North Korea Watch

  1. North Korea Watch
  2. North Korea's Strategy of "Brinkmanship Nuclear Diplomacy"and the Prospect of US-North Korean Relationship

North Korea's Strategy of "Brinkmanship Nuclear Diplomacy"and the Prospect of US-North Korean Relationship

Kim Dong Su(Ph. D), Visiting Scholar to Waseda University (Former North Korean Diplomat)

 1.           North Korea's Strategy of "cliff-edge nuclear diplomacy"

A.         North Korea's Strategy of "Cliff-edge Nuclear Diplomacy", Before the Possession of Nuclear Weapons(the late 1980s and late 1990s)

 Before the first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, North Korea threatened and menaced the U.S. and the international community with no nuclear weapons and received huge free economic aid. Especially during the 1994 Geneva North Korea-U.S. dialogue, North Korea's Foreign Ministry reported to Kim Jong-il, "A proposal to declare possession of nuclear weapons(falsehood) while looking at the attitude of the Clinton administration."


Since the United States raised all-out economic sanctions against North Korea to the U.N. Security Council and the mentioned about the invasion of North Korea, the Geneva talks were almost broken out in the face of danger. Upon receiving a report from the Foreign Ministry, Kim Jong-il instructed the New York mission to inform the U.S. of North Korea's final position on the declaration of its possession of nuclear weapons through a nuclear test.


At that time, the Clinton administration was so embarrassed to hear the North Korea's warning of the fake declaration of nuclear test through an unofficial line from the North's mission in New York and it directly proposed to resume the 1994 Geneva talks again. The Clinton administration promised a peace treaty between the U.S. and North Korea in return for North Korea's abandonment of nuclear development at the 1994 Geneva talks.


And instead of holding off on the declaration of nuclear weapons and freezing only plutonium programs that have nothing to do with the removal of uranium, USA agreed Framework, promising enormous economic aid, including recognition of the North Korean regime, construction of KEDO, and provision of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil each year. Kim Jong-il personally awarded the highest Republican medals to all members of the "Nuclear Task-force Team," including Kang Sok-ju, Kim Kye-gwan, former Foreign Minister Lee Yong-ho and current First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Sun-hee, who successfully led the Geneva Agreement between North Korea and the U.S. And, Kim Jong Il instructed to develop the nuclear weapons more vigorously in the future, too, while continuously putting on a thick smokescreen to ensure the international community, including the U.S., that North Korea has nuclear weapons in full swing. Specifically, he instructed to use the "nuclear cards" to the most and continue to receive huge economic aid from the United States and South Korea.


 B.          North Korea's Strategy of "Cliff-edge Nuclear Diplomacy", After the Possession of Nuclear Weapons(Middle of 2000s ~ Present)

 As there is a big difference between North Korea and the U.S. regarding to the North Korean nuclear solution, it is estimated that North Korea's claim to the U.S. is as follows: It looks like that North Korea insists on dismantling its nuclear weapons program through the third phases, namely, the dismantlement of its future nuclear program, current nuclear program and the past nuclear program , while insisting on the "Principle of Simultaneous Actions" to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.


First of all, it means the dismantlement of the future nuclear program aimed at the U.S., the dismantlement of the ICBM program, and that it can be made within a year depending on whether the U.S. compensates. In the second phase, the disposal of existing nuclear programs, plutonium and uranium facilities, and claims to be scrapped in the mid- to long-term due to huge compensation conditions.


It claims nuclear disarmament, including chemical and biochemical conventional weapons, as the third step. To this end, Kim Jong Un proposed to Trump that the North Korea dismantle its nuclear facilities in only Yongbyon to be jointly verified by U.S. experts and North Korean experts. It is analysed that North Korea has consistently pursued a policy to save its economy  and   preserve   its    regime   by   breaking   away   from diplomatic isolation through improved relations with the U.S.


It strongly insist on the U.S. administration's recognition of North Korea's Possession of nuclear weapons and the North Korea-U.S. peace treaty, followed by denuclearization. If the U.S. administration guarantees a large amount of economic aid, including documentation of security guarantees and energy and food, North korea has consistently expressed its position to freeze nuclear power and not spread nuclear technology to the world as a nuclear power.


However, it is analyzed that the US administration still insisted only on North Korea's disclosure of its nuclear development program through strict verification and compensation for its complete abandonment of its nuclear program. It is assessed that if the nuclear inspections and verification of North Korea do not go in the way of US wanted, the U.N. Security Council resolution will be continued to raise the risk of the North Korean nuclear crisis.


After the no-deal of the Hanoi talks, the U.S. flew state- of-the-art reconnaissance planes over the Korean Peninsula day after day due to North Korea's concerns over its strategy. Especially, it maintain a military posture against North Korea at any time, including the entry of strategic bombers B-52 and B1-B over the Korean Peninsula and the gathering of three nuclear carrier groups in the Taiwan Strait. In other words, the

U.S. remains fully prepared to respond immediately and militarily if North Korea provokes it at any time.

2.              Prospects for the development of U.S.-North Korea relations


A.       North Korea's expected attitude

 Given that all the alternatives the U.S. will choose are disadvantageous to North Korea, North Korea is expected to do its best in diplomacy with Biden administration to achieve the following temporary goals: North Korea's leadership is expected to end the Trump era with 'strategic patience' and seek a new U.S.-North Korea dialogue with the incoming Biden U.S. administration.


The role of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Nuclear Task-force Team, which successfully led to the Geneva nuclear deal in 1994 during the administration of President Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party, is expected to be more strengthened. Ri Yong-ho, Kim Kye-gwan, Choe Sun-hui, Ri Gun, Ri Myong- guk, Hyeon Hak-bong and Jeong Seong-il, the key members in 1994, were promoted to top foreign ministry officials during the Kim Jong-un era.


