Moving further and further away from a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula

Editor’s Note: Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he chose to defect with his family to South Korea in 2016. Following the recent release of his book, “Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat,” and his departure from the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), he has committed himself to improving the outlook for those still living in the DPRK. His current efforts focus on information sharing and the power of education to effect change.

As one of the highest-ranking diplomats to ever defect, Thae has teamed up with Daily NK and its broader media consortium, Unification Media Group, for a weekly series to share his unparalleled insight into the North Korean system, ethos, and strategic thinking, while unpacking his vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong Un stated that the North Korea would permanently dismantle the missile engine test site and launch platform in Tongchang-ri under the observation of experts from relevant countries in the recently announced Pyongyang Joint Declaration.

He also expressed his willingness to permanently dismantle the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon if the United States takes corresponding measures.

It was reported that Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to take additional measures for the denuclearization of North Korea.

There are some who argue that Kim Jong Un has expressed enough willingness to denuclearize, so the United States should abandon its old position of “denuclearization first, then end-of-war declaration.”

These arguments are portraying the US as being “abnormal” for pushing North Korea to follow the proper process of dismantlement, while depicting Kim Jong Un, who is dragging along the dismantlement process, as being “normal.”

During President Moon Jae In’s stay in North Korea, Kim Jong Un has not revealed the timeline for reporting the list of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, which is a core of the denuclearization process.

Right now, we are standing at a crossroads.

Down one path is moving forward without receiving a list of nuclear facilities and holding a second US-North Korea Summit to adopt the end-of-war declaration; and taking measures such as the lifting of sanctions in response to the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities.

This is what Kim Jong Un wants.

The second path is what can be seen as the normal denuclearization process, like receiving the list of nuclear facilities first, then adopting the end-of-war declaration, and then proceeding with full the denuclearization process based on the list received.

It is important to note that the Yongbyon nuclear facility that Kim Jong Un has thrown in is actually a futile facility for North Korea, who has already completed the development of nuclear weapons and acquired enough materials to produce more nuclear weapons in the future.

Putting the dismantlement of these old nuclear facilities before the reporting of the list of facilities is a “new salami tactic” that will allow North Korea to bide more time by throwing in other old nuclear facilities in exchange for a corresponding price.

This type of nuclear dismantlement completely contradicts Kim Jong Un’s statement of wanting to finish the denuclearization process as early as possible in order to concentrate on economic development.

It will take several years to dismantle nuclear weapons of North Korea even if we receive the list of nuclear facilities now.

So if we do not get nuclear list from Kim Jong Un now, then it means that he would be allowed to keep his nuclear weapons at least for several years from now.

If Kim Jong un is allowed to go ahead with the selective dismantlement of nuclear facilities in exchange for corresponding measures according to his “salami tactic,” then next year will be dedicated to the verification and shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, and the following year will be the dismantlement of the next facility that is thrown in by North Korea.

With this method, eventually President Moon and President Trump’s terms will end without ever seeing North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

If the process of North Korea’s nuclear dismantlement goes down Kim Jong Un’s path, denuclearization will not be closer to us but rather more distant, and our children and their descendants will have to live their lives in suspense with North Korea’s nuclear weapons looming over them.