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January 28, 2004
North Korea

The Disappointing, But Not Devastating, “No Deal” Result at the Hanoi Summit (UPDATED)

Not only did the summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fail to produce meaningful results, but Trump and his team have clearly squandered the seven months since the Singapore summit to make progress on even modest steps toward that meeting's lofty goals. President Trump’s happy talk after the historic event in June last year about North Korea no longer being a nuclear threat is just that. In reality, even without nuclear and ballistic missile flight testing, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs—and the security risks...

A peace treaty could be essential to North Korean denuclearization

This op-ed originally appeared in Axios , Feb. 25, 2019. As the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un approaches, the U.S. continues to focus its attention on the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program. Yes, but: If Trump is serious about denuclearizing North Korea, he should also use the summit with Kim Jong-un to take steps toward negotiating a peace agreement and formally ending the Korean War, noting the diplomatic engagements that have taken place between North and South Korea in 2017 that help to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Why it...

Paths Forward on Action-for-Action Process for Denuclearization and A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula

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Volume 11, Issue 3, January 29, 2019

Months after the historic June 2018 Singapore Summit, the United States and North Korea are still at the starting point of the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

Because the window for diplomatic progress with North Korea will not remain open indefinitely, the second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry. Absent progress, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs—and the security risks they pose—will continue to grow.

Stagnation Since Singapore

In the Singapore Summit joint statement, Trump and Kim made an “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” and recognized that progress on denuclearization depends on joint “efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula. But these vague goals were not accompanied by obligations for each side to take specific actions or by any structure for the process of diplomacy going forward.

Clear differences over the scope and sequence emerged in the first follow-up meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials in Pyongyang in July, disparities that have prevented the initiation of direct, expert-level negotiations on the actions necessary to reach the summit’s agreed goals.

At the July meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly insisted that North Korea provide a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program as a first step. The Trump administration also emphasized that North Korea must fully denuclearize before the United States would grant concessions such as sanctions relief.

Select North Korean Nuclear-Capable* Missiles
NameEstimated RangeStatus
Hwasong-5300 kmOperational
Hwasong-6500 kmOperational
Hwasong-7700-1,000 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-11,200 kmTested/Development
No-Dong-11,200-1,500 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-21,200-2,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-102,500-4,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-124,500 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-135,500-11,500 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-13 Mod 28,000-10,000 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-1410,000+ kmTested/Development
Hwasong-1513,000 kmTested/Development
*Nuclear capable as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime Guidelines

North Korea, on the other hand, has clearly stated it prefers an action-for-action approach to advance the goals of the Singapore declaration and looked for the Trump administration to take the first step. Pyongyang views its April 2018 commitments to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing, and actions the following month to destroy tunnels at its nuclear test site, as steps toward denuclearization that the United States should reward.

While the North Korean leadership subsequently offered to take further denuclearization steps, including verifiable decommissioning of its Yongbyon nuclear complex, those measures would be contingent upon “corresponding steps” by the United States. The Pyongyang regime did not demand specific actions from the Trump Administration but has periodically called for limited sanctions relief and U.S. support for a joint political declaration ending the Korean War.

Despite the lack of follow-through, the historic 2018 Trump-Kim summit certainly eased tensions. Intense diplomatic work between North and South Korea has also led to agreement on concrete measures to ease tensions along the Demilitarized Zone.

But contrary to Trump’s self-aggrandizing claim that there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” Pyongyang continues to improve its ballistic missile capabilities and produce bomb-grade nuclear material.

Defining Denuclearization and Peace

Denuclearization is a complex, technical task. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Additionally, the United States and North Korea do not yet agree on the scope of the denuclearization process. Rapid progress toward denuclearization should be the goal, but comprehensive, verifiable denuclearization will take years.

A stepwise process that emphasizes threat-reduction in the shorter term does not mean “accepting” North Korea’s status as a nuclear-weapon state. Rather, it underscores the urgency of halting these programs and negotiating an effective deal that reduces the threat posed by these capabilities and leads to their verifiable elimination.

In the long term, any such deal must account for North Korea’s violation of its existing obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The North’s verifiable denuclearization and its return to NPT compliance are necessary steps to preserve and strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. and North Korean sides still do not have a common understanding, in writing, about what denuclearization entails. For more than a decade, the United States has insisted on the “complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear programs. UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea use similar terminology.

