Bringing about Denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula
Experts exchange views on historic U.S.-North Korea summit

June 15, 2018

On the evening of June 13, the day after the historic summit between the leaders of the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, The Genron NPO held an emergency forum titled "Interpreting the Outcome of the U.S.-North Korea Summit."

Genron President Yasushi Kudo opened the forum by offering his greetings in his position as moderator. He spoke about the summit that had taken place the previous day, offering his opinion that, "while the summit between the leaders could be described as historic, no concrete actions were taken towards denuclearization, no deadlines were set, and no methods of verification were agreed upon. I think many people will have watched the proceedings with a sense of unease - as if it was all simply a political stage show postponing the real work that needs to be done."

Kudo continued by describing why the emergency forum was significant.

"History is being made on the Korean Peninsula, and we must start preparing for it. With all of this in mind, today we would like to discuss what sort of concrete measures will be needed to bring about the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

With that, the forum got underway.

Four speakers were invited to take part in the discussions: Qingguo Jia, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University (and member of the Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee); Yuji Miyamato, former Ambassador to China; Masanori Nishi, former Administrative Vice-Minister of Defense; and Yoji Koda, former Commander in Chief of the Maritime Self-Defense Fleet.


Kim Jong-Il profited most from summit negotiations

Before beginning of the discussion, Kudo reported on the results of a survey of experts hurriedly conducted by The Genron NPO the previous day.

Regarding the success of the summit, a majority of respondents at 51.9% responded that it was "neither a success nor a failure," following by 29.8% describing it as a "success," and 14.4% describing it as a "failure." Participants were also asked whether or not an agreement had been reached during the talks regarding a clear path that would lead to the complete denuclearization of the peninsula. A total of 48.4% answered, "It's a step towards a solution, but ultimately, a resolution will depend on further discussions and the future is still unclear." This was followed by 27.0% who answered that, "There was progress made, but the problem of complete denuclearization remains unresolved." Combining these two responses, the survey shows that a total of 75.4% of respondents believe that there are still difficulties to be overcome before denuclearization is achieved. Moreover, when asked which leader gained a greater advantage through the negotiations, slightly more than half (50.5%) answered that they believe Worker's Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong-Il gained most, while only 9.1% responded that U.S. President Donald Trump gained most.

Was the summit a success or failure? A step forward or is it simply too late to back out?

The first U.S.-North Korea summit has been described as having brought President Trump fame while bringing Chairman Kim profit, but the four panelists were asked what they believe in regards to whether they believe the talks were a success or a failure.

First to speak was Yuji Miyamoto.

"I don't want to say the talks were a success based on this one meeting," he said, "But they were successful in the sense that they are a step forward. However, a mountain of problems still remains, so we can't get too optimistic."

Miyamoto also suggested that President Trump's ultimate goal lies in the November mid-term elections, saying that, "If the domestic situation changes after the mid-terms, things do not progress as expected, and he finds that North Korea isn't moving (on these issues), we may see a stronger attitude from Mr. Trump."

Qingguo Jia had a more positive take on the summit.

"The summit was able to relieve the tension regarding the nuclear weapons and missile problems," Jia responded. "And they displayed a basically shared recognition of the denuclearization issue, so on these two points, it was a success."

"It is important to work towards the objective," he continued calmly. "It's premature to start talking about the future simply because we have a foundation for a peaceful resolution. Many difficulties remain. There is much to be done before we can tackle that peaceful resolution, so while it is something to be happy about, we have no reason to be too happy."

Former Administrative Vice-Minister of Defense Masanori Nishi provided a more pessimistic outlook.

"The leaders of both countries have already met and talked, so there's no way for them to back out now. It's possible that neither country has any idea on how to proceed from here. If they can't back out, we have no choice but to just watch and see where they end up."

On the other hand, Nishi made a few suggestions regarding the reasons behind North Korean missile development. First, it may have been in response to stronger South Korea-China ties, which North Korea saw as a betrayal. Second, nuclear weapons are comparatively more cost effective than normal military weaponry, and by diverting the money that would have been spent on conventional weapons away from the military to the party, Chairman Kim apparently wants to pursue the country's economic development.

America gets a failing grade

Yoji Koda appears often in the media speaking about the issues surrounding North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

"One way of evaluating the talks is to look at what the U.S. and North Korea originally intended to achieve, and then see what they accomplished and what they lost," Koda explained. "For example, from America's perspective, they wanted CVID (Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Denuclearization), and not to touch upon the topic of U.S. Forces on the Korean Peninsula There were a number of those. But the U.S. lost out on every one. They basically got an F on this test. It was a clear American failure."

From his perspective as a former defense official, Koda also touched upon President Trump's statement at the press conference regarding the ending of joint U.S.-South Korea exercises.

"I think he was still enjoying the high from the talks, but it was rash," Koda said. "He described the exercises as 'uneconomical' and 'provocative (to North Korea),' and I don't think the military will be happy to hear their commander-in-chief saying that sort of thing."

Koda finished by saying that considering all of these points, the talks will surely be seen as having been a win for North Korea.

Kudo responded to the statements of the four speakers by asking, "Did the talks achieve as much as could be achieved? Or were they simply making compromises to keep the talks going?"

Defining "denuclearization"

Jia raised another issue.

"There were other versions (of the agreement), but this was the document that both sides could present to the public," he said. "I think it is possible that they have a shared understanding of the CVID issue, and while they agreed on it, it couldn't be made public."

