North Korea’s Response to the Moon Jae-in Administration’s Message to North Korea and Issues to Consider at the Next US-South Korea Summit

A Presentation with Reporters June, 2017

 

On June 23, 2017, the National Reconciliation Council, North Korea’s organization tasked with overseeing the unification of the two Koreas, criticized President Moon Jae-in’s message to North Korea stating “The basic, principle issues to improve North-South relations have been lost.”

 

North Korea brought forth nine demands to the new administration:

  1. Improve inter-Korean relations independently
  2. Suspend US-ROK joint military exercises
  3. Stop the mutual slander and defamation of the respective countries.
  4. Reduce the dangers of North-South military conflict
  5. Remove the issue North Korea’s nuclear weapons from inter-Korea talks
  6. Lift sanctions on North Korea
  7. Dissolve the North Korean policies of former conservative South Korean administrations
  8. Repatriate the female workers who collectively defected from the North Korean restaurant in China,
  9. Hold a Civilian Contest

 

Looking at the fact that North Korea sent these nine demands to South Korea publicly, and used the North Korean ambassador to India to say that if the US suspends joint military exercises with South Korea it would halt its nuclear and missile tests, signal that both North Korea’s United Front Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have internally begun preparations to engage in dialogue with the United States and South Korea.

 

1. An Analysis of the Nine Demands Raised by North Korea

 

Although the demands brought forth by North Korea may seem like a simple reiteration of the same old demands that are always made, there are some new things that can be taken away.

1.1. North Korea’s demands to have its nuclear weapons issue be taken off the discussion table with South Korea and the removal of sanctions moved down to fifth and sixth place, respectively, while demands for the improvement of independent North-South relations and military and security related issues took priority, moving up.

 

North Korea’s decision to place less emphasis on these two demands shows that it recognizes the difficulty of completely leaving out the nuclear weapons issue in inter-Korean talks despite the South having a liberal administration in power. Moreover, it realizes the limits to which the South Korean government can begin the removal of North Korean sanctions.

North Korea’s first demand of having North-South relations be independent from outside influences is due to its concept of ‘Uriminzzokkiri’ (Among our Race) and was the theoretic basis for the June 15th Joint Declaration and October 4th Declaration. It is also a way to tell the South Korean government that it should not coordinate with the US on their North Korean policy.

In order words, North Korea is clearly telling President Moon Jae-in that at the next US-South Korea summit meeting, South Korea must break away from the United States’ approach and place dialogue at the forefront, despite the US’ strategy to exert pressure and sanctions.

If the US takes the approach of sanctions and pressure while South Korea takes the direction of dialogue, Kim Jong-un will still take interest in dialogue with South Korea, but will only do so reluctantly.

 

1.2. The suspension of the deployment of THAAD, a current issue for domestic politics and South Korea’s relationships with both the US and China, was not strongly emphasized.

 

For North Korea, tensions among South Korea, the US, and China surrounding THAAD are a way to show the rest of the world its justification in developing missiles, as it is a “necessary evil” to weaken the cooperative sanctions by South Korea, the US, and China.

 

1.3. The issue regarding the female workers who collectively defected from a restaurant in China and North Korea’s subsequent demands for their repatriation has been brought up once again.

 

This can be seen as North Korea’s attempt to shift the pressure from North Korean human rights to an issue of returning defectors. I can imagine that Kim Jong-un has continued to pressure the United Front Department regarding the issue of the Female Restaurant Workers.

This reminds me of the time after the June 15th Joint Declaration in 2000, when Kim Jong-il demanded the United Front Department bring back the North Korean prisoners in South Korea to declare the superiority of North Korea’s system.

 

1.4. It has become apparent that North Korea differentiates the Moon Jae-in administration from former conservative administrations and clearly views the current administration as pro-North Korea.

 

North Korea has criticized the current administration, stating that it is “mindful of America and its conservative puppet faction,” that it has become “indecisive and taken on an unreasonable attitude,” and that there is “not even the slightest change with that of the prior conservative puppet administration.” North Korea’s expressions appear to show its willingness to walk hand-in-hand with the Moon Jae-in administration, but due to pressure from the US and conservative powers in South Korea, South Korea has been unable to readily improve relations with the North.