In the future, they are expected to do their best to boldly demonstrate their loyalty to Kim Jong-un by bringing about a second "Geneva nuclear deal" through the resumption of talks with the incoming Biden administration on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. But if the Biden administration rejects the top-down offer and continues to press North Korea, insisting on 'first abandonment of nuclear weapons, then regime security and economic aid'. North Korea is expected to provoke a seventh nuclear test, or another demonstration of military    power  called   the   ICBM   test,    which  can   reach the U.S. mainland.


B.      B. The U.S.'s predictive attitude.

 Possibility of Confrontation

 North Korea aims to negotiate with the United States, but it looks like that the Biden administration is expected to increase pressure on the North without meeting the minimum "conditions and justifications." As North Korea aims to expand its nuclear capabilities, the Biden administration is also expected to quickly raise sanctions. The new Biden administration is expected to shift from the current level of sanctions to higher levels in the order of economic sanctions and diplomatic and military pressure.


In this case, North Korea is expected to pursue nuclear development more boldly, interpreting the Biden administration's diplomatic efforts as a U.S. vulnerability. The worst-case scenario is that North Korea will strongly protest Biden's pressure on the North Korea, convinced by the collapse of the North Korean regime. In particular, North Korea is expected to accelerate its seventh nuclear test following the ICBM long-range missile launch, with several small additional provocations.


Possibility of Compromise

 The North Korean issue will be a priority in Biden's administration's Asia policy, but it is expected to take the form of "quiet planning" and diplomacy rather than public action. In other words, it is expected to seek a structure that strengthens cooperation with long-standing allies by reversing the "predictability" and "principles" of foreign policy. The possibility of a summit without any preconditions such as the Trump administration seems to be low.


While North Korea wants to continue to increase its nuclear capabilities, it can be assumed that the Biden administration continues to make diplomatic efforts. This is expected to be a case in which the Biden administration does not seek a regime change in North Korea due to practical limitations, but is seeking to improve relations on the condition of nuclear freeze and abandonment. In this case, the possibility of bilateral talks between North Korea and the U.S. on a more practical level, as North Korea claims, cannot be ruled out.


Nevertheless, if North Korea pushes ahead with the ICBM or SLBM launch 7th Nuclear test in the wake of the upcoming South Korea-U.S. military drills, it is expected to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue unprecedentedly tough. In this case, the U.S. is expected to stick to its stance that cooperation with South Korea must deter North Korea from developing nuclear and long-range missiles for the sake of the U.S. national interest, including stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


3.           3. The Structure of the Standing Committee for US-North Korea Talks and N uclear in the Foreign M inistry and Implications

The "Standing Committee for US-NK Talks and Nuclear" was established inside the Foreign Ministry at the end of the 1980s when the North Korean nuclear matters were discussed earnestly in IAEA. The decisive organizations of the "Standing Committee" are the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of People's Army, the Committee for Atomic Power Industry and the Ministry of State Political Defence and Security.


The Structure of the "Standing Committee for US-NK Talks and Nuclear" of the Foreign Ministry is as followings;


As we have seen above , North Korea's nuclear capability is already unofficially recognized by the U.S. and Western intelligence agencies. It is analyzed that North Korea will continue to develop its nuclear program to be highly precise and diverse in terms of quantity and quality in the future. Over the past half-century, North Korea has been focusing on nuclear development, while neighboring countries, including Russia and China, as well as the United States and Japan, have held numerous ostensible diplomatic talks to denuclearize the North.

But looking back on today, half a century later, it is no exaggeration to say that it has failed to produce inferior results and that it has been helplessly subjected to brinkmanship tactics by North Korea to buy time for its nuclear development. In the surface of dialogue, North Korea became more enthusiastic about developing nuclear weapons and missiles, and at the eighth Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Jong Un officially declared North Korea in the face of the world.


It is no exaggeration to say that the international community and the free world camp's strategy to respond to North Korea's nuclear weapons program failed in the past period. The reality is that North Korea's nuclear capabilities are being completed and even the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and SLBMs, which can carry nuclear weapons to the U.S. mainland, are showing force. Nevertheless, we need to realize the harsh logic of power and take more initiative in responding to the international community and the UN Security Council's pressure on North Korea.


First of all, it is analyzed that the status quo of the South Korea-U.S. Military Alliance is desperately needed as the North Korean threat still persists on the Korean Peninsula without complete denuclearization of the North Korea. It is highly likely that the signing of a peace treaty, not the establishment of a substantial peace regime, will lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and the dismantlement of the South Korea-U.S. Military Alliance without easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.


Therefore, even if the denuclearization proceeds smoothly, the joint goal of the Korea-U.S.-Japan Military Alliance at this stage is to maintain a strong deterrence against North Korea, considering that it will take a considerable amount of time for North Korea to completely denuclearize. On the other hand, it needs to carefully consider the "Open with US and Close with South Korea" policy, which North Korea directly negotiated with the U.S. over South Korea during the Bill Clinton administration. It is important to work closely with the U.S. on exit strategies for future pressure on North Korea so that the same thing does not happen in the Biden administration.


For now, it is not easy to gauge under what conditions we can talk to North Korea, but it is necessary to clarify the South Korean government's denuclearization policy and specify the scope and target for denuclearization. It is also necessary to establish Seoul`s position on detailed issues related to the declaration, verification, disablement and dismantlement of North Korea`s nuclear weapons program and to publicly address some of them.


//the end//