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Standards for a successful summit

Feb 20,2019
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Nam Jeong-ho

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Will the second U.S.-North Korea summit, which is set to be held in a week, be a success? To make an accurate judgement, we must first define the standards for a successful summit. Otherwise, U.S. President Donald Trump will almost certainly exaggerate whatever the outcome is as if it is a grand accomplishment. Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard University, flatly said the summit outcome will certainly worsen the traditional alliances of the United States with South Korea and Japan.

Experts have various opinions. Some are optimistic North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump will strike a deal on meaningful denuclearization and compensation from the United States in return. They said Kim will make the bold concession of dismantling not only the Yongbyon nuclear compound but also the hidden uranium enrichment facilities while the United States will ease sanctions. This so-called “big deal” is the hope of the Moon Jae-in administration.

Others say North Korea will propose a shutdown of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, while the United States will agree to such face-saving measures as a declaration of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War or the opening of liaison offices. This is the “small deal” scenario. Although Seoul wants a big deal, it seems a small deal is more likely. Some in the U.S. Congress even argued North Korea should be allowed to hold on to a limited amount of nuclear weapons, hinting there is a very low possibility of a big deal.

While outlooks are split, there is no disagreement on what would be regarded as a success. That is a promise from the North on sincere denuclearization with a timeline.

What are the sincere measures? The Asan Institute of Policy Studies said a promise to accept thorough verification of the Yongbyon nuclear complex — a facility North Korea had promised to shut down — would be the minimum standard. Others, including Moon Chung-in, a special advisor to President Moon, said a specific roadmap on how and when to dismantle nuclear warheads and missiles is the key. Whether it is a verification promise or a roadmap, the summit will be seen as a success only after North Korea promises to take the first step of actual denuclearization.

Another important factor is a timeline. We should never trust a promise from Kim on denuclearization that does not include specifics. Reasonable doubt is the product of reason and experiences.

North Korea held a political show of exploding a cooling tower at a Yongbyon reactor in 2008, but did not keep its promise of denuclearization. When a promise is not followed up by specific actions, we must have reasonable doubts until the end.

And yet, President Moon said, “It is our reality that many doubt the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization and peace process,” and “Some even seem to want the era of confrontation and hostility to continue.” It sounds as though he is labeling those who doubt Pyongyang’s will to denuclearization a hostile and confrontational force.

Until now, we have spent astronomical amounts of money to end the North’s nuclear programs and improve inter-Korean relations. From 1998 to 2008, when the Sunshine Policy was implemented, Seoul sent 1.43 trillion won ($1.24 billion) for the light-water reactor project in the North and another 750 billion won to link inter-Korean railroads. But the money was wasted. If we had thought more prudently and if we had reasonable doubts, the money could have been saved. Although we still vividly remember the failure, the Moon administration and local governments want to jump into the risky businesses with the North one after another.

The government says it will invest 13 trillion won to develop inter-Korean border areas to establish foundations for inter-Korean exchange and revive tourism. What will happen if the upcoming summit ends without tangible outcomes? Will the government still pour money into the border areas despite continuing tensions? Ignoring the risk of North Korea and pushing forward with a massive project is premature.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 19, Page 30