Even if North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize this time is sincere, that does not mean it won’t seek to maintain a nuclear option for the future.
Now that North Korea has agreed at the Singapore summit to work towards denuclearization certain elements will need to be in any nuclear deal for the agreement to be effective. For example, without a strong snapback provision, any deal might not be worth the paper it is written on.
Despite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s more recent suggestions that he is open to denuclearizing if the United States were to provide security guarantees for the regime, North Korea has a significantly longer history of arguing that it would never do so. This is compounded by North Korea’s spotty record of following through on prior deals. When the Clinton administration concluded the Agreed Framework in the 1990s, it only covered North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear program. While North Korea kept its end of the bargain on plutonium, it covertly pursued a highly enriched uranium program that was not explicitly covered. After Kim Jong-un came to power, the United States and North Korea concluded the Leap Day Agreement, which called for a North Korean moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and for the United States to provide food aid. Shortly after reaching a deal, North Korea conducted a satellite launch. Furthermore, the recent destruction of North Korea’s nuclear test tunnels may have been only for show.