The ICAS Lectures


The rationale for the summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim
is widely misunderstood by the critics of the American administration.

Peter Huessy

ICAS Winter Symposium

March 1, 2019
Cannon House Office Building, Room 122
United States House of Representatives
Capitol Hill Washington DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Peter Huessy

The rationale for the summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim
is widely misunderstood by the critics of the American administration.

Peter Huessy

The rationale for the summits between United States President Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim is widely misunderstood by the critics of the American administration. By meeting with the DPRK leader, the administration is seeking to change the "accepted" narrative about the Korean peninsula and Western Pacific just as it has with respect to the Middle East.

Whether the administration can be successful is an open question but changes already secured in the Middle East give support to the administration's strategy and goals.

For example, in the case of the Middle East, for decades the "Peace Process" tail wagged the Middle East dog with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and previously the PLO having near veto power over US policy in the region. So central was this to America's thinking that former US President William Clinton said in 2010, if Israel simply provided the Palestinians with a state, most terrorism would go away. [As if the grievance of Muslim terrorists about a Palestinian state explains their wholesale murder of fellow Muslims, to say nothing of Israelis and Americans killed in literally thousands of Islamic terror attacks!] .

President Trump has rejected this Middle East framework or narrative. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, closed the Palestinian Authority office in new York, quickly decimated ISIS, and cut significantly the funding for United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA).

This UN refugee office, founded shortly after World War II, has still some 75 years later not settled "Palestinian refugees." Now decades later, the children of these refugees as well as Arabs drawn from throughout the Middle East are cleverly kept in slums and barrios on the West Bank from which a ready pool of terrorists can be drawn.

President Trump also then put together an informal alliance of Gulf states, particularly the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, to be joined by Israel and the United States, to challenge Iran, which as the worst terror sponsor state in the world was finally the primary focus of United States concern.

The administration withdrew from the JCPOA, as Iran is not living up to its obligations under the agreement. And contrary to promises of changed Iranian behavior, since the 2015 JCPOA "deal", Iran has aggressively increased its funding for terror, including to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, increased its funding and arms shipments to the Islamic jihadis in Yemen , while also accelerating its ballistic missile programs, while making significant strides in nuclear weapons technology capability as just recently outlined in a February 25th report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

On North Korea, (DPRK), the administration similarly has sought to change the foreign policy conventional wisdom about the DPRK nuclear threat. To do this the administration had to first cement the US relationship with our ally the Republic of Korea and underscore (not hide) the central role of China in the ongoing hostile policy of the DPRK in the region.

Second, President Trump had to assert that the US was in the business of deterring the DPRK, not the other way around. The President's comment about having a really big "nuclear button" was not macho bragging but a statement of fact: no longer would the US tolerate DPRK attacks on the US, Japan or the Republic of Korea, whether bombings, cross-border commando raids, sinking of Navy vessels, shelling of villages or grabbing of American ships such as the USS Pueblo.

The Trump administration was sending a very strong message that the US would no longer be silent in the face of DPRK threats to turn Seoul or Los Angeles into a sea of fire. As former CIA Director Mike Morell told me at the 2018 Reagan Defense Forum, the US since the end of the Korean War in 1953 had not once used military action in response to a DPRK attack on the US, its interests or allies, so how could that be characterized as a "hostile policy?" .

Third, the administration sought an immediate end to the DPRK practice of testing ballistic missiles over the ROK and Japan, as well as testing nuclear weapons, and threatening Hawaii, Guam or California with "merciless" strikes.

Fourth, the US secured the deployment in ROK of a THAAD missile defense battery while also increasing by $60 million annually the ROK support for American troops. The administration now can point to the additional ROK support when going to the American people and asking for greater defense spending for our own military forces, which over the past two years has been very significant. That quid-pro-quo underscores the commitment the administration has made to the US-ROK alliance.

Fifth, having cemented the US-ROK alliance, a message is sent to the DPRK that nothing is going to undermine that relationship and American soldiers are going to remain on the peninsula, contrary to the recurring demands of the DPRK and China that all US troops leave.

Sixth, the administration has suggested an alternative economic vision for the DPRK, which situated between three economic powerhouses, (China, ROK and Japan), could become certainly in relative terms, economically far better off than it is today. Critics may be right that such a deal is not possible. It may be the North Korean leadership wants only to survive, keep its nuclear weapons, and only work to secure sufficient funds to take care of its ruling elite, and otherwise wait for the day that US forces leave the peninsula.

However, the security implications of a permanently nuclear armed DPRK are sufficiently serious to support the administration's initiative to denuclearize the peninsula. In January 2019, the special US envoy of the United States to North Korea, Mr. Stephen Biegun, announced at the end of January 2019 in a speech at Stanford University that the DPRK had indeed pledged to give a full inventory of its nuclear enrichment facilities at the upcoming summit.

Indeed, why would the DPRK even bargain away its nuclear weapons capability if it guarantees the survival of the DPRK regime? It only makes sense to trade the nuclear capability if the DPRK's nuclear weapons are in fact not to protect the North's sovereignty or guarantee its survival but for some other purpose.

For example, what if instead the nuclear program of the DPRK is to secure leverage with which to bargain concessions from the US and the ROK? And what if the goal is to secure a very important concession- the removal of US military forces from the Korean peninsula, a long- sought goal put on the table long before the DPRK acquired nuclear weapons?

So far, however, with the exception of a delay in troop exercises, the Trump administration has correctly resisted making any such "concessions." This is despite concessions demanded regularly by angry DPRK officials at meetings with American officials, especially the most recent meeting with the United States Secretary of State.

As my friend China expert Mike Pillsbury explains, the Chinese and the DPRK are flummoxed by President Trump. These two nations had regularly expected minor and reversible "concessions" by the North would be reciprocated by the US and allies with massive food and energy assistance, as well as sanctions relief, as has occurred in the past.

Now it is true that for all the past efforts going back to the Agreed Framework of 1994 between the United States and the DPRK, the North has previously rejected a trade of ongoing sanctions relief and economic assistance in return for "giving up" its nuclear capability.

However, that changed in Hanoi at the past summit. The North for the first time did explicitly agree to dismantle its nuclear enrichment facility at Yongbyon, but in return for all sanctions (mainly those imposed by the United Nations) being eliminated that are "harmful" to the people of North Korea. This has been described as a "small deal" proposal, but nonetheless it was an actual trade heretofore never put on the table.

What the North did not count on was the US countering with a requirement that ALL North Korean nuclear facilities and weapons be dismantled, ("a very big deal"), implying the American intelligence community knows that the DPRK has considerably more nuclear facilities than those put on the table at Hanoi.

Why is that significant? Well, it the question is trading an end to sanctions for denuclearization, then the definition of what exactly constitutes the North Korean nuclear capability is what is up for discussion, not that the nuclear weapons must be retained by the North to secure its survival.

After all, is should now to clear to the DPRK (and China) that the US troops in the ROK and Japan, and the US military presence in the Western Pacific is not on the table for discussion.

The Trump administration took office after 8 years of 'strategic patience", which led only to more DPRK missiles and nuclear bombs, and weapons shipments to terror states. The proponents of such policies-having failed miserably-- now lecture the Trump administration about what our North Korean policy should be but are apparently unwilling to see that the very nature of the discussion has now been changed -to a necessary focus on the DPRK nuclear capability and not on the US military presence or supposed US "hostile policy" in the region.

Flummoxed indeed!

This page last updated March 8, 2019 jdb