The current relations between the US and the DPRK

In short, North Korea does not want to fall by the wayside and wants, above all, to resume negotiations with the United States both on nuclear issues and on economic sanctions. Inevitably North Korea must be reassured of its permanence as a state, as well as of its controlled and, probably, partial denuclearisation, and of a complete and rapid integration into the world market

US President Donald Trump (right) and North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un. Archive photo: AP

As is well known, Kim Jong-Un imposed precise time and political limits on negotiations with the USA by the end of 2019.

Moreover, at that stage, the US intelligence community was discussing North Korea’s adoption of a new short-range missile, which would make its appearance at Christmas 2019.

For the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is important to finalise - as soon as possible - the strategic and above all economic negotiations with the United States or at least put them on a stable track.

Some substantiated Western sources also believe that the North Korean leadership is putting pressure on Kim Jong-Un himself to harden relations with Donald J. Trump’s Presidency.

Time is ripe and there have been negotiations, but the US indecisiveness on Korean issues risks putting the whole US strategic and economic system in the Pacific in crisis.

Indeed, the US stance on the North Korean issue and the related economic sanctions, the lawfulness of which is to be debated and called into question, has been swinging - just to say the least.

Kim Jong-Un had created - or at least this is what he believed - the conditions for full, fast and complete negotiations with the United States, especially at the meeting held in Hanoi in February 2019, where reference was made to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, the first of the items on the agenda, even in Kim Jong-Un's daily schedule.

President Trump also noted that "the idea of denuclearisation they have in North Korea is not the same as we have", which is also true. Hence negotiations ended without reaching any particular results.

On January 11 last, however, in a press report an important adviser to the Foreign Minister, Kim Kye Gwan, pointed out that reopening negotiations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States will be possible only if the latter adheres to the previous Singapore and Hanoi agreements, as it has already shown to do.

Hence to the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula and to the immediate lifting of sanctions.

In short, North Korea does not want to fall by the wayside and wants, above all, to resume negotiations with the United States both on nuclear issues and on economic sanctions.

As already noted, the lawfulness of sanctions sounds dubious to us.

After the Singapore meeting, however, President Trump felt that Kim Jong-Un "would return back home to start a process that would make his people very rich and very happy".

Psychologism, besides being a severe philosophical mistake - at least on the basis of what Husserl and his Phenomenology taught us - is also the terrible flaw of US diplomacy and intelligence.

Just at that time, however, President Trump had also declared that "there was no nuclear threat from North Korea", obviously for the United States.

Of the two, one. Either we want the end of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - an absolutely improbable goal - or serious negotiations are held, which presupposes a reasonable lifting of sanctions.

In the meeting held in Singapore in 2018, President Trump told us that Kim Jong-Un had adhered to the project of "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean peninsula.

In the US or North Korean version, which are very different from each other? We will never know.

However, there are no data regarding other strategic or economic concessions between the two parties.

This makes it hard for us to believe in Kim Jong-Un's conversion to strategic masochism.

Therefore, we are still at the terms of Kim Jong-Un's last "New Year's speech", the one in which the North Korean leader stated that he would not denuclearize North Korea if the USA did not stop its "hostile policies".

Hence either the United States explicitly accepts a linkage between the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the end of sanctions, or North Korea will slowly, but surely, return to its nuclear strategy, which, at that point, will cost him nothing.

But is President Trump's willingness to cease hostilities with North Korea and thus rebuild the stability of the entire Korean peninsula serious?

We do not know yet. For somebody, like the old British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the US President is now completely uninterested in Korean affairs.

And he is wrong, we might add.

In fact, if Kim Jong-Un were to quickly rebuild his nuclear arsenal, which seems currently possible, the possibility of attacks on U.S. territory would still be remote, certainly, but the US establishment would interpret a North Korean attack on the U.S. military positions in the Pacific as a kind of suicide for North Korea. Are we sure that China and Russia would not put very credible pressure on the United States? Are we sure that a North Korean attack in the Pacific would not, technically, be a success?

But, in fact, it is not: a possible attack by North Korea on the US and its allies’ bases in the Pacific would be highly destructive, politically very dangerous, but finally capable of unleashing the Russian and Chinese reactions in the region.

In January 2020, Kim Jong-Un asked his ruling class to follow and take unspecified "offensive measures" to break the deadlock in negotiations with the USA.

If the United States currently believes that North Korea is a quantité négligeable in the Asian equilibria, it is sorely mistaken.

China will never accept an unarmed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which would bring China into a close border contact with the USA and South Korea, given that the maritime area that North Korea is securing is also essential for the security of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Neither will Russia ever accept an unstabilized and reduced US presence on the Korean peninsula, which is also a strategic life insurance policy for the Russian operations between the Indian Ocean and the Greater Middle East.

Probably Kim Jong-Un will currently accept, with difficulty, a stable progression of the agreements with the USA on its nuclear power, both to revive the North Korean economy and to stabilize equilibria in the Far East.

It will, however, be a negotiation that will see - in place of the unruly Americans - many and more willing South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Russians, and even the pale and weak foreign policy of some surviving European countries.