If North Korea’s anti-South Korea espionage departments thinks in this way, or Kim Jong-un perceives the current administration to be the same as that of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun and so demands equal compensation like in the past and raises the threshold of North-South dialogue, they are in need of a reality check.

 

2. The reasons North Korea views the new Administration’s message to be aloof.

 

2.1. Up until now, the president’s messages towards North Korea have left out an important point that North Korea can justify for suspending its nuclear and missile tests.

 

North Korea has demanded the suspension or scaling-down of US-South Korea join military exercises, the removal of the May 24th Measures, and the unconditional reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourist region of Kumgang Mountain.

It is no secret that North Korea’s offensive policy towards South Korea of “the final victory of Juche ideology on the Korean peninsula” after the end of the war has changed into a more defensive “Socialist system”

In North Korea, whether it’s all South Korea or Overseas-related department, the most important thing for them when deciding what kind of response they can see in another state’s proposal is to calculate the political or economic benefit that can be seen through the cost of dialogue before reporting this to Kim Jong-un.

However, in President Moon Jae-in’s address on June 15th, he failed to mention how to connect the North Korean sanctions, the May 24th measures, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the opening of Kumgang Mountain with the halting of nuclear and missile provocations.

In his address the following day, the President made comments regarding the issue of connecting North and South Korea’s railways, but this was nothing new as both China and Russia have continually proposed this issue to North Korea for several years.

2.2. Until now, the President’s remarks about South Korea’s policy towards North Korea have been ambiguous and have largely been affected unexpected variables.

President Moon initially stated that he would engage in dialogue without any conditions if North Korea stopped their nuclear and missile provocations.

But after feeling pressure from the United States in response to the death of the American college student, Otto Warmbier, President Moon Jae-in, in an interview with a leading US news network, emphasized a two-stage approach that would first freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities before forcing them to completely abandon their nuclear program, following suit with President Trump’s North Korea policy.

If we take a closer look, although Trump’s precondition to reengaging in dialogue with the North is denuclearization and Moon Jae-in’s is freezing nuclear and missile activities, President Moon followed suit with Trump, despite having stark differences in their two approaches.

North Korea will only be able to know the detailed outline of President Moon’s North Korean Policy after it has coordinated with Trump in advance.

At this stage, North Korea will have decided that defining its position after seeing the results of the US-South Korea summit, which will be held at the end of June, will hold more weight than providing an immediate response to President Moon Jae-in’s remarks and trying to seek some sort of breakthrough through dialogue regarding sanctions.

 

3. North Korea’s Future Behavior

3.1. Why North Korea will not abandon its nuclear program

In March 2013, North Korea already declared the advancement, miniaturization, and standardization of nuclear weapons as part of its party policy through its Economic and Nuclear Parallel Development Policy.

In North Korea, giving up on party policy halfway through is not only unimaginable, but abandoning its nuclear weapons program would mean that Kim Jong-un allowed the North Korean leadership to succumb to pressure from the outside world, signaling his weakness which in turn could threaten the regime.

North Korea’s miniaturization of nuclear weapons refers to its ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon like that of the ‘Little Boy.’ It refers to a nuclear weapon which can be loaded onto an aircraft and strike any region in South Korea.

Of course when it comes to the question of whether North Korea’s deployment of nuclear weapons means developing an ICBM that can target the continental US or whether it means targeting Japan or the island of Guam, North Korea has not set its eyes on ICBM completion but rather it will be content with knowing it has both Japan and South Korea in its scope.

Nevertheless, when North Korea declares that it has frozen its nuclear and missile tests, we must recognize that South Korea will already be within the attack range of North Korea.

In the end, South Korea must take precautions and acknowledge that even if North Korea freezes it’s nuclear and missiles program, its people and territory will be taken hostage by North Korea for a considerably long period until denuclearization can be achieved.

One must first accept reality before looking for a suitable response.

3.2. Things to do before the miniaturization of nuclear weapons can be achieved

When it comes to security issues, ambiguity is not an option.

In his New Year’s address this year, Kim Jong-un declared the nuclear warhead test as a success, while hinting that North Korea had also successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon, but experts speculate that miniaturization had yet to be achieved.