North Korea’s concept of denuclearization is broader and applies beyond the country’s borders. Initially, North and South Korea agreed in the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” They also agreed to mutual inspections for verification. However, in 2003, North Korea declared the 1992 agreement to be “dead.” So it is unclear if North Korea will seek to maintain uranium enrichment or reprocessing for a peaceful nuclear program in an agreement.

Furthermore, North Korea’s concept of “denuclearization” encompasses the entire Korean peninsula, (as opposed to unilateral nuclear disarmament by North Korea). It includes prohibitions on the deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region and the basing of U.S. troops trained to use nuclear weapons in South Korea, as well as threats to use nuclear weapons.

Getting Diplomacy Back on Track

If the two sides approach the second summit with realistic expectations and a readiness to take reciprocal measures that build confidence in the process, it is possible to move closer to the joint goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula and further from the risk of a catastrophic war.

Freezing, Reversing, and Eliminating Nuclear and Missile Capabilities

North Korea’s voluntary commitment to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing has eased tensions, but the moratorium is not yet permanent and it was a relatively low-cost commitment for Kim. In his 2018 New Year’s Address, Kim declared North Korea’s nuclear arsenal complete and announced that the country would focus on mass production of nuclear warheads. Kim’s statement implies that North Korea had already decided to halt certain testing activities before announcing the moratorium and focus on expansion of the nuclear weapons stockpile.

North Korean Nuclear Weapons and Testing
Nuclear Weapons StockpileNorth Korea is estimated to have assembled 10-20 nuclear warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
Nuclear TestingNorth Korea has conducted six nuclear tests explosions, beginning in 2006. Its most recent test in Sept. 2017 had an estimated yield of over 200 kilotons (TNT equivalent).

The testing freeze does prevent North Korea from making certain qualitative advances in its nuclear weapons program. An important next step will be to solidify the testing halt and pursue a partial freeze on fissile material production. Given North Korea’s goal of expanding its arsenal, Pyongyang’s willingness to halt fissile material production would be a critical indication of its commitment to denuclearize. Specific, verifiable arrangements to accomplish these goals could begin with:

  • solidifying North Korea’s voluntary nuclear test moratorium by allowing inspectors to confirm the closure of the existing test site at Punggye-ri and securing North Korean signature of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • expanding on its missile testing halt to include short- and medium-range ballistic missiles;
  • halting fissile material production at Yongbyon and beginning to verifiably decommission all facilities at the site. This would necessitate a partial declaration of the facilities to be decommissioned; and
  • halting fissile material production at undisclosed sites. Initially, this could be verified using remote monitoring technologies if North Korea were unwilling to let inspectors verify a fissile material production freeze.

These initial steps would build confidence in the diplomatic process and would help ensure that North Korea could not expand its arsenal while the longer-term negotiations and denuclearization steps continue.

There are several additional major steps in the denuclearization process, each of which will be challenging. These include:

  • securing a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, materials, and weapons to be verified later by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The guidelines and techniques established by the IAEA Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards provide a good foundation for verifying and monitoring the fuel-cycle portions of the declaration;
  • agreeing to a process and a timeline for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile. It is estimated that North Korea has assembled 10-20 warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
  • achieving a verifiable halt to the production of ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons and to the dismantlement of deployed medium- and longer-range ballistic missiles and launchers;
  • accounting for and securing all separated fissile material. This work would likely have to be supervised by specialists from nuclear-weapon states in cooperation with North Korean technical experts; and
  • beginning to dismantle other nuclear facilities (beyond Yongbyon) under international supervision, including IAEA inspectors. A major negotiating issue at this stage would be which facilities are for civilian purposes and whether North Korea, given its history, should be allowed to retain such capabilities even under tighter international safeguards against misuse. This would be a major undertaking that could build on experience from U.S. and Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, which helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles, employed former weapons scientists, and repurposed military sites.

“Corresponding Steps”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons if he believes doing so will compromise North Korea’s security. North Korea has clearly stated that steps on denuclearization must go hand in hand with steps toward reducing tensions and building a peace-regime on the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s post-summit decision to suspend and modify certain joint military exercises with South Korea that Pyongyang views as provocative was an important confidence-building measure. But more will be necessary.