If President Trump believes he can wait for the global economic crisis to reach North Korea, he has not well analysed all the terms of Kim Jong-Un's strategic equation.

The possible crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be supported to a large extent by Russia and China but, in all likelihood, there will be other new supporters.

Therefore, without pretences, President Donald J. Trump's attempt to denuclearize the Korean peninsula in words has currently failed.

On the other hand, Kim Jong-Un's speech of December 31, 2019, in which he spoke of a "new path" and assumed new and more advanced strategic weapons, in addition to a long confrontation with the USA, shows that the U.S. policy vis-à-vis North Korea has, once again, failed.

By now we know that the concept of "denuclearization" between the two sides has never been a common criterion.

Hence, if the North Korean concept is accepted, the military alliance between the USA and South Korea shall be broken. However, if denuclearization does not concern only South Korea - as the US diplomacy sometimes seems to suggest - there is no other way for North Korea if not to continue its nuclear program and, indeed, even to expand it.

If we proceed with the old logical and diplomatic mechanism - i.e.  the simple freezing sine conditione of North Korea's nuclear program, no concrete objective will be achieved, since North Korea uses its strategic nuclear system precisely to overcome sanctions, and vice versa.

Hence either the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula, or the North Korean nuclear program will go ahead smoothly - a program capable, however, of stopping or weakening the U.S. Japanese, Vietnamese and Indian operations in the Pacific. Does this make sense?

Moreover, the moratorium on strategic weapons, formally still in place, imposed by the North Korean government itself, still enables Kim Jong-Un to have an excellent relationship with China and Russia, which certainly do not want too much noise in the East.

Make a sound in the East, then strike in the West, as stated in the fifth Stratagem of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Hence now Kim Jong-Un does not want to put aside the South Korean leader, he never mentions in his last speeches, but also keeps a door open even with the USA. The North Korean leader does not say, in fact, he will automatically resume his actions with short-range and intermediate-range missiles, but makes it clear that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will soon rebuild its nuclear system and even expand it.

In other words, currently North Korea capitalizes on its possible medium-long term threat, while pointing out it can deal with a tactical, rather than strategic, short or medium range threat.

That is the best we can currently expect. Kim Jong-Un has not closed all doors, but he is careful not to open the door of divine fear, as in the I Ching's hexagram "discard the revolt, grab the yield and surrender". 

Meanwhile, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has not ordered any special launches or operations in recent months. This is also an important sign.

From a strictly economic viewpoint, which is only one of the criteria with which to study a State like North Korea, the recession - both stimulated by sanctions and imported from the global market - accounts for about 4.7% per year of the North Korean economy.

Neither China, especially today with the coronavirus epidemic, nor certainly the Russian Federation can replace the share of North Korea’s economy integrating with the world market.

Nevertheless, it is also hard to think - for a rational strategic player - of a country, the USA, which creates basic economic difficulties in North Korea, and then discounts them downwards at the negotiating table on nuclear power.

This is, however, a negotiation that neither Russia nor China would allow in any way.

President Trump, in fact, has to do with a significant part of the State Department, as well as CIA, which are pressing for an immediate, complete and fully verifiable nuclear decommissioning of North Korea. Then comes what may of North Korea's economy, for the better or for the worse.

Only at the end of this dismantling process, which should reasonably last at least eight years - if all goes well, but we doubt it - could the sanctions be unilaterally lifted. With what guarantees?

Are we sure?

What other option would inevitably be put forward by the USA to further weaken the lifting of sanctions? As Kim Jong-Un thinks, what could be the mechanism forcing the USA to lift sanctions and further end the pressure on North Korea’s foreign policy?

Trump Administration's more possibilist factions, vis-à-vis the North Korean politics, now have vague and unreliable plans.

We also need to consider the Iranian issue, in which, once again, the USA proposes an improbable and impossible total and radical denuclearization, if not with a local war. However, the same project applied to North Korea simply means the destabilization of the North Korean regime and its implosion, without knowing - as will also happen in Iran - when, how and where the trade sanctions will be lifted.

No state commits suicide so easily.

What could be a reasonable solution? The immediate temporary and conditional suspension of the primary economic and trade sanctions against North Korea.

There could also be an agreement between the EU, the USA, Japan and South Korea to phase out the North Korean nuclear system.

But inevitably North Korea must be reassured of its permanence as a State, as well as of its controlled and, probably, partial denuclearisation, and of a complete and rapid integration into the world market. It must also be reassured of the cessation of the clear and conventional nuclear threat coming from the South, the Pacific and the US bases in South Korea and in the region.

If the negotiation does not evaluate these options, it will be completely useless.

Russia and China will continue to make it clear they do not want the US Armed Forces at their borders. Hence North Korea will have to rely on its nuclear weapons to make up for its strategic weakness, which Kim Jong-Un knows very well it would not be fully offset by Russia or China. Finally, the strange US and EU sanctions will indefinitely stop the development of a decisive area for the whole of South-East Asia, which could also guarantee shared security in an area which, in a short time, will become central to global economic development.

Professor Valori is president of International World Group (IWG)

 

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