Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un had a historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The mercurial leaders’ summit was a major diplomatic breakthrough between technically still-warring nations. It signals the United States is prepared to recognize North Korea as a ‘normal country’, and also the former’s settlement of a standoff over latter’s nuclear arsenal. Thought the Summit has pulled back Korean peninsula from the brink of nuclear war, yet it is too early to conclude that the process of ending the nuclear weapons program of North Korea has realistically begun.
This Summit took place at the time when Americans are buffeted by war weariness and also confronting revival of strategic competition among the Great Powers. Therefore, the Trump administration does not afford any military operation in the Korean Peninsula that end up in an asymmetrical warfare like 2001 Operation Enduring (Afghanistan) and 2003 Freedom Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). After the failure of his coercive diplomatic tactics to terrorize North Korean ruling elite, he rationally decided to engage autocratic regime diplomatically.
The North Korean ruling elite is aware of the Americans limitation. They have confidence in their nuclear deterrent. Despite having confidence in their nuclear deterrent, they are weary of economic sanctions. They realize the destabilization repercussions of economic instability. Therefore, they desire a diplomatic breakthrough with Americans for economic and political necessities without compromising on their nuclear arsenal. Trump administration’s projected objective of the Summit was to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Otherwise, sooner South Koreans and Japanese may alter their nuclear nonproliferation policies. During the 2013 tension between Pyongyang and Seoul, nearly two-thirds South Koreans demanded to purchase or manufacture tactical nuclear weapons in a nationwide poll. Though Japanese are remained firm with their pacifist’s nuclear policy, yet nuclearized regional strategic environment may oblige them to think otherwise in the near future. Notably, both states have a potential to convert their advanced civilian nuclear programs into nuclear weapons programme.
Chairman Kim desires to be recognized as a legitimate ruler of his people and also the repeal of a pariah treatment of North Korea by the United States and its allies. The Summit will be having political, military, and economic dividends for Pyongyang. It lowers the military tensions in the Korean Peninsula. The Little Rocket is no more a threat to mighty power and thereby no more ‘fire and furry’ bellicose rhetoric. It relaxes the crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed on North Korea. It also enhances the political clout of Supreme leader domestically and internationally.
The North Koreans decided to accommodate the Americans concern on nuclear weapons, partially. They announced to observe a moratorium on the nuclear explosions and ballistic missiles test without compromising on their existing nuclear arsenal. They dismantled their nuclear weapons testing site before the Summit to win the confidence of Trump administration. Many analysts opine that the testing site was already cracked due to the thermonuclear tests. Nevertheless, these plans proved enough to bring President Trump on the table. The Americans also showed flexibility in their attitude towards the North Korean autocratic regime and nuclear weapons program. They had unilaterally put a hold on new sanctions against North Korea. President Trump stated before summit that: “I’m not going to put them on until such time as talks break down.”
It was reported that Pyongyang expressed willingness to roll back its nuclear weapons program if Washington provides reliable security assurance and other benefits. Theoretically, it seems feasible. However, it’s difficult for both to satisfy each other. Are North Koreans prepared to allow free inspections of their entire nuclear infrastructure by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors? Is Trump administration not ignoring, its non-proliferation commitments? The cancelling of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea and latter’s withdrawal from Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 manifest that Pyongyang will not compromise on its nuclear deterrent. They understand that nuclear weapons only provide them sovereign defence capability.
The review of the literature reveals that the United States nuclear non-proliferation efforts have been largely subsumed under other strategies and missions, underplayed, or even ignored. For instance, Americans very comfortably ignored India’s violation of IAEA safeguards at the CIRUS nuclear power plant in Trombay, near Mumbai, which had driven them to lobby for the formation of the NSG in 1975, while signing the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2006 for the pursuit of their political and economic objectives. Presently, the Americans are lobbying for India’s NSG full membership. Hence, for the pursuit of their political objectives in East Asia, the Americans can overlook their denuclearisation of North Korean agenda.
To conclude, Trump-Kim Summit is a welcome step. It implies that the United States has recognized North Korea as a de-jure state. Indeed, it’s a jubilant movement for the North Koreans. Nevertheless, the denuclearisation of North Korea seems a sham strategy of the United States.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.