The next steps designed to reduce tensions and build a “peace regime” in return for initial North Korean actions to verifiably freeze and roll back certain parts of its nuclear weapons program might include:

  • reaching a three-party declaration on the end of the Korean War;
  • permanently pledging to remove U.S. strategic bombers and offensive-strike assets from future joint military exercises.
  • easing sanctions blocking humanitarian aid and certain projects designed to build closer economic and cultural ties between North and South;
  • lifting some of the most recent UN Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea, perhaps including those involving oil and coal;
  • establishing a hotline agreement to help avoid miscommunication in a crisis; and
  • taking steps toward the normalization of relations, beginning with the opening of diplomatic interest sections in Pyongyang and Washington.

Later steps, as the denuclearization milestones are completed could include:

  • initiation of negotiations on a formal peace treaty. The conclusion of such a treaty could coincide with verified and complete denuclearization and it would trigger a removal of nuclear-related sanctions; a significant reduction of military forces on both sides of the demilitarized zone, and formal security assurances against the initiation of hostilities by either side; and
  • further corresponding sanctions relief, including through the revision of existing UN Security Council resolutions with sanctions targeting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

If the Trump administration could move the Korean peninsula demonstrably closer to these ambitious, long-term outcomes, it would be a major breakthrough. But one meeting will not be enough to get the process on track.

To achieve even just some of the additional steps toward the long-term goal of denuclearization of the peninsula and a durable peace regime, the Trump-Kim summit will need to produce agreement on a balanced framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on denuclearization and peace.

The overall goal should be to continue to move as quickly as possible toward halting, reversing, and eliminating the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and away from a renewed crisis that risks bringing the region back to the brink of war. – DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, Director for Nonproliferation Policy

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The second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry.

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North Korea Denuclearization Digest, January 11, 2019

Kim Calls for U.S. Actions to Advance Talks North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his annual New Year’s address that he is willing to meet U.S. President Donald Trump “anytime,” but said that Pyongyang is waiting for Washington to take the next steps to advance negotiations on denuclearization and peace. Kim said that if the United States responds to North Korea’s “proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions” it could lead to “more definite and epochal measures.” The failure to make progress, however, may compel North Korea to “find a new way for...

Stakes Grow for Possible Trump-Kim Summit


January/February 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea reiterated that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula must include removal of U.S. nuclear weapons in the region, a statement that underscores that diplomatic advances in 2019 will require addressing simultaneously North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its security concerns.

In an image provided by South Korean Defense Ministry, North Korean soldiers (left) talk with a South Korean soldier during mutual on-site verification of the withdrawal of guard posts along the Demilitarized Zone on December 12, 2018. The two Koreas have begun to destroy 20 guard posts along their heavily-fortified border under an agreement reached during the September 2018 Pyongyang summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  (Photo: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)The state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Dec. 20 that denuclearization means “removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.” The United States has focused on a deal in which North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and related facilities in return for a lifting of U.S. and UN sanctions and possibly ending the Korean War.

The United States removed its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but the country remains under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea and Japan. U.S. President Donald Trump announced in June that certain joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea would be suspended, and subsequent exercises were modified, but North Korea is still looking for the United States to take additional steps to address its security concerns.

With little negotiating progress evident in late 2018, Trump said he is in no rush for an agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even though he had sharply criticized President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” as Pyongyang increased its nuclear and missile capabilities.

The apparent impasse increases the stakes heading to a second Trump-Kim summit, which U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Dec. 20 radio interview is expected “not too long after the first of the year.”

Kim, in his annual New Year’s address Jan. 1, said that he is “ready to meet the U.S. president again anytime” but that it is up to the United States to take the next steps. If the United States “responds to our proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the taking of more definite and epochal measures,” he said.

Kim warned, however, that if the United States fails to follow through, persists in imposing sanctions, and attempts to “unilaterally enforce something,” North Korea “may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Kim referenced North Korea’s decision to suspend its nuclear warhead and missile tests in 2018, which Trump frequently cites, as evidence of its commitment to denuclearization, but North Korea is thought to be increasing its stockpile of nuclear materials for warheads. As a result, time works in Pyongyang’s favor and may make a diplomatic solution more difficult.

Further, the protest resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a strong advocate of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance, may raise anxieties in Seoul even as President Moon Jae-in has worked to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

That is because the Trump administration is pressing Seoul to bear more of the burden for keeping 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, leading to speculation that Trump might be willing to pull out some U.S. forces in a concession to Kim. The U.S. troops help with South Korea’s defense preparations and act as a trip wire to reassure South Koreans that the United States would engage if the North attacks.

