At the end of December, having paid his respects to his ancestral heritage by riding a white stallion to Mt. Paektu, Kim Jong Un returned to Pyongyang to deliver a lengthy address to the North Korean Worker’s Party Central Committee. In the speech, Kim laid out his new strategic vision, one that puts little faith in denuclearization talks with President Donald Trump. North Korea, he stated, would no longer be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, and that soon “the world will witness a new strategic weapon.” More ominously, he committed to “reliably maintain the constant readiness for action of the powerful nuclear deterrent,” a destabilizing development that increases the likelihood of a nuclear detonation. The bottom line: North Korea will remain a state that possesses a deadly nuclear arsenal and plans to further modernize and expand it. Now what?
The “Big Deal” is Finished…
Kim’s speech puts the final nail in the coffin of Trump’s policy of seeking a “big deal” of fully verified and irreversible denuclearization in return for economic rewards. Kim’s pronouncements reaffirm the centrality of self-reliance and sufficiency in North Korea’s strategic doctrine and make clear it will no longer agree in principle to unilateral disarmament. Nor is it any longer committed to the denuclearization path it endorsed in previous agreements.
Instead, North Korea “will steadily develop indispensable and prerequisite strategic weapons for national security until the United States rolls back its hostile policy and [a] lasting and durable peace mechanism is in place.” Kim warned his citizens of “tightening our belts” in preparation for a long confrontation with the United States. Judging by this yardstick, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is a remote possibility, certainly while Kim’s regime remains, and no matter how miserable international sanctions make life in North Korea.