Oct 3, 2021
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North Korea’s nuclear program: Kim Jong-un will never give up on it

In the photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the testing of new tactical missiles

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends testing of new tactical missiles (Photo: ZUMA / TASS)

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Forecast by the BESA Center No.2 164, September 30, 2021

In a 2021 survey by the Korea Institute for National Unification on South Korea’s attitudes toward North Korea, most South Koreans expressed their belief that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons.

Does this mean that the concept of CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling) – the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling” of the North Korean nuclear program – is no longer relevant? Are the South Korean people more realistic than the leaders who argue that the North Korean regime will give up its nuclear weapons if it receives sufficient security guarantees and economic benefits?

Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018 between Donald Trump and Kim Chen In caused euphoria among the American side over the fact that Kim Jong-un made a strategic decision to abandon his nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and the subsequent improvement in the North Korean economy.

This euphoria was based on a misunderstanding between Washington and Pyongyang, which was revealed a few months later at the Hanoi summit on February 27-28, 2019. President Trump has failed to convince Kim to abandon North Korea’s nuclear program. Was it realistic to expect him to give up his leverage for economic gain?

It can be argued that Kim was never ready to completely roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, just to abandon those parts of the tactical nuclear program that would be required to lift sanctions without giving up strategic nuclear capabilities.

Pyongyang has not conducted any nuclear tests since the Singapore summit in 2018; it has also not tested long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles for the past three years. Thus, while President Trump failed to disarm North Korea, he may have helped create an environment that prevented a military escalation on the Korean Peninsula during his presidency.

Despite the cost to the North Korean economy of the long-term economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, Kim Jong-un chose to preserve his nuclear and missile capabilities rather than maximize the potential benefits of the Singapore summit.

The president Biden appointed an ambassador Sun Kim the new envoy to North Korea. Although this appointment has been made, negotiations with North Korea have not moved forward since the summits with President Trump. Ongoing sanctions against North Korea have not brought about any changes in Kim’s nuclear and missile policies.

Washington needs to understand that as long as Kim Jong-un is in power, “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling” is a declarative policy without any substance, because Kim will not give up his nuclear and missile map. He may be willing to give up some tactical elements to ease sanctions, but he will never agree to “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling.”

Author: Alon Levkowitz – DoctorAlon Levkowitz – Researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies BeginSadat, an expert on security in East Asia, the Korean Peninsula and Asian international organizations.

Translated by Sergei Dukhanov.

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