from Strength Through Peace

The Illusion of Peace and the Failure of U.S.-North Korea Summitry

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a pursuit assault plane group under the Air and Anti-Aircraft Division in western North Korea on an unknown date.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a pursuit assault plane group under the Air and Anti-Aircraft Division in western North Korea on an unknown date. KCNA/Reuters

June 15, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a pursuit assault plane group under the Air and Anti-Aircraft Division in western North Korea on an unknown date.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a pursuit assault plane group under the Air and Anti-Aircraft Division in western North Korea on an unknown date. KCNA/Reuters
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

On June 12, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon issued a highly unusual commemorative statement to mark the second anniversary of the first-ever meeting of U.S. President Donald J. Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

The statement laid bare North Korea’s disappointments, rejected Trump’s declarations of success in his diplomacy with North Korea, and predicted an enduring confrontation backed by North Korea’s nuclear development as the main pillar of deterrence against U.S. hostility. The statement reiterated months of North Korean expressions of frustration and underscored the fragility of the U.S.-North Korea relationship and the risks that a renewed escalation of tensions could bring. 

Ri’s statement echoes the change in direction North Korea first announced last December: that the strengthening its nuclear development to deter the U.S. nuclear threat would be its main strategy for dealing with the United States. Kim Jong Un reinforced that message last month at an expanded meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission when he pledged to bolster his country’s nuclear deterrence capabilities in response to an undiminished nuclear threat from the United States.

Two years after the drama of a diplomatic reality TV moment in U.S.-North Korea relations, the fundamental conflict between the United States and North Korea over denuclearization remains as intractable as ever. The global security risk posed by a nuclear North Korea has not diminished, and the task of dealing with a North Korea that has redoubled its commitment to nuclear deterrence remains a potential flashpoint for escalation between nuclear-capable adversaries.

In a new CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum, I discuss the risk that a renewed escalation of tensions in the U.S.-North Korea relationship could bring and provide recommendations for how the United States can rebuild international consensus in opposition to North Korea’s nuclear development.

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Following the presidential elections in November, either President Trump or Vice President Biden will face an even more difficult challenge posed by the growing entrenchment of North Korea’s continued nuclear development. U.S. leaders should start by revitalizing the role of the UN, improving sanctions implementation, restoring U.S. and allied military exercises to the 2018 pre-Singapore summit exercise schedules, and updating preparations for instability in North Korea.

This article was originally published by Forbes.

More on:

North Korea

South Korea

United States

Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Foreign Policy

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