac Ninh Province, northeast of Hanoi, with a view to probing the concrete possibility of building a smartphone factory jointly with the South Korean company Samsung.
Most likely, there will also be a visit by the North Korean leader to Ha Long Bay, a popular tourist area near Haiphong.
If we do not think about quality tourism, we cannot properly imagine the future development of North Korea, which will also fit very well in the new global food chains.
It should also be noted that this visit by Kim Jong-un is the first one he pays to Vietnam.
It is also worth recalling that North Korea sent its air force to fight alongside the VietMihn of the Vietnamese Communist “resistance,” as well as Russia and China. Currently, however, Vietnam’s primary economic partner is, coincidentally, South Korea and this has certainly not contributed to preserve good relations between North Korea and Vietnam.
Meetings between the head of US negotiators, Stephen Biegun, with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, have already taken place in Hanoi and Pyongyang, with a focus on topic #1, namely denuclearization.
Before this assignment in relation to North Korea, Stephen Biegun was responsible for Ford Motor Company’s international relations. Biegun, who is highly familiar with Moscow’s economic and political circles, is member of the Board of the US Russia Foundation and of Ford Sollers, the joint venture of Ford Motor in the Russian Federation.
In their meetings, Biegun and Kim Hyok-chol talked about “complete denuclearization.” The denuclearization that will probably emerge in its already final form at the end of the Hanoi talks between the two leaders.
We can already predict it will envisage the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor and some funds to support North Korea’s economic growth, with a very “long-term” loan for funding the nuclear decommissioning of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In fact, the latest satellite images of the North Korean reactor Yongbyon show a still active and well-maintained site, while the main structures of the reactor seem to be still unused to date.
Kim Jong-un has already decided that Yongbyon will be the start of the great North Korean denuclearization process.
Both symbol and substance. An image to be shown to the world and a credible subject of negotiation.
Kim Jong-un has always said – also to his South Korean counterpart – that it would be Yongbyon to be closed down, at the beginning of negotiations, “if there were corresponding actions by the United States.”
It is easy to imagine them: the “sincere” measures envisaged by Kim Jong-un, in his last New Year's speech, are the removal from South Korea of the US military and nuclear structures that can allow a response to the first nuclear attack from the North.
In 2018 alone, North Korea also destroyed both a nuclear base and a missile structure, but the United States said that these operations had not been fully accomplished and, in any case, they could be easily reversed.
According to some US nuclear disarmament experts, Kim Jong-un could reach a level just at the limit of complete nuclear disarmament, but such measures would be such as to clearly regionalize North Korea’s nuclear (and hence missile) threat.
In short, Kim Jong-un “rescues” the United States from its missiles.
This also means that, in a military or geopolitical regional crisis, Kim Jong-un could also “involve” both China and Japan in the negotiations, thus multiplying both the effect of his threat and the strength of his final resigning to continue the attack.
The other factor will be the “new and soft phase” of relations between North and South Korea, with a significant reduction in the number of guard posts and internal weapons within the Demilitarized Zone.
For the North Korean leader, the next step will be to almost completely put an end to the old alliance between South Korea and the United States, which, in his opinion, is always a harbinger of dangerous military (and, in the future, also economic) presences that would push a de facto unified Korea to get out of the triangle which will effectively replace the North Korean nuclear system (i.e., the North Korean strategic integration with China and the Russian Federation).
Even the planned dismantling of Yongbyon, however, would leave North Korea with a substantial amount of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of producing enriched uranium elsewhere.
Nevertheless, there would anyway be a definitive stop to the production of plutonium by North Korea, which is a very important political and strategic result.
It should be recalled, however, that even the sole dismantling of Yongbyon is a remarkable technological, financial, and political operation.
A stable connection would be needed between the United States, the Russian Federation, China, and, probably, South Korea, and even the now residual European Union. In addition to IAEA, of course.
It will take many years and huge funds to achieve this result. Needless to cherish the fond hope.
Just to give an example, the US Rocky Flats Plant used for storing plutonium, was dismantled in 14 years at the cost of $9 billion.
In Belgium, Eurochemic was decommissioned and dismantled in 25 years at the cost of $333.75 million.
Probably, the most rational and quick choice will be to entrust the decommissioning of Yongbyon to a joint US-North Korean political and financial organization.
Nevertheless, how will North Korea afford it? Obviously, it will not want to have external support – and rightly so. How, then, can this issue be solved?
The huge cost of decommissioning the site must be shared by a sufficient number of actors. North Korea cannot materially bear 50% of all costs.
Hence, support will be inevitably needed from South Korea, the Russian Federation and China, but also from Japan and, probably, an axis between Vietnam and Thailand, for example.
It is impossible for the United States and North Korea alone to bear all the costs.
We could also think about an ad hoc investment bank which, at an international level, would be entrusted with the task of funding the operation, at least partly, so as to later organize business projects in North Korea, in full agreement with Kim Jong-un’s leadership.
Once clarified the financial framework, the technical operations of decommissioning could also be very quick: reinforced concrete “containers” filled with nuclear N materials would be used. Then, the reactor (and the iodine selector filters) cells would be emptied, but what is left would be covered again with much reinforced concrete, without further removals that could be postponed to economically better times.
