The Singapore Summit between the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-un, and US President Donald Trump—preceded by an historic border crossing and sit-downs with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping—is a tremendous moment by any measure. Almost exactly 55 years after the Korean Armistice Agreement, the prospect of a formal end to the Korean War and significantly thawed relations on the Korean Peninsula seems possible. Just a few months ago, North Korea and US were threatening each other with war.
The United States may soon have a shot at talking directly to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Given this unique opportunity, what foreign policy tactics should US negotiators use in the effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula? It may seem strange, but negotiators might consider taking a lesson from the FBI and the field of Crisis Negotiation to show us a better path to de-escalation.
America’s leadership in the Asia Pacific was founded in the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on its status as the first atomic power. Nuclear weapons thereafter defined Asian geopolitics. Today, on the Korean Peninsula, nuclear technology is again set to feature in a dramatic shift in Asia’s power balance. With a summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un now in prospect, future historians may come to see North Korea’s nuclear-armed ballistic missiles as the trigger that unravels America’s strategic leadership of Asia.
This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 5 January 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s conciliatory gestures towards South Korea are a welcome move. But they should not belie the high possibility that it will continue ballistic missile and warhead testing in 2018.
On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said of North Korea that the current U.S. “focus is on diplomacy to solve this problem that is presented by the DPRK. We must, however…be prepared for the worst, should diplomacy fail.” Not surprisingly, most recent commentary and analysis on the current North Korea crisis has focused on the prospects of either a near-term conflict or a diplomatic way out. That focus is understandable, but fixates on the two least likely outcomes. Rather than preparing for diplomatic or warfighting scenarios with a nuclear-armed North Korea, the United States should be preparing for a sustained period of deterrence, coercive diplomacy, and rollback. This is the best approach to achieve the international community’s long-stated goal of the eventual peaceful denuclearization and reunification of the Korean Peninsula at an acceptable cost.