How to view the summit
The U.S.-North Korean summit takes place today. The series of summits that began this year is heading toward the end of its first chapter. The chances of the North’s denuclearization will soon be revealed. The North is linking its nuclear weapons program with America’s policy of hostility toward it. North Korea argues that denuclearization is possible only when the hostile policy ends, claiming that only that will lead to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, the North’s demands for military and diplomatic measures must be considered to get anywhere near denuclearization. That inevitably brings about changes to the existing security structure. The future of the security structure of the Korean Peninsula will also be revealed today.
The Singapore summit is a negotiation for denuclearization in return for some kind of new security structure — the essential interest of South Korea. Until recently, anticipation was high, but expectations have quickly turned to pessimism. It is necessary to evaluate the summit calmly, not emotionally. To this end, we must set an appropriate viewpoint and standard for evaluation.
First, we can hardly expect a complete resolution of the nuclear problem. An agreement on principles on what to exchange between nuclear programs and hostile policies will probably be the best we can expect. For instance, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could agree on principles while leaving implementation to be negotiated later. There is a possibility that things will not go smoothly in future negotiations. And an agreement on principles will receive a wide range of evaluations depending on what was exchanged.
Let’s begin with what the United States can receive from North Korea: denuclearization. First, it is important to see if the two leaders will agree on the exact concept of complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID). If they fail to narrow their differences on the concept of denuclearization, it cannot be seen as a success.
The second issue is the route to denuclearization. While North Korea demands a step-by-step approach, the United States is negative about that thanks to its past experiences. If the roadmap uses an incremental approach and yet the steps are relatively simple and deadlines are set for each, it will be a better approach than in the past.
The third issue is whether the agreed upon principles on denuclearization will be a mere promise or will include actions. That relates to the so-called front-loading issue involving whether the dismantlement of nuclear weapons and materials will begin at an early stage or not. The United States must watch carefully until the end of the negotiation whether the North’s intention to hold on to its nuclear and missile programs will change or not.
The fourth issue is whether the United States will make its national security interests top priority or whether it will give some consideration to its allies. If the United States only concentrates on removing the North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles while treating the dismantlement of other missiles and nuclear weapons with less attention, that will be worrisome.
Fifth, we must brace for deception. The North may secretly hide some of its nuclear arms and missiles while claiming it has surrendered them all. Therefore, the agreement must meticulously stipulate the terms of inspection of the North’s nuclear weapons.
Now let’s talk about what the United States can offer. The North said U.S. military exercises, deployment of strategic assets, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, stationing of the U.S. Forces Korea, sanctions and operations to perturb the North Korean people are all examples of Washington’s hostile attitude. Because Trump is facing mid-term elections amid a political crisis, he may rush to produce a tangible — and immediate — outcome.
Therefore, we must pay special attention to whether what the United States offers is in coordination with our stance and if it hinders our security interest.
Then there is the issue of how the United States could offer regime security to the North. Establishing a peace regime and declaring an end to the Korean War are possible options. The North has been calling for negotiations for a peace treaty first. We must see how the peace treaty and denuclearization will be linked.
Another issue is improving U.S.-North relations. Because it is an unprecedented summit, the two leaders can talk about holding high-level talks, expanding exchanges and establishing liaison offices.
We must also pay attention to whether the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign will change and if economic and humanitarian aid will be offered. The summit itself can ease the pressure. We have to see who will pay for economic assistance.
Now, we also have to consider what happens if the summit is a failure. Even though there is a low possibility of complete failure, we must still consider it because Trump already mentioned canceling the summit once.
First, the two countries will criticize each other if the summit breaks down. The situation will rapidly worsen in this case. A second possibility is an ending of the summit with little accomplishment and with a promise to continue the negotiation. In this case, hawks will gain momentum in the United States and the future will be uncertain.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how those complex factors will be combined. But the outcome will be treated as the performance report for the first round of the summit diplomacy on the North Korean nuclear crisis. Denuclearization and the security structure of the Korean Peninsula will also face changes starting today. As a new situation will arise, we must carefully examine the outcome of the summit.
We must fight the temptation to make a favorable interpretation of the summit. We must set our next step based on a proper evaluation of the facts and prepare for a second round of the summit diplomacy, including a third inter-Korean summit in the fall. The denuclearization negotiations were always destined to be a bumpy road. After so many years of trying and failing, how could they be anything but? We must see the new reality and reflect on them with the clearest of eyes.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 29