Present Status and Future
Prospects for 2019
by Prof Kwak Tae-hwan (Ph. D.)*
Professor Emeritus, Eastern Kentucky University
Former President, KINU
Prof. Kwak Tae-hwan
The year 2018 was a significant year as Chairman Kim Jong Un made a strategic decision to pursue a peaceful coexis-tence policy instead of the nuclear confrontation, opening a new era of new inter-Korean and DPRK (North Korea)-U.S. relations. Such a big decision by Chairman Kim is a historic landmark that we should remember for a long time. As Chairman Kim made a strategic decision that North Korea (NK) would participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, a new chapter of inter-Korean and NK-US relations unfolded. Seoul-Pyongyang relations in 2018 progressed at a signifi-cant rate. Inter-Korean relations are developing rapidly due to three Moon-Kim inter-Korean summit talks (April 27, May 26 and Sept 18-20). If Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington agreed on a roadmap for the Korean Peninsula denuclearization-peace regime building, we could say that the Korean Peninsula is now entering a denucleari-zation-peace era. What Are the Core Issues in the Denuclearization Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang? Due to the creative 'bridge-building role' of President Moon Jae-in, the June 12 Singapore DPRK-U.S. Summit was held for the first time in 70 years. In the Joint Declaration, four items were agreed upon to improve relations between the two for the Korean Penin-sula denuclearization and a peace regime-building. However, it is regrettable that the United States and North Korea’s follow-up negotiations for denuclearization have been delayed for the past six months. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo has repeatedly said that despite his four visits to Pyongyang, DPRK-U.S. high-level talks and negotiations for denuclear-ization negotiations have not agreed on how to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula because the two sides cannot find an agreement on key issues because of their different approaches (U.S. denuclearization-first policy vs. DPRK’s phased, simultaneous action) for denuclearization. First, let us take a brief look at the key issues of the denuclearization negoti-ations between the DPRK and the United States, after the first DPRK-U.S. Summit on June 12, 2018. The United States demands include: ( 1) Submit a list of the nuclear declar-ation, (2) The three conditions for ending the Korean War declaration [Yongbyon nuclear facility dismantlement, elimin-ation of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), partial dismantlement of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles], and (3) U.S. experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation team must be allowed to inspect nuclear activities before the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Meanwhile, North Korea 's demands include: (1) Declaring the end of the Korean War for the sake of confidence building and lifting the partial sanctions on North Korea; (2) Requiring countermeasures for the return of U.S. soldiers’ remains; and (3) NK’s rejection of the nuclear lists submission. Chairman Kim has shown his strong commitment to abandon nuclear arms if both conditions are met (renunciation of hostile policies and a security guarantee for the DPRK’s system). Regarding the methods of denuclearization, Pyongyang has insisted on a "phased, simultaneous action" principle, and the United States has insisted on a denuclearization-first policy. Thus, Pyongyang and Washington have not found a solution to different approaches to denuclearization. Therefore, both should seek an agreement on core issues through mutual concession and compromise. In my view, this is the only solution to core issues relating to the Korean denuclearization issue. What is the root cause of the stalemate in recent denucleari-zation talks between the DPRK and the United States? I have come to the following conclusions: First, both sides have different approaches to the denu-clearization on the Korean peninsula. The United States has insisted on the denuclearization-first policy, while the DPRK has favored "a phased, simult-aneous action" approach to the denu-clearization issue. The bilateral denuclearization talks have been in a stalemate. To resolve this problem, Washington, Pyongyang and Seoul need to reach an agreement on a comprehensive roadmap for the denu-clearization on the Korean peninsula. Second, I cannot help but ask why the North Korean regime has not collapsed for the past 70 years. Is the regime/system stability maintained in a state of tension? Will peace on the Korean peninsula and normalization of inter-Korean relations threaten the stability of the North Korean regime in the future? For these questions, I would say "No." So what is to be done if we want North Korea to change without its collapse? In my view, it would be a great mistake to coerce North Korea to change its policies. However, I believe that North Korea may change by itself if a favorable environ-ment for its transformation exists, so that Pyongyang would transform by itself, and this should be set as a long-term policy goal that we should pursue. Chairman Kim Jong Un has made it clear that there is no need to have nuclear weapons if there are favorable conditions for giving up nuclear power status. His "conditional denuclearization" of North Korea is based on two conditions: (1) No hostile policy toward North Korea; (2) Security guarantee for the North Korean regime. Without the mutual concessions and compromise between Washington and Pyongyang, there will be no solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. Chairman Kim has made a strategic decision to improve its relations with Washington through Seoul to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to build a peace regime for North Korea’s survival. If peace on the Korean Peninsula and improved inter-Korean relations threaten North Korea's survival and economic development, Chairman Kim will close the door. However, so far Kim and his advisors have not perceived it. In short, it appears that North Korea has perceived that it would have difficulty maintaining the North Korean system by creating tensions and crises on the Korean peninsula. Therefore, if Chairman Kim’s two conditions for denuclearization are met, he would give up nuclear arms. Some people still have wishful thinking on the collapse of the North Korean regime. In this regard, I would like to share my opinion below. It appears that those who wish to bring about North Korea’s collapse do not understand the North Korean social control policy and system. My view