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In the calculation of military planners advising the DPRK leadership core, a second strike by North Korea that reaches Guam and Tokyo is enough to deter a US-Japan pre-emptive attack on North Korea, although ‘reaching the eastern shores of the continental US remains the objective’ of Kim’s missile program.

 

Those in touch with the thinking of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) claim that he is now “at the end of his patience” with US President Donald J. Trump. They warn that a “breakout moment is close”, in which DPRK Supreme Leader Kim “will challenge the US and Japan to risk destruction on a World War scale or accept that Pyongyang will never consent to handing over responsibility for its security to Washington by forgoing the only effective defence against aggression by the US and Japan”, which is the dual possession of nuclear weapons and delivery capability. A fresh demonstration of such “deadly deterrent” capabilities is claimed by them to be “only a few weeks away”. In the calculation of military planners advising the DPRK leadership core, a second strike by North Korea that reaches Guam and Tokyo is enough to deter a US-Japan pre-emptive attack on the much-sanctioned country, although “reaching the eastern shores of the continental US remains the objective” of the DPRK missile program. Given the reality that the regime in Pyongyang is armed with nuclear devices capable of being delivered by missiles to targets up to 1,600 kilometres away, the window for a pre-emptive US military strike on North Korea seems to have been shut, unless President Trump is ready to engineer a situation in which there will be substantial collateral damage to Japanese cities as well as to Guam and possibly Hawaii. While President George W. Bush had a viable chance of ensuring through military means the permanent de-nuclearization of North Korea sans serious collateral damage, the obsession of the 43rd President of the US with a weakened and helpless Saddam Hussein in Iraq ensured that no serious attention got paid to the situation in North Korea. By mid-2018, collateral damage caused as a consequence of DPRK retaliation to a first strike by the US would be “incalculable but substantial”, in the view of military planners in Pyongyang. It was this fact that gave confidence to Supreme Leader Kim that the chances were bright for a reconciliation between Pyongyang and Washington, for which the Supreme Leader was “ready to accept limits on the strategic program but only such that the deterrence capability (of the DPRK) would continue to exist”. Instead, the sources say that what the US side sought was a “surrender” in exchange for which only “vague promises were made that depended entirely on blind trust in President Trump to keep his word about permanent non-interference” in DPRK matters.

 

An increasingly capable and confident Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un is not the most trusting of world leaders. After an exhaustive personal study of the experiences of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad, after the three had surrendered their WMD stockpiles (in the case of the latter, partially), Kim Jong Un reached the conclusion that “the word of a US President was written on water and had no meaning”. Interestingly, according to those in the know of developments within the leadership core of North Korea, “detailed summaries of the impeachment move against Trump have been regularly supplied to Chairman Kim”, and the conclusion reached by his core team that “either President Trump will be too weak to make the US system faithfully implement any promise made by him, or Trump will be sent out in disgrace and his successor will repudiate all his actions”, including any accord between Pyongyang and Washington. The swift and easy manner in which signature initiatives of President Barack H. Obama such as the JCPOA with Iran have been torn up by Trump has only reinforced the scepticism in Pyongyang about the practical longevity of any deal entered into by the two leaders. By walking away from the Iran nuclear deal despite internationally verified compliance by Tehran of its many conditions, President Trump has weakened the hand of future US Presidents in negotiating biding treaties with other powers. In any case, the North Koreans say that “all the US side is offering are sweet words”. What is particularly rankling the North Koreans is that “even a partial rollback of the illegal and unjust sanctions (imposed on the DPRK) is presented (by the US side) as a big and historical compromise by them”. They are bemused that a mere visit to Washington is being presented by the US side as a major concession that requires substantial concessions and promises by Pyongyang to get cleared. Concessions by the US have been made conditional on North Korea “fully complying with longstanding US demands in a non-reversible manner on the unacceptable basis of losing control over security once the process demanded gets completed”. The North Korean side is seeking a peace agreement that would ensure a “permanent peace with national honour” in the Korean peninsula, while they regard what President Donald John Trump and his advisers want is “unconditional surrender first and discussion on details later”. As a consequence of the “unreal ambitions” of the US side, the North Korean leadership core is edging towards actuating a situation where “it will be demonstrated to the world that the costs of hurting (North Korea) will rise catastrophically for the other side”. Rather than succumb to US “blackmail”, a “better strategy (in their view) is to demonstrate that such pressure will only accelerate Pyongyang’s drive towards lethal capacity against the US and Japan”. In this context, work on a “deadly deterrent” to any US military first strike on the DPRK is proceeding apace.

 

According to the sources, Supreme Leader Kim wishes a peninsula that is “wholly peaceful but filled with honour”. Kim also wishes “normal trade and diplomatic relations with every country on the basis of equality” and “without surrendering the dignity and self-respect of the Great Korean Nation”. In this context, there is shock and anger in Pyongyang at the manner in which President Moon Jae-In of South Korea has recently been “following faithfully the footsteps” of the US side. The fact that such behaviour may have been made necessary by the need to protect the commercial interests of the much larger South Korean economy do not seem to have entered into the calculations and assessments being made in Pyongyang, a capital where all other considerations are subordinated to the need to ensure a rising level of deterrence against any effort at regime change.US envoy to North Korea, Stephen E. Biegun has failed to make much of an impression on the North Korean leadership core, as the envoy is “not in a position to make any changes in the existing John Bolton-style framework adopted by the US for secret talks” and equally clearly, “lacks needed access even to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, much less to President Trump”.

 

SOLUTION: ONE NATION, TWO STATES

 

Given that a military solution to the Korean imbroglio absent high levels of collateral damage seems impossible, even while efforts at regime change by the US and its allies have not had any success thus far, only an innovative solution to the Korean crisis seems practicable. This would be a settlement on the “One Nation Two States” principle. Both North and South Korea would retain their distinctive identities and governance structures, but each would make themselves much more responsive and accessible to the other. This would enable either side to tap into the synergies offered by the other in a manner that is non-threatening to the structure of the existing regimes in Pyongyang and Seoul. Such a coming together of the two sides could take place either at the DMZ or in the presence of the US President at Camp David, assuming the US side shows “realistic flexibility” in its stance towards the DPRK. Among the consequences of such a “One Nation Two States” solution would be an agreement by both sides to rapidly de-escalate military tensions and an agreement to follow a path of peaceful reconciliation of differences that obviates resort to military force. Over time, such a “Bright Sunshine” policy between North and South Korea would lead to a phased effort at reducing nuclear weapons in the northern half of the peninsula, once Pyongyang is convinced that Regime Change is off the table where Tokyo and Washington are concerned. Incidentally, interlocutors say that the late-2017 discovery by the DPRK side of “continuing efforts” (by some South Korean agencies) to assist the US side in organising a decapitation strike within the DPRK has led to a “sharp fall in confidence that President Moon is sincerely committed to peace and not to helping US and Japanese hawks seek regime change while professing friendship on the outside”. Should Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un follow through on the move to publicly showcase recent additions to the offensive capabilities of the DPRK, President Trump will need to examine ground realities and adopt a policy that incrementally ensures lasting peace and harmony in a peninsula populated by the gifted and dynamic Korean people. The present “All or Nothing” approach by the Trump White House and NSC has led to nothing but tensions and trouble, besides misery through sanctions for innocent millions living in North Korea.

 

[This opinion piece forms a part of the themed article series “North Korea as a Global Existential Threat” of the Science, Technology & Security forum.

 

The article was originally published in the The Sunday Guardian and is reproduced with permission.]

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.