While the United States and North Korea speak of an unprecedented summit, the rest of the world awaits the results of it with a mixture of illusion and anxiety. Despite the intermittencies of the last weeks related to the summit that brings together Donald Trump and Kim Jong-unin Singapore, Washington, Pyongyang and the entire region are in a better position than six months ago. Do not forget that in November 2017, when North Korea was finishing its impressive twelve-month career testing missiles and atomic weapons, prominent voices in the US embraced the possibility of so-called preventive war, regardless of the unimaginable human and economic costs what it would entail Although some now complain that the change from the policy of provocation to diplomacy has left them stunned, daze is preferable to war. The key question now is whether this window of opportunity can turn into lasting progress towards denuclearization, peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
There are reasonable doubts. Both Pyongyang and Washington had reasons to take a step back and away from the edge of the chasm reached in 2017, but there is a dangerous imbalance in their expectations about how the negotiations will develop. Until recently, the Trump administration argued strongly in favor of a big bang deal,by which North Korea would carry out a rapid, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear capacity, after which Washington would grant economic and security rewards to Pyongyang. With this in mind, the US does not intend to ease the pressure and sanctions, which it believes have helped bring North Korea to the negotiating table, although there are signs that China has already begun to relax its application of sanctions, adding more friction with its relationship with the US.
However, it is clear that North Korea is not willing to get rid of its last security guarantor so quickly and prefers an “action-for-action” approach in which both sides take concrete steps in a gradual process, along the lines of the framework. agreed in the six-party talks of 2005. Others will also have a voice. Beijing, for example, is concerned that Pyongyang is too close to the US. By reaffirming its influence, it supports the Pyongyang approach as the one that least disturbs the prevailing strategic balance. Seeking urgently to reduce the risk of war and explore a rapprochement, Seoul has assumed an increasingly energetic role in uniting Pyongyang and Washington. Tokyo is concerned about the possibility of an agreement that does not address its strategic interests,
The way to address this imbalance and maximize the possibilities for the region to accept a hypothetical agreement would be for the US to assume the need for an “action-for-action” approach and to focus its attention on negotiating with Pyongyang its profile. Skeptics at the summit, such as US National Security Advisor John Bolton, have suggested that if North Korea were really serious about its denuclearization, it would agree with the “Libyan model”. However, in the current situation, the negative strategic implications for Pyongyang are too great, the bilateral confidence deficit is too deep and North Korea’s nuclear program too big and advanced to imitate the transfer of equipment and other short-term materials. the scope that characterized the denuclearization of Libya in 2003 and 2004. Even if such a thing were physically possible, the verification process and the confirmation that everything related to strategic value has been addressed would take years. Of course, the essence of “action for action” is that there must be concessions on both sides,
In his meeting on June 1 with Kim Jong-un’s representative, Kim Yong-chol , Trump seemed to be taking a turn toward accepting such gradual denuclearization. It is a welcome development, although the administration’s record raises doubts about the strength of this new position.
Managing expectations about the summit itself is also fundamental. It would be fanciful to expect that a summit announced improvised in March, with only three months of preparation, could produce a viable and consistent weapons control agreement. It would be much more realistic to aspire to a declaration of principles that, in general terms, address the main strategic requirements of each party, commit them to meet again and formally establish the current moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. There are many precedents from which one can start to elaborate said document. Once again, Trump’s recent statements – suggesting that several meetings would be needed – reflect a healthy, though possibly fleeting, realism.
Finally, the parties must set their sights on the destiny they seek to achieve after the summit. While that final destination should remain the total and supervised denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the political and practical impediments to negotiating a road map that achieves that goal could be prohibitive. An alternative would be to rethink an ambitious intermediate point on which to work, based on precedents that have been successful. In 2009, international inspectors had access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities. One possibility would be to bring them back, expand their mandate and, in stages, aim for a deep freeze that verifiably limits Pyongyang’s production of nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and related materials.
There are many ways to frame this deep freeze; many other plausible and constructive positions of comparable ambition, and many reasons to believe that a project of this scope – which entails risks and uncomfortable concessions on both sides – will not succeed. But we must not dismiss the opportunities of the present diplomatic impulse. Although this has been characterized by distrust, intimidation and excessive egos, its main element could be that leaders in Washington, Pyongyang or Seoul, for a combination of personal, political or diplomatic reasons, are inclined to deal with a crisis that threatens international peace and security like few others. Concern about the attitude of US and North Korean leaders is high. But at least in this matter