North Korea’s Institute for American Studies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated in a Dec. 17 commentary that North Korea is waiting for the United States to take action to move the process forward, arguing that Pyongyang has taken “proactive denuclearization steps” and Washington must respond in a corresponding manner.

North Korea’s expansive definition of denuclearization is not new. Pyongyang made a similar statement in July 2016 emphasizing that U.S. nuclear weapons in the region must be part of the diplomatic process.

The July 2016 statement said that “the denuclearization being called for by [North Korea] is the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.”

North Korea cited five specific demands in July 2016 to remove the U.S. nuclear threat: public disclosure of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, removal and verification that such weapons are not present on U.S. bases in South Korea, U.S. guarantees that it will not redeploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, U.S. assurances that it will not threaten or conduct a nuclear strike on North Korea, and withdrawal from South Korea of U.S. troops authorized to use nuclear weapons.

This list might provide insight as to what Pyongyang will be wanting from Washington if talks progress.

It was also clear after Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June that Washington and Pyongyang do not share the same definition of denuclearization, which many experts predicted could complicate negotiations.

At a July hearing held by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo was pressed on whether the two countries agree on what constitutes the Singapore summit’s commitment to pursue denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Pompeo said that the United States shared its definition with Pyongyang and that North Korea “understands” U.S. expectations for what that process will accomplish, but he would not confirm that North Korea agreed with the U.S. terms.

North Korea may be emphasizing its definition of denuclearization to influence the diplomatic process going forward.

Since the June summit in Singapore, negotiations between the United States and North Korea have failed to gain traction. Initially, the U.S. insistence that Pyongyang complete denuclearization before any U.S. concessions on sanctions or an end of the Korean War appeared to stymie progress, as North Korea insisted on a step-by-step approach with each side taking reciprocal actions.

North Korea’s Dec. 20 commentary may be intended as a reminder that Pyongyang expects the United States to take steps that address Pyongyang’s security concerns as the country rolls back its nuclear weapons program.

The Dec. 17 commentary made a similar point, stating that the United States must realize “before it is too late” that maximum pressure will not work and Washington should take a “sincere approach to implementing” the Singapore statement.

Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang in November initially appeared to reinvigorate the process when the two sides agreed to more regular contacts and the establishment of working groups, but there has been little evidence that these developments are being realized. Still, Pompeo described the negotiations thus far as a “great process” in a Dec. 21 interview with NPR.

Although the announcement of working groups meeting regularly would be a step forward in establishing a process for negotiations to proceed, commentary from North Korea suggests that Pyongyang may prefer to deal directly with Trump.

The Dec. 17 statement said that Trump “avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve [North Korean-U.S.] relations” and targeted the U.S. State Department as “bent on bringing” the relationship between the United States and North Korea “back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

 

Diplomacy stalls over meaning of denuclearization as the United States and North Korea seek next steps.

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States


December 2018
Reviewed by Andrew Facini

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States
By Jeffrey Lewis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2018, 208 pages

Each fall, the students of Harvard Extension School’s course on nuclear weapons and international security are subjected to a tone-setting viewing of the 1984 film “Threads,” a BBC production that offers an even grimmer presentation of a full-scale nuclear exchange than its U.S. predecessor “The Day After,” which terrified millions the previous year. Such films, along with other contemporary media, reflected a deep-seated cultural dread that a sudden, civilization-ending nuclear war was an increasingly likely possibility. To a class of students increasingly born well after these years, “Threads” vividly presents the worst fears of a seemingly bygone era.

Unfortunately, as the class learns, the potential for such a catastrophe is anything but bygone—society has just shifted its focus. As the Cold War nightmare faded in the early 1990s, expressions of nuclear war in films, books, and music became scarce. Meanwhile, decades-old thinking on nuclear conflict and deterrence has continued with little adaptation to the new era. As the general sense of relief expressed in the ’90s gave way to a post-9/11 focus on international terrorism, popular culture largely ignored the lingering possibility of catastrophic nuclear war, producing a generational blind spot on the subject.

This has become especially evident recently as a new generation of Americans encounters and begins to mentally process a resurgence of nuclear fears in the wake of North Korea’s 2017 testing blitz. Hawaii’s false alarm emergency alert this past January, in particular, caused a spike in anxiety and revealed a lack of public knowledge about what to do were a nuclear attack indeed underway. Since then, President Donald Trump’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to force unilateral denuclearization by North Korea have kept the issue alive.

