To guard against illusions and formalize commitments : what is at stake with the second US-DPRK summit

Antoine Bondaz, février 2019

A French version was published by Le Figaro on September 25, 2019.

With nearly 450 days without any nuclear and ballistic tests, the Korean peninsula has entered
a new phase. 2018 was marked by North Korean diplomatic activism, initiated by the country's
participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and symbolized by Kim Jong-un's meetings
with Chinese, South Korean and, of course, American leaders.

Despite the absence of a detailed roadmap, the historic meeting in Singapore highlighted two
opportunities. The first is related to the negotiation process. Direct negotiations are taking
place for the first time at the highest level through summit diplomacy, and since, both sides
have announced their agreement to pursue simultaneously and progressively all the
commitments made in their joint declaration.

The second opportunity is related to these commitments. Kim Jong-un pledged to work
towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and recalled in his speech on
January 1, 2019, that his country will not make, test, use or proliferate nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump committed to building new relationships between Washington and Pyongyang
and promoting peace. His special envoy recalled that the President was "deeply and personally
committed to putting a definitive end to 70 years of war and hostility".

Cautious optimism must prevail, however, as these opportunities still need to be given
credibility. We must also guard against two illusions, as it would be naive to think that the North
Korean crisis has been resolved, or even will be in the short term.

The nuclear illusion is to confuse the moratorium on testing with an end of the programs. We
must be fully aware that North Korea's nuclear and ballistic capabilities, and therefore the
threat they pose, continue to increase. The illusion of stability is to believe lasting peace can
be achieved without concrete progress towards denuclearization. As the South Korean
President recalled, denuclearization is "the absolute condition for peace".

Ahead of the summit, the main risk is that the American president will be satisfied with a shortterm
staging without seeking a long-term solution to the problem. His bet could be that the new
context, i.e. his unprecedented meetings with Kim Jong-un, softened rhetoric from Pyongyang,
and a moratorium on testing, could enable him to oppose the tensions of 2017, wrongly
described as the legacy of his predecessor, to a new peaceful era showcased as a personal
success to his electorate, few months before the 2020 US elections.

The main challenge is therefore to maintain a positive dynamic while being aware of the risk
of an ad hoc political agreement that would only seem to resolve the North Korean crisis. The
priority should be to institutionalize the current negotiation process and to give credibility to the
commitments made by both sides.

The first objective should be to formalize the negotiation process and dialogue with North
Korea. The opening of liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang, already mentioned in the
mid-1990s, would be a first step. Meanwhile, communication channels should be sustained at
all levels. Third parties, such as Sweden, have and continue to play an important facilitating

The second objective should be to implement the North Korean regime's commitments to
denuclearization as soon as possible by encouraging it to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-
Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to accept the return of international inspectors to sites such as
Yongbyon. This would help to progressively curb the nuclear and ballistic program while
promoting a multilateral approach to a global proliferation crisis, a priority for Europeans
The third objective should be to reduce the risk of accidental conflict in the peninsula by
developing military confidence-building measures. The implementation of the inter-Korean
military agreement of September 2018, the reformation of the Military Armistice Commission
planned for 1953, or the continued return of the remains of foreign soldiers who died during
the Korean War, like the 267 French, are all means of strengthening essential military

The fourth objective should be to apply the concept of human security to North Korea, as
defined by the United Nations. A cross-cutting approach would improve the living conditions of
North Koreans by considering socio-economic changes in the country. Facilitating the arrival
of humanitarian aid, such as the exemptions recently obtained by France for the NGOs
Première Urgence Internationale and Handicap International, is obviously a positive step.
The two opportunities before us are historic but not sustainable in the long term. It is essential
to make them a reality and to avoid a political staging that would only delay an enduring crisis.
Antoine Bondaz, Ph.D., is a research fellow and the head for the FRS-KF Korea Program on
Security and Diplomacy at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique.

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