Jia also pointed out some potential future issues.

"Many questions still remain. Will the U.S. will agree not to deploy nuclear weapons to South Korea if North Korea abandons its own nuclear weapons? Will the U.S. agree not to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent against North Korea? Not to preemptively use them? Not include South Korea under its nuclear umbrella? There needs to be discussion in the future as to whether or not there is a concrete definition of the term 'denuclearization'."

Nishi noted that he was in agreement with Jia on this point.

"The North Korean nuclear debate is simple, but what do we do about the nuclear weapons on U.S. submarines? If the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized, what parts of the U.S. nuclear arsenal become subject to that agreement?"

He continued by describing the difficult and complicated process of abolishing nuclear weapons.

"For North Korea to protect their own system, they need agreement not only from the U.S., but also from China and Russia," he said. "And if they aren't sure they have a guarantee that their system will be protected, they will not abandon their nuclear program. No one knows when North Korea will be able to promise it will abandon its nuclear weapons, and no one knows if the U.S. will define its own nuclear weapons as part of the agreement, so we don't know how to surmount this issue of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula."

Kudo moved the discussion forward by asking the speakers whether or not President Trump is truly prepared to move toward denuclearization.


Prime Minister Abe key to advising President Trump

Nishi explained that in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the issues will lie not only in dismantling North Korea's nuclear program, but also in how to treat the U.S.'s nuclear weapons. However, he expressed some concern that there is ambiguity on that point in terms of "how to define the U.S. nuclear weapons, and which of its weapons should be scrapped" which led to the question of "how to think about the lack of clarity surrounding North Korean nuclear weapons, and whether or not American nuclear weapons are included in the program."

"The discussions will be like chasing a mirage," he said. "And I don't know if President Trump understands how difficult it will be."

Koda drew attention to a sentence in the joint statement signed by both leaders that reads, "The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-up negotiations, led by the U.S secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.-DPRK Summit."

Koda pointed out that, "even though they could start negotiations next week, the North Korean representative hasn't even been chosen yet."

Koda also believes that taking a more skeptical stance allows one to interpret that sentence as an attempt by North Korea to drag out negotiations through switching representatives, or as an attempt to back out of the agreement. Additionally, the U.S. needs to have a solid, unwavering strategy, and even though President Trump has strongly insisted on CVID up to this point, he regularly changes his statements out-of-hand. This attitude of not adhering to the objective, warned Koda, is dangerous. On that basis, Koda hopes that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will provide President Trump with "some firm advice" to stop him straying from his path.

Kudo then asked the speakers, "Frankly speaking, do you think the North Korean nuclear issue can be resolved?


By no means optimistic

Jia noted that the denuclearization process includes inspections and many other activities that can be seen as overly interfering by a sovereign state, and it will require a considerable amount of patience for a country as proud as North Korea to accept this. Moreover, Chairman Kim inherently believes that nuclear weapons are essential to maintaining a military balance with South Korea and ensuring their own survival. For this reason, Jia warned against optimism, as changes in international conditions will likely lead to North Korea withdrawing from the agreement.

The coming month will be important

Nishi explained that Chairman Kim benefited greatly from these talks, but while he gained concessions, things will become very difficult for him if he doesn't keep his promises and angers President Trump. Nishi believes that Chairman Kim's success depends on the coming month, and if he does not send a positive message to the world, he will be caught in difficult predicament.

"Hell awaits" if the issue isn't resolved now

Koda was asked what he believes will happen to the world if, theoretically, the denuclearization is not achieved, and he answered, "Nuclear proliferation will propagate throughout the world, and North Korea will be at the heart of it."

Such a situation "would create a hell more horrible than anything we'd experience by waging war today," he said, emphasizing the necessity of resolving the issue right away.

Finally, Kudo asked, "What should we do now?"

Important to help North Korea feel hopeful about the future

Jia argued that it is necessary for all parties to reaffirm that achieving stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula will greatly benefit all countries involved. Regarding what Japan and China should do, he believes that they can help North Korea understand the benefits of denuclearization through economic assistance, security guarantees, and more, adding that, "it is important to help North Korea feel hopeful about the future."

At the same time, Jia said that it will be necessary to persuade the U.S. to not make unacceptable demands of North Korea in the future.

Now is the time to bring wisdom to the table

Miyamoto pointed out that North Korea was provoked into developing its nuclear weapons when the relevant countries continued pursuing only their own national interests and not collaborating. He argued that it is now time for these countries to come together and pool their wisdom. If each country closely cooperates with the others, Miyamoto believes that will produce an idea on how to achieve Jia's proposal of convincing North Korea of the benefits of denuclearization. However, he also stated that as countries are cooperating, President Trump's "America First" policy is dangerous, and suggested that Japan could play a large role in bringing that under control by actively leading international collaboration regarding this matter. Miyamoto added that he expects private organizations such as The Genron NPO to be at the forefront of the collaborative effort and creation of proposals.

After a question-and-answer session, Kudo again addressed those gathered.

"A historical change has begun," he said. "I hope that we too can contribute to accelerating discussions like this that may lead toward achieving peace in Northeast Asia."

With that, Kudo expressed his enthusiasm for the upcoming 6th Japan Korea Future Dialogue to be convened on June 22 in Seoul, and brought the energetic discussion to a close.


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