The only way the U.S. will see an end to the nuclear program, threats, and crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea (UROK). The UROK would be secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.
For Kim Jong-un, the Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore joint statement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula are like contracts that specify the precise sequences in which negotiations and action should proceed:
The September 2018 summit in Pyongyang between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could set the conditions to end the Korean civil war at the United Nations General Assembly meeting at the end of the month. While there is disagreement among Korean analysts as to North Korea’s true intent, North Korean actions are best viewed through the lens of the Kim family regime’s decades-old strategy. This strategy wants to ensure the survival of the Kim family regime, unify the peninsula via subversion, coercion, and use of force to guarantee regime survival, and to split the ROK / U.S. alliance to expel U.S. forces from the peninsula. Additionally, Kim wants SALT/START-like talks in which the North is co-equal to the U.S. like the Soviets were – but Kim will likely settle for Pakistan-like acceptance.
While U.S. President Donald Trump moved past the last administration’s unofficial policy of strategic patience and now conducts unconventional2, experimental3, and top-down diplomacy, it is necessary to consider the full scope of the Korea problem, not just the nuclear issue. U.S. policy towards North Korea and the U.S. / ROK alliance is based on answers to the following:
While pursuing high-level nuclear diplomacy, the U.S. and ROK will keep in mind the entire spectrum of existing threats (The Big 5) and potential surprises that can affect negotiations.
While the focus is naturally on North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, the conventional threat from the North remains significant. Seventy percent of its 1.2 million-man army is offensively postured between the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Pyongyang. The northern artillery in deeply buried and hardened targets poses a dangerous threat to a millions of Koreans in and around Seoul6. Since the Moon-Kim and Trump-Kim summits in April and June 2018 respectively, there has been no reduction in these forces and no confidence-building measures from the North Korean side.
While maintaining its aggressive conventional posture, Pyongyang is also pushing for a peace treaty to remove the justification for U.S. forces on the peninsula, as ROK presidential adviser Moon Chung-in wrote in April 20187. However, the legal basis for U.S. presence lies in the ROK / U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953, which makes no mention of North Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and exists to defend both nations from threats in the Pacific Region8. As such, the treaty would remain valid even if Seoul and Pyongyang were technically at peace.
It is the ROK / U.S. alliance and presence of U.S. forces that has deterred hostilities on the peninsula. As long as there is a conventional and nuclear threat from the North, the ROK / U.S. alliance is required for deterrence. Based upon this need for a U.S. deterrent, the North’s desire for the removal of U.S. troops must be treated with deep skepticism.
The challenge for the ROK, the U.S., regional powers, and the international community is how to get from the current state of armistice and temporary cessation of hostilities to unification. While peaceful unification would be ideal, the most likely path will involve some level of conflict ranging from war to internal civil conflict and potentially horrendous human suffering in the northern part of Korea. The ROK and its friends and allies face an extraordinary security challenge because of the “Big Five.” War, regime collapse, and the north’s nuclear and missile programs pose an existential threat to the ROK. Finally, although some advocate that the U.S. should keep the human rights as a separate issue; it is a moral imperative to work to relieve the suffering of the Korean people who live in the worst sustained human rights conditions in modern history.