It is timely, then, that Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, has thoroughly imagined the contemporary possibilities of nuclear war with his “speculative” novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Framed as a future U.S. governmental attempt to understand and summarize the devastation wrought in a calamitous resumption of the Korean War, Lewis populates the novel with today’s political leaders in an environment shaped by recent events. In this, The 2020 Commission Report is a realistic and compelling drama written to bring this grim subject back into the popular conversation.

The confrontation in the book begins as many international crises do: with a mistake. In March 2020, North Korean air defense forces, frayed by a months-long U.S. air campaign meant to test North Korea’s borders, mistakenly shoot down a South Korean civilian airliner that had strayed into its airspace. Pressured by internal politics and dismayed by Washington’s abandonment of diplomacy in 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in decides to respond swiftly. Without conferring with Washington, he orders a conventional missile strike on North Korean anti-aircraft sites, as well as on one of Kim Jong Un’s palaces. Kim, on tour at a manufacturing plant, finds himself suddenly isolated and inexplicably incommunicado, and fears that U.S.-led forces are preparing for a full-scale invasion.

Kim’s fears seem to be confirmed when a new tweet from Trump makes it through to his cadre in their makeshift bunker: “Little Rocket Man won’t be bothering us much longer!” Believing it to be the only action that may prevent his violent ouster, Kim gives the order to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on military bases and command centers in South Korea and Japan with short-range missiles. Millions are killed in the first wave of North Korean attacks, but it was not until U.S. forces begin a conventional air campaign to seek out and destroy Kim’s missiles that the follow-on order is given for Kim’s remaining long-range nuclear forces to launch their missiles at cities in the United States.

North Korea simultaneously launches four ballistic missiles during a military drill March 6, 2017 at an undisclosed location.  (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S.-led forces quickly “win” the war in North Korea, but the consequences of the nuclear attacks are dire and global. Kim’s missile attacks instantly kill 1.4 million Americans, and millions more die of radiation poisoning and injuries in the following weeks. Recovery efforts are hampered by the uniquely terrible effects of nuclear weapons, as well as secondary emergencies such as disease and logistical breakdowns. The ramifications are felt far from the conflict zones. As cities burn in Japan, South Korea, and the United States, vast amounts of black smoke alter the climate, causing famines in Africa and South Asia.

An uncomfortably modern tale of rapid, unintended escalation, the events presented in The 2020 Commission Report are quite unlike the wars as feared and imagined in the 1980s. Rather than a precipitous crisis between well-informed, equally matched superpowers, the spiraling dynamic that Lewis presents is much more personal: events are guided closely by the various leaders’ divergent personal beliefs, habits, and pointedly limited access to information. The pace of the unfolding catastrophe too feels downright familiar because the story is often carried not on a dispassionate intelligence report in a hardened bunker, but on cable news reports, mobile phone alerts, and social media. The scope of the destruction described in Asia and the United States breaks sharply with the bleak finality of a full U.S.-Soviet exchange as feared in the 1980s. In the events of March 2020, just four U.S. metro areas were successfully attacked, and it is tangentially clear that the rest of the country is actively focused on rebuilding.

In such scenery, however, lies the book’s most divisive and perhaps deliberate flaw. Although the personal elements keep the story highly relatable, the supposed actions of Trump in particular have a tendency to venture into parody. For example, Trump’s hostile tweets directed at Kim, while inspired by reality, take a cheaply personal turn in the run-up to the conflict. His interactions with aides and advisers are pointedly childlike. It is sometimes difficult to see past these characterizations as more than a partisan critique of the president, even if much of it is based on his previous actions.

For a story that hinges partially on Trump’s unique personality, Lewis took a flier on presenting sharp authenticity, rather than writing a more dispassionate Trump. It is understandable if this caricature turns off potential readers who support the president or who are weary of the intense political polarization in general. Still, even if such characterization would be rightly seen as absurd speculation before Trump, it is undeniable that much has changed in what Americans expect from the White House since 2017. Perhaps in this, a volatile and reactive president is becoming just another element to consider when imagining modern nuclear conflict.

Despite the contemporary trimmings, the book’s presentation of nuclear war is no less alarming than that of “Threads.” Lewis knows his topic well, and the book’s deeply researched footnotes reflect his expertise on the nuclear enterprises of North Korea and the United States. He presents the grim details of the nuclear attacks in a way that moves swiftly past the cold metrics of missile specifications, blast strengths, and death tolls and instead humanizes the horrible losses via a set of personal perspectives by survivors.

