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.
Upon the meeting with Kim Jong Un on October 7, US Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo said that he had “good and productive conversations” with Kim Jong Un and made progress for North Korea’s denuclearization by getting the acceptance of nuclear inspections.
However, it is not known whether the inventory of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, a point that the US has been pushing for as a primary step towards denuclearization, was discussed at all during his visit to the North.
The Punggye-ri nuclear testing site that North Korea has offered for an inspection, is the site that was demolished in May by North Korea who claimed it as a “first step towards denuclearization” in the presence of only foreign journalists and no experts.
And the Tongchang-ri missile launch platforms that were discussed to be dismantled, had already been promised to be dismantled between the US and North Korea in June in Singapore.
Some people are choosing to spin this positively by saying that North Korea’s acceptance to allow inspections of even futile facilities is “real progress.”
However, if we begin to accept North Korea’s ‘Salami Tactic’ of taking a “step-by-step approach to only things that are possible,” then we are not going down the path of complete denuclearization but rather the path of nuclear disarmament by accepting North Korea as a nuclear power.
There are two types of nuclear negotiations.
Denuclearization negotiations to completely abandon nuclear weapons; and nuclear disarmament negotiations to reduce the nuclear threat.
Throughout the denuclearization history in other countries, an inventory of nuclear facilities was forwarded first, and a dismantlement of all nuclear facilities and weapons were simultaneously carried out based on this list.
Using this method, the US dismantled 176 ballistic missiles and about 1,800 nuclear warheads in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union over the course of two years between 1991 and 1993.
In this way, Ukraine, which was the third greatest nuclear power, completed its nuclear dismantlement process in two years.
Likewise, if North Korea has the willingness to denuclearize, it can without a doubt complete the process within two years.
If North Korea follows the genuine procedures for denuclearization, North Korea will also be able to gain a great deal by receiving not just billions of dollars but tens of billions of dollars worth of economic aid from the international community including the US and South Korea.
If Kim Jong Un really wants to complete denuclearization as quickly as possible so that he can concentrate on the economy, then there is no need to deliberately avoid the reporting of its nuclear facilities.
In order for denuclearization to be accomplished, the starting point of the process should be a report and inspection of North Korea’s inventory of all its nuclear weapons, its production and storage sites.
But if we exchange the end-of-war declaration for Yongbyon and postpone the reporting of North Korea’s nuclear inventory under the pretext of building trust first, then we are temporarily creating the acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear power.
The problem now is that after South Korea asked the US to postpone the demands of reporting nuclear inventory, the US also did not utter a word of nuclear inventory.
How we set the method of North Korea’s denuclearization and what kind of demands we put forward to the US will determine the direction of the future of a new Northeast Asia order.