Many pundits and experts have made predictions regarding what the year 2019 will usher in regarding all things political. Some are anticipating a battery of investigations to discover when and where the president jaywalked in 1987. Others are digging deep to find his little black book from 40 years ago. Then there are the ones chomping at the bit for another impeachment – or at the very least, the attempt and all that will bring to the political food fight.
But while everyone is busy playing politics, it seems a worthy endeavor to step back from the superficial political junk food and look at a substantive issue – and North Korea certainly fits that bill.
If you were to seek out of the most often-overlooked issues ignored by the legacy media, you might readily come up with the situation regarding North Korea’s nuclear program. After a high-profile meeting between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the world seemed to have renewed hope that a peaceful resolution could be achieved. So, what’s happened since then?
Given that the country likely has about 60 nuclear weapons, it would make sense to take this threat seriously.
The answer is not much.
Why does this matter? Recent international developments suggest that North Korea could become a key issue in 2019, especially since another summit between the two leaders is highly anticipated. North Korea has made minimal overtures towards dismantling its nuclear program, but has not yet fully committed to denuclearization.
In some instances, the rogue nation has pushed back against the international community. But so far, there has been no significant movement in either direction. The president has stated that he is ready to meet again with the North Korean leader. So where do the two go from here?
Kim’s New Year’s Speech
Kim Jong Un recently expressed his thoughts on moving toward a peaceful resolution with the western world and South Korea in a new years speech. He began by saying:
“Our party, our government’s, and my resolve for complete denuclearization remain unchanged. We have proclaimed that we will no longer make nuclear weapons and will not use them or spread them.”
The North Korean leader also indicated that he is “ready to sit down again with the U.S. president at any time.”
Then, the dictator took a tougher tone, chiding Washington for making demands without easing sanctions. He said that the U.S. “continues to break its promises and misjudges the patience of our people by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure.”
Kim also urged the U.S. to cease joint military exercises with South Korea, and called for cooperation between North and South Korea.
Where Do Things Stand?
Since the much-ballyhooed face-to-fact between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, North Korea has sent mixed messages regarding their intentions with their nuclear program. In May 2018, Pyongyang announced that it would dismantle one of its nuclear test sites. They held a ceremony that was attended by members of the foreign press.
The site, which had been used for six nuclear tests, was closed. This was meant to signal Pyongyang’s commitment to complete denuclearization. But some speculated that the DPRK could have destroyed the facility because their nuclear program had already accomplished its objectives and evaluating its capabilities was no longer needed. Moreover, the country still has other sites that remain operational. Still, the move prompted a cautious optimism in the international community. More recently, however, North Korea made a move that cast doubt on the country’s true intentions.
In December 2018, The New York Times reported that Pyongyang was expanding its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base. The Yeongieo-dong missile base is believed to be one of the sites that could deploy ICBMs potentially capable of reaching the United States. According to Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, the expansion of the site is an indication that Pyongyang is honing their missile capabilities.
The base is located near the Chinese border, which could mean that North Korea is attempting to decrease the likelihood of a pre-emptive strike on the site. Pyongyang does not yet have the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on to one of these missiles, but it isn’t farfetched to believe that they are working toward it. Given that the country likely has about 60 nuclear weapons, it would make sense to take this threat seriously.
Another North Korea Summit?
Recently, President Trump said that Kim Jong Un sent him a letter indicating that he wishes to hold another summit. The president agreed, suggesting he intends to sit down with Kim “in the not-too-distant future” to further discuss denuclearization.
But will more meetings yield results? It’s not clear. The first conference between the two leaders was a landmark event, but it did not produce any concrete promises from Kim on how he would move towards complete denuclearization. Indeed, the agreement was rather vague and did not outline any specific plans. However, it is important to remember that it was only the first conference, so it would not be realistic to expect any major concessions.
If Trump and Kim meet again, all eyes will be on whether progress is being made. If the international community is going to remain confident in a viable solution, the two heads of state must do more than just talk.
This plays into Mr. Trump’s strength. It is where the president’s skill at negotiation will be tried to its fullest. Trump and Kim have exchanged pleasantries and compliments since the first summit, but another meeting will surely test the resolve of these two world leaders.
Kim has demanded that the U.S. remove troops from South Korea and cease military exercises while easing up on sanctions. It is not likely that the president will acquiesce — and this refusal may cause his relationship with Pyongyang to sour. Unless the U.S. can find other diplomatic means of getting Kim to shut down his nuclear program, the world might see a return to the intimidation tactics and saber-rattling that have long dominated the conversation.