Synthesizing from accounts of the hibakusha, the Japanese survivors of the U.S. nuclear attacks in 1945, and of 9/11 survivors, Lewis provides a deeply moving element to what may have otherwise been an overly technical war story. As the storylines driven by Kim, Moon, and Trump yield to personal vignettes, a darker sense of loss takes hold. In the context of lost family members, doomed victims, and desperate survivors, the many steps of disturbingly sound logic required to touch off the war are cast into an achingly regretful light. In the end, the most truly frightening element of The 2020 Commission Report is that it all fits together in a way that feels exceedingly and increasingly possible.

As the real-world crisis with North Korea continues to evolve in slow motion, a deeper public understanding of the threats posed by nuclear weapons is urgently needed. In its blending of technics and humanity, Lewis’s nightmare vision is well positioned to spark a long-overdue conversation.

The reality-based, “speculative novel” provides a chilling glimpse of one possible future.

North Korea Pushes for Sanctions Relief


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea is stepping up pressure on the United States in its push for the Trump administration to grant sanctions relief early in the denuclearization process.

A South Korean government photo taken November 15 shows President Moon Jae-in meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore. The South Korean government said the two discussed recent diplomacy with North Korea and preparations for a second meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. (Photo: South Korean government)In addition to canceling the meeting scheduled for Nov. 8 in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his negotiating counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, North Korea drew attention to its military capabilities by announcing that it tested a new, unspecified “ultramodern tactical weapon.”

These steps come as Pyongyang is ratcheting up its condemnation of U.S. sanctions policy and calling for relief earlier in the process. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Although Pyongyang’s voluntary testing moratorium only covers its long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, until now North Korea has refrained from military activities and testing in 2018 that might be viewed by South Korea or the United States as provocative. This Nov. 16 test might be a signal to Washington that North Korea will test military systems if talks do not produce results soon.

North Korea did not provide details about the weapon, but emphasized that it was a tactical system. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was described in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as “expressing great satisfaction” in the test and noting that it was a “striking demonstration” of the “rapidly developing defense capability of the country.”

The Trump administration downplayed the test, and the State Department issued a statement saying that the United States remains confident the promises of the Singapore summit document will be fulfilled.

The State Department initially blamed the meeting cancellation on scheduling difficulties. After North Korea announced it had canceled the meeting, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Pyongyang was not ready and so the talks had to be postponed. No new date has been announced.

The cancellation comes as North Korea and the United States continue to trade barbs over the pace of sanctions relief and next steps in the process.

Initially it appeared that North Korea was seeking U.S. agreement on a peace declaration ending the Korean War, but it increasingly looks like Pyongyang is now prioritizing sanctions relief. North Korea may be emboldened by support for sanctions removal from Russia, China, and, to a lesser extent, South Korea, all of which are calling for the United States to ease restrictions earlier in the negotiating process.

KCNA quoted Kim on Nov. 1 as saying that “vicious sanctions” imposed by “hostile forces” stand in North Korea’s way “toward promotion of peoples well-being and development.”

The following day, KCNA ran a commentary criticizing U.S. sanctions and saying that the United States “should not forget what it promised” in Singapore and that there is “no justification for sanctions” after the “active and preemptive” steps taken by North Korea.

The steps likely referred to North Korea’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing issued in April and dismantlement of the nuclear test site in May. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Haley said on Nov. 8, however, that it is North Korea’s turn to act and said that the United States has “given a lot of carrots up until now” and will not “get rid of the stick because they have not done anything to warrant getting rid of the sanctions yet.”

The United States continues to press for full sanction implementation until the denuclearization process is completed, but there is already evidence that adherence is slipping.

The annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released in November, concluded that “Beijing appears to have already started to loosen enforcement of sanctions on North Korea, undermining the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.”

The report recommended that the Treasury Department provide a report assessing Chinese enforcement and a list of entities that continue to conduct trade with North Korea.

Haley called out Russia after a UN Security Council meeting for pushing to lift certain sanctions on North Korea, particularly as they apply to what Russia describes as “serious humanitarian problems.” The Russian mission to the United Nations said in a statement that the current situation is “absolutely unacceptable” because it violates decisions made by the council that sanctions should not be directed at the North Korean people.

