The North Korea Summit: Failure or Fake News?

    Wallace C. Gregson

    Security, Asia

    A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in Seoul

    The summit’s cancelation offers Washington, its allies, and its friends an opportunity to consider some new policies and strategies.

    Maybe the summit is not too big to fail.

    The May 24 announcement and presidential letter stamps “Cancelled” across the theater posters on the Singapore summit mooted for June 12. Maybe it is, but we’ve seen a lot of pre-summit maneuvers to establish negotiating leverage. Maybe this is just the latest in a series of negotiating ploys and hype tactics to capture media hits.

    If it is cancelled, what’s the effect? Well, not much changes. But it does offer a good time for the United States, our allies, and our friends to consider some new policies and strategies.

    What hasn’t changed:

    Kim Jong-un understands the power, the leverage, of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, including cyber. Regarding nuclear weapons, their high value resides in their potential. “Use” is worse than useless—it would be disastrous.

    With his nuclear weapons capability, he gained three summit meetings: two with China, one with South Korea and perhaps one with the United States. Kim wants nuclear weapons. He wants North Korea to be treated as a nuclear weapons state. And he wants to play the large powers off against each other. He particularly wants to weaken American ties to Japan and Korea, decrease U.S. presence and he wants to unify the Korean Peninsula on his terms.

    In the near term, he intends to enter prolonged discussions over nuclear weapons with the advantage, and to structure talks in the manner established in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty discussions. One goal he has in mind is to change the subject from denuclearization to U.S. military exercises, the U.S. threat and the U.S.-ROK alliance. North Korea’s stated position has been “de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” defined as applying to all nuclear-capable forces on the Peninsula. (It’s not hard to determine who that is.) This requires concessions on U.S. forces in Korea and Japan

    The basic nature of the North Korean regime remains unchanged, and it is impossible to change that nature without regime change. It is a particularly enduring totalitarian state, existing solely to serve the Kim family regime—that is to say, the Kim family and approximately one million or so core supporters who must be kept satisfied. The nation of North Korea—the population—is in reality hostage to the regime.

    North Korea survives through sovereign criminality, or criminal sovereignty as you prefer.

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