Nevertheless North Korea will not stop short of achieving miniaturization.

According to sources from inside North Korea, it will be take at least seven tests to achieve miniaturization.

We must consider whether North Korea’s miniaturization of its nuclear weapons can be stopped through dialogue and negotiation.

 

4. Points to consider at the next US-South Korea Summit meeting

Regardless of which path North Korea takes to rapidly develop its nuclear weapons, we must first stop further development before moving on to the next stage.

We should openly tell the United States about all the problems that may arise during this process to find rational measures.

In an interview with US media, President Moon Jae-in proposed a two-stage solution in which to first freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missiles program before ultimately striving for denuclearization.

It is believed that President Moon will also bring up this two-stage approach in his conversations with President Trump. However President Moon must clearly explain the weaknesses of this approach and the unique situation it puts South Korea in, so as to mitigate any misunderstandings that may arise between the two allies.

 

4.1. For starters, he must relay to Trump the need for the US to engage in dialogue that has no strings attached with North Korea in order to stop the rapid development of its nuclear weapons program.

President Moon must encourage Trump to engage in dialogue and persuade the North to abandon its nuclear program, despite the seemingly impossible idea that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear and missiles program

President Trump must not set his expectations too high as dialogue with North Korea may turn cold or it may not ultimately lead to denuclearization.

 

4.2. In addition, President Moon must clearly explain to Trump the risks that accompany the ‘Freeze vs Compensation’

If South Korea does not give in to North Korea’s demands to suspend joint military training or lift sanctions, North Korea has no reason to agree to a nuclear weapons freeze.

However, if South Korea suspends joint military training or offers to do something related to such military or security issues as a reward for freezing its nuclear weapons program, South Korea may be able to give North Korea the impression that it is able to bring about the collapse of the US-South Korea military alliance.

Consequently, possible measures that South Korea may take that exist outside of the framework of UN sanctions include lifting the May 24th Measures or reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourist region of Kumgang Mountain.

President Moon must make it known to Trump that even if North Korea agrees to freeze its nuclear and missiles program in exchange for these rewards, South Korea and US troops stationed on the peninsula will be hostage to North Korea for a considerable time until the North abandons its nuclear program. He must also make it aware that South Korea intends to embark on this path towards a ‘freeze vs lifting of sanctions’ despite the risks involved.

President Trump must also be aware that perhaps the biggest risk of all is that if denuclearization is not achieved and the freeze collapses, North Korea will ultimately be recognized as a nuclear state and South Korea will be criticized for having lifted sanctions. If denuclearization is unobtainable, there will be no other option but to return to sanctions and pressure.

While I am sure the US and South Korea will do their utmost to cooperate with one another in order to ensure denuclearization after the freeze, they must consider policy options to take in the event that North Korea ultimately refuses denuclearization.

If the two states fail to do this, and North Korea gives up on denuclearization, the South Korean government will not alone be able to cope with the fallout that ensues.

The freeze, at least, can be led by South Korea.

However the biggest concern is that the freeze may not ultimately lead to denuclearization.

The Geneva Agreed Framework of 1994 is a nuclear agreement between the United States and North Korea.

Although this agreement eventually failed, South Korea was not held directly responsible.

However if we assume that South Korea were to take the lead in resolving North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue, the biggest problem would be how to deal with the responsibility and burden of a fallout in the event that a freeze would not bring about denuclearization.

As of now, the most reasonable approach to be taken at the next summit meeting in regards to the two-stage solution is to have South Korea lead the first phase of freezing, and have the United States head the process of denuclearization after the freeze, in what would be a “fair division of roles.”

At this point in time, there is a need to take a step back and deliberate for a moment.

If South Korea takes the initiative in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue and reaches a compromise with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missiles program, but has the compromise collapse due to North Korea restarting their nuclear tests, South Korea will be forced to once again ask for help from the US, China, Russia, and other members of the international community to put pressure and sanctions on North Korea.

But would neighboring countries be so willing to listen to South Korea’s pleas?

4.3. Rather than binding North Korea to an inter-Korean compromise in which it can easily break free with no consequences, we ought to bind it to a multi-party framework like that of the six-party talks in which North Korea can be controlled.