Haley said that the U.S. goal is to ensure that humanitarian aid is not compromised and that the Trump administration is “taking our time in vetting that very carefully.”

Despite the stalled progress, planning appears to be continuing for a second summit between Trump and Kim.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Nov. 15 in an NBC interview that the summit was going to happen and the two leaders would decide on a “verifiable plan” for North Korea to make a declaration detailing its nuclear and missile capabilities.

Contrary to expectations, Pence said that the United States will not require that North Korea provide a complete list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites ahead of the second summit. The Trump administration reportedly had been pursuing such a declaration from North Korea since Pompeo went to Pyongyang in July after the Singapore summit. (See ACT, September 2018.)

 

There is talk of a second Trump-Kim summit as diplomatic efforts stall over next steps.

North Korea Denuclearization Digest, November 16, 2018

Planned U.S.-North Korea Talks Postponed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed at an Oct. 7 meeting in Pyongyang to form working groups and intensify talks on the Singapore summit’s priorities but the subsequently scheduled meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart was postponed. The meeting, originally slated for New York Nov. 8, will now take place “when our respective schedules permit,” according to a Nov. 7 State Department press release . The Trump administration initially said the talks were postponed due to Pompeo’s schedule but...

U.S., North Korea Agree to Intensify Talks


November 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and North Korea agreed in October to intensify negotiations after a months-long impasse following the historic June summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief may complicate the diplomatic process.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un hosts a working lunch with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang on October 7.  (Photo: U.S. Department of State)North Korea has sent mixed signals about its potential terms for nuclear-related concessions. After initially pressing for a declaration formally ending the Korean War, which would be a largely symbolic U.S. political concession, Pyongyang is shifting to indicate it wants to receive tangible financial benefits sooner than envisioned by the Trump administration.

North Korea has signaled that its initial moves toward denuclearization, such as dismantling its nuclear test site and a rocket launch facility, should bring relief from tight U.S. and UN economic sanctions. The Trump administration maintains that sanctions should remain intact as a main source of pressure. “The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs,” Trump said in remarks to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25.

During an Oct. 7 trip to Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim, where the two sides agreed to hold more frequent, higher-level working group meetings. Pompeo told the media on Oct. 9 that he hoped this process would “deliver some good outcomes” at a second Trump-Kim summit.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described Kim’s meeting with Pompeo as “productive and wonderful” and said that the two discussed detailed “proposals for solving the denuclearization issue and matters of concern of both sides.”

The meeting appears to indicate that talks are back on track after faltering over disagreements between North Korea and the United States on the next steps following the Singapore summit. The Trump administration wanted to see North Korea take additional steps toward denuclearization while North Korea emphasized that a declaration ending the Korean War should be the next step. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The stalemate led Trump to cancel Pompeo’s scheduled visit to Pyongyang in August. Pompeo indicated in September that Washington’s position on pursing a declaration and its willingness to engage in a step-by-step process shifted, helping pave the way for his Oct. 7 visit.

Pompeo confirmed that he discussed the prospect of a second Trump-Kim summit during his visit, but did not provide any details as to the location or timing. U.S. State Department officials have been quoted in the press saying the summit will not take place before early 2019.

Heightened disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief, however, may complicate negotiations going forward.

In initial statements after the June 12 summit, North Korea downplayed its interest in sanctions relief and focused on a peace declaration as the next step that the United States could take to create an environment more conducive to further denuclearization steps. Yet, in recent statements, Pyongyang has criticized the continued U.S. pressure campaign and begun to put more emphasis on the importance of sanctions relief earlier in the process.

A KCNA commentary published on Oct. 20 stated that although Pompeo’s visit was a “great achievement,” U.S. talk of sustaining sanctions is “heard so much” and “unpleasant to the ear.”

The piece urged the United States to “act in the elementary give-and-take principle” and said Americans should stop asserting that pressure is the “main card” in the U.S.-North Korean relationship.

North Korea is not alone in advocating for sanctions relief. Russian and Chinese officials raised the prospect of revisiting UN sanctions in recognition of steps taken by Pyongyang to halt nuclear and long-range missile testing during a Sept. 27 Security Council meeting on North Korea.

When officials from North Korea, Russia, and China met in Moscow on Oct. 9, the trilateral statement issued after the meeting said that “taking notice of the significant, practical steps for denuclearization taken by [North Korea], the three parties reached a consensus on the need for the [UN Security Council] to activate the process of adjusting sanctions upon [North Korea] in time.”