is that as long as the durability of the North Korean regime exists, and even if the United Nations' strong sanctions against North Korea continue, the North Korean regime is unlikely to collapse. There are two factors - North Korea’s social control system and international factors - which explain the durability of the North Korean system. First, the social control policy and system were well operated based on Juche ideology in the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il era for 70 years. It appears that the DPRK has maintained the stability of its system through ideological control, law and institutional control, information/communication, travel, residence and rationing control. North Korea under Kim Jong Un today maintains its social control policies and systems which seem to be weakened, but it still keeps the stability of the system under the politics of terror. Second, North Korea's neighbors - South Korea, China, and Russia - all do not want the collapse of the North Korean regime. Therefore, as long as the North Korean social control system is maintained without being destroyed, the Kim Jong Un regime maintains stability because of the durability of the North Korean government. Therefore, as long as the North Korea social control system is durable, North Korea is unlikely to collapse. Then, how to help North Korea to transform into a normal state? We should abandon a goal of achieving the collapse of North Korea, but instead, we should set long-term goals of promoting change by itself in the North Korean society. In the past, the South Korean govern-ment has pursued two methods. The conservative government took a hardline approach by using a coercive policy toward North Korea, while the liberal government took an engagement policy of reconciliation and cooperation. President Moon has adopted a neo-engagement policy of peace and pro-sperity toward Pyongyang. So which policy is constructive and efficient? There is a limit to the hardline policy toward North Korea. With more pressure on North Korea, it will be cornered to emphasize "our style of socialism," thereby producing more nuclear weapons and ultimately leading to a possible nuclear war. Therefore, I think this policy is not desirable. However, Moon's neo-engagement policy would promote favorable conditions for North Korea's change by itself. Thus, in order to bring about changes in the North Korean regime, I believe it is necessary to first bring the 'new wind' into the North Korean society. Inter-Korean exchanges in various fields, especially inter-Korean economic cooperation, will ultimately lead to changing the consciousness structure of the North Korean people. As a result, North Korea’s system is also beginning to transform. The neo-engagement policy is a desirable policy to bring the trans-formation of the North Korean regime. CIA's Korea Mission Center Director Andrew Kim reportedly had a secret meeting with North Korean negotiators at Panmunjom on Dec. 3, 2018. In the post-June 12 Summit, the United States and the DPRK have discussed the key issues relating to North Korea’s denuclearization. The bilateral talks have come to a stalemate because of different approaches to denuclearization. There will be no denuclearization on the Korean peninsula without mutual concessions and compromises. President Moon is getting uncom-fortable because Chairman Kim's visit to Seoul was not realized last year. Kim's visit would be a significant historical milestone for President Moon to enhance his domestic political position and promote the Second U.S.-DPRK Summit. Chairman Kim reportedly informed the Blue House that it would be difficult for him to visit Seoul in 2018 according to the Yomiuri Shimbun (on December 2). Nonetheless, the Moon government is preparing thoroughly, hoping Kim will make a bold decision to visit Seoul. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who maintains a super-hardline position on the denuclearization issue, has recently shown some flexibility in economic sanctions on North Korea. At the beginning of 2019, the 4th Seoul Inter-Korean summit and the Second U.S.-DPRK Summit will be held. It is expected that if Washington and Pyongyang would make mutual conces-sions and compromise in the future, the United States and the two Koreas will agree on the roadmap for implementing the denuclearization and peace-regime building in 2019. The future prospects for 2019 are cautiously optimistic. The reasons for this optimism are based on two factors: President Trump is likely to make a deal to resolve the denuclearization issue for his second term reelection victory in 2020 and his desire to receive the Nobel Peace Prize award. The next year 2019 will be a significant year for President Trump. Nevertheless, the future of the Korean Peninsula is opaque and worrisome if the United States and the DPRK could not find a solution to the denuclearization issue. President Moon must actively play a "bridge-building role" in resolving the denuclearization and peace-regime building issues.★ * Prof. Kwak Tae-hwan’s Profile Dr. Tae-Hwan Kwak is Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University (USA); former President of KINU (Korea Institute for National Unification), a think tank for the South Korean government; Chair-Professor at Kyungnam University; former Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES), Kyungnam University (Seoul, Korea). He taught international relations and East Asian politics over thirty years from 1969 to1999 at Eastern Kentucky University and Korean universities. He received his B.A. degree in English from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, his M.A. in International Relations from Clark University, and his Ph.D. in International Relations from Claremont Graduate University in 1969. Dr. Kwak is the author of "In Search for Peace and Unification on the Korean Peninsula (1986)" and "The Korean Peninsula in World Politics (1999, in Korean)." He is the editor and co-editor of 31 books, including "One Korea: Visions of Korean Unification (Routledge, 2017)"; "North Korea and Security Cooperation in Northeast Asia (Ashgate, 2014)," "Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asian Security Cooperation (Ashgate: 2010)," etc. He has authored over 300 book chapters and scholarly articles in Korean, Japanese and English. He is also active in NGO organizations relating to peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia in Seoul, Korea, and Los Angeles, U.S.A. Dr. Kwak, a recipient of 2012 Global Peace Foundation's innovative scholarship for peace award, is currently chairman of Korean Peninsula Future Strategies Institute in Seoul, Korea.