The thirteen years (2003-2016) I invested in negotiations with North Korea in different capacities—Special Envoy, Associate Director of National Intelligence and as a private citizen—have made me guardedly optimistic that a peaceful resolution of issues with North Korea is possible. The US has successfully concluded agreements during the past twenty-five years of on-and-off negotiations with North Korea, notably the Agreed Framework of 1994, the Six Party Talks Joint Statement of September 19, 2005 and the “Leap Day Agreement” of February 29, 2012. From these experiences, we learned a lot about North Korea’s determination to have a normal relationship with the US and to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state; we also got to know the North Korean negotiators, many of whom we have been negotiating with since 1994. Conversely, over this period, North Korea acquired a better understanding of US intentions, while also getting to know our negotiators, who routinely rotated every few years. Although past achievements, after extensive negotiations and partial implementation, eventually collapsed, they offer important lessons that can help guide US negotiators through the thicket of obstacles they will confront in achieving US goals with North Korea.
(This is reposted with thanks to our friends at 38 North.)
Survival of the Leadership Is Paramount
Over the past 2,000 years, Korea has been invaded often by China, Russia, Japan and Mongolia. To survive against these powerful and aggressive neighbors, Korea had to be militarily strong and self-reliant. It is no surprise, therefore, that over the past 65 years North Korea has pursued a “military first” policy, highlighted by Kim Il Sung’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in the 1950s. Kim Jong Un has continued this tradition. He views a strong military, especially one with nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems, as the ultimate deterrent to the US or any country that may want to attack or remove the regime in North Korea, and thus essential to his survival and the preservation of the Kim dynasty. Simply put, getting Kim to agree to complete and verifiable denuclearization will continue to be a challenge.
Distrust of the US Persists