The United States has consistently maintained that sanctions will not be lifted until the denuclearization process is complete. It remains unclear if the United States will make any exceptions to allow joint projects between North Korea and South Korea to go forward.

South Korea reaffirmed its commitment to abide by all UN sanctions during the Sept. 27 Security Council meeting, but President Moon Jae-in has also raised the prospect of easing measures if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization rather than waiting until the end of the process to lift restrictions.

After an Oct. 15 meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Moon said that “if North Korea’s denuclearization is judged to enter an irreversible phase, its denuclearization should be further facilitated by easing UN sanctions.” Moon said on Oct. 19 that the Security Council is the appropriate forum for discussing easing sanctions and humanitarian assistance if North Korea takes the appropriate steps toward “irreversible” denuclearization, but he did not provide any details about what that would constitute.

Moon has clearly stated his interest pursing infrastructure projects to link North and South Korea and resuming operations at Kaesong, a joint development complex, as part of the inter-Korean process. These actions will require sanctions waivers.

It is also unclear what next steps the United States is looking for North Korea to take on denuclearization. The Trump administration asked for a declaration detailing the scope of North Korea’s nuclear program after the Singapore summit, but it is unclear if the United States is still pursuing this path.

Moon announced after the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September that North Korea was willing to allow inspectors at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

After his meeting with Kim, Pompeo confirmed that North Korea invited inspectors to visit its nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled, with the visit to occur “as soon as we get it logistically worked out.”

North Korea voluntarily pledged to halt nuclear testing in April and in May demolished with explosives test tunnels at the site. Yet, after initially saying that members of the press and experts could observe the closure, North Korea limited the invitation to select media outlets. As a result, there has been no independent expert confirmation of the extent of North Korea’s actions.

Pompeo did not specify if the inspections will be conducted by the United States or a multilateral team or if the group will include representatives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which has protocols for conducting on-site inspections after suspected nuclear tests.

North Korea has not provided any details in its public statements regarding expert inspections.

The Pyongyang declaration issued by Kim and Moon said North Korea would dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which houses the reactor and reprocessing facility that North Korea uses to produce separated plutonium for nuclear weapons and a uranium-enrichment facility, in return for “corresponding measures” by the United States.

Neither South Korea nor North Korea provided much detail on what measures Pyongyang is seeking, and Pompeo did not provide any additional details on the prospects for actions to be taken at Yongbyon after his talks in Pyongyang.

 

 

Disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief may complicate the diplomatic process.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Head of CTBTO Describes Inspection Option for North Korea Nuclear Test Site

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New Analysis by CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo Published in Arms Control Today

For Immediate Release: Oct. 18, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, publisher, Arms Control Today, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kirstie Hansen, CTBTO Public Information Officer in Vienna, [email protected]

(Washington, D.C.)—Earlier this year, North Korea committed to closing its nuclear test site and invited journalists to view the destruction of test tunnels at its main nuclear test site.

As Dr. Lassina Zerbo writes in a new article in the journal Arms Control Today, “although the declared closure is welcome, those present lacked the skills and necessary specialized equipment to assess the activities that took place.”

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Oct. 7 indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled.” To date, it is not clear who would inspect the site and under what terms.

“The CTBTO and its technological tools,” Zerbo writes, “are uniquely placed to provide adequate verification and to monitor an end to nuclear tests in North Korea.”

Zerbo, who is serving in his second term as the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, describes in detail the technologies the CTBTO can provide to verify the closure of a nuclear test site, and, he explains the value of North Korean signature and ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) for the denuclearization process.

“The path to the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula runs through the CTBT,” Zerbo writes. The CTBT has been signed by 184 states and ratified by 167. North Korea is not yet a signatory.

A large group of foreign ministers issued a joint statement Sept. 27 organized by Japan, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands urging North Korea “to sign and ratify the CTBT as a matter of priority.”

“It is vital not to miss this opportunity to demonstrate to the world the value of the treaty and the efficacy of one of the most sophisticated and far-reaching verification regimes ever devised,” Zerbo says in the article.

The Nuclear Test Ban and the Verifiable Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” by Lassina Zerbo will appear in the November 2018 issue of Arms Control Today. It is available in advance online here

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New Analysis by CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo Published in Arms Control Today

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