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.
On September 29, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho addressed the United Nations with the statement that North Korea would not unilaterally disarm first without any trust in the US.
The North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun followed on September 30 and stated that Kim Jong Un and Trump had agreed in Singapore that confidence building measures need to be taken first on their way to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and thus insisted that North Korea and the US should move forward with a “step-by-step approach” with things that can be achieved first.
When the Pyongyang Declaration was signed in September, many were overjoyed and believed that North Korea’s denuclearization would go down the fast track.
However, North Korea returned to its usual stance of refusing to abandon its nuclear weapons unilaterally only one week after Pyongyang Declaration.
North Korea’s new proposal to “reject a unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons” and to take a “step-by-step approach to things that are possible” is North Korea’s way of stating that it will never give the list of nuclear facilities.
In other words, the end-of-war declaration should just be exchanged for facilities that can be easily dismantled such as the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
Some claim that North Korea is showing signs of sincerity, so the US should lay down its demands for the list of nuclear facilities and make a “big deal” such as the enactment of the end-of-war declaration.
Some US media have also reported that the issue of North Korea’s list of its nuclear facilities has suddenly quietened down and that the issue has disappeared just in time for when Secretary of State Pompeo is preparing for his fourth visit to North Korea in preparation for the US-North Korea Summit, and may be linked to President Moon telling President Trump that Kim Jong Un is willing to take “additional measures.”
Recently, Pompeo stated in an interview that there have been talks with North Korea on “particular facilities [and] particular weapon systems.”
So, what are the additional denuclearization measures that Kim Jong Un verbally delivered to President Trump through President Moon?
I speculate that North Korea may have hinted that it will dismantle the ICBMs as they are the biggest points of concern for the US, if the nuclear list demands should be dropped followed by the enactment of the end-of-war declaration and then the lifting of sanctions.
This kind of North Korea’s proposed “step-by-step tactic” does not allude to an over-all simultaneous denuclearization but rather is limited to the long-range nuclear missiles that threaten the United States.
At the same time, the dismantlement of nuclear facilities is not the dismantlement of all facilities but rather the selection and dismantlement of either old facilities or ones that are no longer needed.
In other words, North Korea is seeking to pursue a “salami nuclear disarmament.”
If we abandon the orderly way of pushing for a complete and simultaneous denuclearization by North Korea and accept North Korea’s “salami nuclear disarmament method,” then we will have no choice but to lose any form of leadership and be dragged along by North Korea.
If North Korea’s nuclear disarmament is carried out according to its “salami tactic” then the US may be forced to lift some of its sanctions in exchange for the dismissal of North Korea’s long-range nuclear missiles.
As the direct nuclear threat to the United States decreases, the issue of North Korea’s denuclearization may disappear from US’ foreign policy priorities.
In the case the issue of North Korea’s denuclearization gets pushed from the US’ foreign policy priorities due to North Korea’s “salami nuclear disarmament” then it will become more and more difficult for South Korea to implement the denuclearization of North Korea alone.
Therefore, it is necessary to proceed with an orderly denuclearization method in which a list of North Korea’s nuclear facilities are received first.
Based on this, measures for the full and simultaneous denuclearization of all nuclear weapons and facilities must be carried out.
Kim Jong Un must accept the full and simultaneous disarmament of nuclear weapons, so that he will be able to achieve denuclearization as quickly as possible to fully concentrate on economic development.