Now that American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s first visit to Pyongyang since the historic Singapore summit between the leaders of North Korea and the United States is over, perhaps reality can seep back into our collective consciousness.
Pompeo claimed that progress was made; the North saw very things differently. Its official news site posted on July 7 that the US attitude was “regretful” and “gangster-like.”
True, the next-to-last sentence in the announcement indicated a willingness to deal with Trump, suggesting that the harsh reaction to Pompeo’s visit could merely be establishing a negotiating position.
But that is beside the point; a desire to engage in dialog does not mean that denuclearization is imminent. More to the point are various facts that indicate North Korea will not now, nor in the foreseeable future, relinquish its nuclear weapons or destroy its missiles.
The proof of this contention is ample.
What is Pyongyang saying internally?
The constitution of North Korea was amended on May 30, 2012, to clearly identify the country as a nuclear state. The 2018 New Year address by Kim Jong-un announced the culmination of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Both statements formalize the reality of Pyongyang’s last nuclear detonation on September 3, 2017, thought to be a hydrogen bomb, as well as its flight testing on November 28, 2017, of the Hwaseong-15 missile – a true ICBM.
And there is more – much more.
This February, a communication signed by Kim himself, directed at party members, bluntly stated that the North would “not make compromises with or even acknowledge powers that do not recognize our nuclear weapons and missiles.” This suggests the regime has no intention of engaging in meaningful denuclearization dialog.
In March, another directive was issued, directing lectures to the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League to strengthen the county’s resolve to remain a nuclear power. Moreover, the North Korean source reporting on this pointed out that there were instructions to use the meetings between the two Koreas as propaganda tools.
At the same time, Kim ordered increased security on activities at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This directive, titled “Policy No. 89,” stressed “nuclear legitimacy” and never giving up its nuclear capabilities.
Giving up his nuclear weapons and delivery systems would violate the very constitution Kim himself modified six years ago. To be sure, he could easily change that document to delete the references he added regarding North Korea being a nuclear power – but consider the cost of doing so.
Imagine the loss of face and possible domestic unrest. After all the fortune and sacrifice that went into achieving nuclear status – at the expense of the national economy and financial well-being of the populace – the regime could lose the support of the military as well as the common citizen.
In short, the above declarations vindicate the North’s sacrifices and rationalize its existence. And both the long-standing and recent statements by Pyongyang are backed up by actions.
Actions speak louder
In April this year, a suspicious factory tied to nuclear weapons production was identified by US weapons experts. It is thought to be making a form of graphite needed by the type of nuclear reactors that North Korea uses. It is also known that Pyongyang had approached overseas customers about buying its nuclear-quality graphite.
Also significant is that Pyongyang has designated the entire Chagang Province, in central North Korea, as a “Special Songeun [military first] Revolutionary Zone,” possibly to conceal nuclear weapons or to contain them, as the US did in the mountains of Tennessee when it developed the American atomic bomb during World War II.
The North likely needs a clandestine nuclear storage area and Chagang Province, which is notorious among humanitarian workers in the country for its inaccessibility, fits that need. Local authorities are increasing security while screening residents in the area.
Then there is the news that, even after the North vowed to cease all hostile acts, Pyongyang continued cyberattacks against the South. Moreover, in June this year, the North spread malware via an email about the North Korea-US summit.
Perhaps most damning, however, is a document from North Korea’s powerful Organization and Guidance Department openly stating that the shutdown of the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site on May 24, 2018, was merely “throwing sand in the eyes of the enemy.” The document ordered that specialized equipment be removed with great care from the test site well ahead of the arrival of the journalists who witnessed demolitions. None of those journalists was a nuclear expert; none were allowed close enough to see exactly what was destroyed.
Back to dissembling
Beijing is against a successful summit between Pyongyang and Washington if China’s interests are not met by any form of détente between the US and North Korea. Recall that it was right after Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping that Pyongyang returned to its hard line regarding Washington.
Now, consider the stalling and dissembling cards that the North has played. First, Pyongyang reportedly wants to separate the process for denuclearization from verification. That idea is ludicrous: denuclearization without timely verification is meaningless. Following up on that, North Korea wants to cripple the South’s reconnaissance capabilities, keeping them at least 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The North stations most of its soldiers and much of its artillery, rocket and missile forces just north of the DMZ, and has recently indicated a willingness to pull them back. However, without aerial reconnaissance to verify whether that actually occurs, Seoul remains vulnerable to barrages.
More North Korean efforts to deceive the US were reported in late June. Other reports on actions by the North strongly indicate that Pyongyang has no intention of giving up either its nuclear weapons or its missiles.
Now the regime begins the search for justification to back out of the summit agreement with a way to blame the US. So, Pyongyang accuses Washington of “gangster-like” behavior for seeking clarification on several vague points of the North Korea-US summit.
This is not new. Pyongyang customarily abrogates negotiated responsibilities while laying the blame on the other party.
Every indication is that, going forward, Pyongyang will remain true to character. North Korea will not relinquish its nuclear weapons and missile systems.