The plasma torches and all the other current techniques could almost immediately stop the action of radioactive materials, but with a maximum amount of staff that could be about 150 technicians and at least 70 elements, all selected among North Korean experts.
In short, if all this can happen in the future, the solution for Yongbyon will be found in less than a year and at a predictable cost of $6 million.
The 5 MWe reactor defueling is a further problem. This is the primary source of plutonium.
The defueling would cost approximately $3 million, all inclusive, while the real dismantling would cost about $30 million.
Hence, the total cost for dismantling the plutonium and uranium networks, the centrifuges and the reactor will range between $300 million, in an initial and scarcely effective phase, and as many as $1.6 billion.
Under IAEA sole control, the dismantling of all North Korean facilities will last at least twenty years, at the aforementioned cost of $1.6 billion. Without IAEA supervision, it will take at least ten years and almost one billion US dollars.
Why confining the negotiations for peace and inclusion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into the world market only to the nuclear issue?
It is most likely that the North Korean chemical weapon warehouse is “old,” but there are certainly still VX and CW agents, G-series and V-series nerve agents that are certainly not negligible in any confrontation capable of endangering North Korean stability and political identity.
What about discussing it in the summit, at least in an initial phase? What about establishing a rational military balance between the United States, Russia, and China in the whole Asian continent?
Kim Jong-un could – and certainly will – be a fully rational actor, who will know how to evaluate the best potential for the defense of his country, but without the silly memories of the Cold War.
This also applies to North Korea’s chemical weapons, which Kim Jong-un will deal with the necessary flexibility, but also with a compensatory criterion with respect to his nuclear system.
Hence, the prospects for the North Korean leadership could be the following:
a) Keeping a minimum share of chemical, bacteriological and even nuclear weapons to effectively react to any North Korea’s political crisis. The calculation of the minimum that a statesman must always be able to do. A possible solution could be an official statement, just before or even during the forthcoming Hanoi Summit, that there will be a mutual and official recognition between the United States and North Korea – a definitive document dealing with borders, the political personality, the regular exchange of ambassadors and cultural, commercial, and financial relationships.
b) An agreement for the transfer of nuclear and bacteriological-chemical stocks to a third country, under the supervision of the international agencies responsible for the operations. An already possible agreement could be separating and dividing stocks between China, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Japan, the United States, and even the irrelevant EU.
c) Support to the military police and security forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for monitoring staff, stocks and their political use by unreliable elements of Kim Jong-un’s regime. A relationship between intelligence services that is unavoidable, considering future commitments.
Hence, North Korea must know very well that if there is someone interested in the stability of the regime, this is precisely the axis of Western powers that are accepting Kim Jong-un’s openings, with laborious rationality.
It will, therefore, be essential to envisage – with the figures and costs already mentioned above, as well as the respective allocations and breakdowns – a refinancing project, especially in the short term, of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which shall mainly concern:
1) The prevention of humanitarian disasters, also with the same UN agencies that have been supporting North Korea on these issues for over 23 years. Once again, there is no problem in this regard. Apart from China that, in fact, currently supports – almost alone – North Korea against international sanctions, it will be necessary to stabilize aid and organize it in a different way, considering the costs of the large nuclear decommissioning.
2) How can it be done? It is simple, after all. It could be done by immediately establishing an International Bank for Korea and Asia in the South-West, which would collect aid, deal with investment in North Korea, support the population and, above all, submit to the North Korean government the new industrialization projects, mainly in the tourist, environmental and food chain sectors, but also in fine technologies. The entry of a great country such as North Korea into the world market will be the real great deal of the century and the true and stable guarantee for future peace. It will be good to jump at the chance, without making a fuss about it.
3) Finally, we should help North Korea to become what it already is, namely a rich country. Certainly, with its “parallel” liberalizations, North Korea’s current leadership has already done much, but here very strong liquidity injections will be needed, as well as new and effective projects to be quickly submitted to Kim Jong-un’s government.
4) The origin of this North Korean small economic boom is still bilateral trade with China. Hence we need to preserve and strengthen it. Indeed, as has already been envisaged in China, we need to imagine a rational inclusion of North Korea in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative toward the West. The maritime networks, currently already present in an eminently maritime country, such as North Korea, would be perfect for managing the Chinese networks that already start from Gwadar.
5) It would, therefore, be silly to do what some US leaders suggest – to force North Korea to choose between nuclear weapons and economic support. Kim Jong-un has studied Marx very well, when he was in Switzerland, and knows all too well that aid never comes “without strings attached.”
6) Hence, the real costs of the great nuclear decommissioning must be calculated accurately, with an initial dismantling of the chemical and bacteriological arsenal, to which the evaluation of social and economic impact shall be added. Finally, this shall also be matched by an initial, rational and credible support for starting a new industrialization of the North Korean economy, which cannot obviously be only the result of South Korean investments.
Hence, besides defining a good policy line for intervening on nuclear decommissioning, we shall also do a rational and economic calculation of future costs and investments.
This is needed to make Kim Jong-un’s relinquishment of his nuclear system not coincide with an economic crisis and a weak integration of the country in the future world market, which will be very different from the current one.