The American-North Korean relationship remains tense even after the release of American detainees
On May 9, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper published an article entitled, “North Korea Displays Stance of Reconciliation: Releasing American Detainees and Aiming for Successful Summit With the United States.” It read:
Major progress was made on May 9 towards holding the U.S.-North Korea summit planned for early June. While differences remain on the issue of denuclearization, North Korea released three American detainees to the U.S., thereby playing its “card” that was one of the American conditions for holding the summit.
Before entering Pyongyang on his second visit to North Korea on May 9, Mike Pompeo told the press corps that he wanted to decide on topics of discussion for the summit meeting. He emphasized that he would make another request for the release of the American detainees as one condition for holding the summit.
In contrast, North Korea regarded the three Americans as hostages. They are an important card for displaying a stance of reconciliation by North Korea, which wants assurance that its system will be maintained by the U.S. If North Korea releases the three men before the final arrangements are made for the summit topics, schedule, and location, momentum forcing the U.S. to take part in the meeting will be lost.
Kim Jong-bong, who headed the Information Management Office of the National Security Council under President Roh Moo-hyun, analyzed the issue as follows: “North Korea would not release the detainees until the summit meeting was set in stone.” In other words, the release of the three Americans signifies that the summit will take place.
The remaining point of focus is whether the two countries can bridge the distance between their different views on denuclearization methods.
Although the article’s title includes the phrase “Displays Stance of Reconciliation,” tension still remains between the U.S. and North Korea. On May 8, President Donald J. Trump raised the hurdle for lifting economic sanctions on North Korea from total denuclearization to permanently abandoning and not possessing weapons of mass destruction. “Weapons of mass destruction” of course includes nuclear weapons as well as biological and chemical weapons. The U.S. is also taking a stance of demanding resolutions for human rights violations, such as the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, in cooperation with the Shinzo Abe administration. On May 6 a press officer from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the U.S., saying this is a perilous action that could lead to starting anew.
North Korea has nuclear weapons to prevent a Chinese invasion
Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping hurriedly met for a second time in Dalian from May 7 to May 8. Some feel this meeting was aimed at putting checks on the U.S. against the backdrop of tension. The front page of the May 9 issue of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun discussed this topic as follows:
Kim Jong Un was accompanied by people including Kim Yo Jong, his younger sister and first vice director of the Central Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, as well as Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui, who is in charge of negotiations with the U.S. Participants from the Chinese side included First-ranked Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Wang Huning, who is also the fifth-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, and State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi.
According to Xinhua, Xi said, “I highly appraise Kim Jong Un for visiting China twice in just over 40 days during this time of grave and complex circumstances on the Korean Peninsula.” Kim Jong Un emphasized the close partnership by replying, “I came to China again to report on the situation to Xi and because I hope for strategic communication and cooperation with China.”
Xi stated, “I will support the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the U.S.-North Korean talks.” Kim Jong Un responded by emphasizing, “We can accomplish denuclearization; we would not need nuclear weapons if only the involved countries would cease enacting policy that is hostile to North Korea and threatening our safety.” Once again, he indicated his thinking that “phased, synchronized measures” by each involved country are needed for denuclearization.
Kim Jong Un’s statement about wanting other countries to “cease enacting policy that is hostile to North Korea and threatening our safety” refers not only to the U.S., but also to China.
Here, I would like to point out that Kim Jong Il was so focused on maintaining North Korean independence and preventing a Chinese invasion that he even removed his own father, Kim Il Sung, to continue the nuclear program. Therefore, China has constantly opposed nuclear development by North Korea. Kim Jong Il was summoned to China in 2004 and strongly compelled to stop nuclear development, but he refused this on the basis that the nuclear program was vital for defending North Korea, not to menace China. A major explosion occurred in which the entire train that Kim Jong Il was supposed to be riding home was blown off the track with 800 tons of TNT at Ryongchon Station in North Korea near the Chinese border. People surmise this explosion was instigated by the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department (under the orders of Chinese Chairman of the Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin) and carried out by some North Korean military personnel. Kim Jong Il was told of the attack by parties including the American and Russian intelligence agencies, so he put another person in his place and escaped danger. Over 100 people who were gathered to welcome the North Korean leader’s train died, including children. This assassination attempt convinced Kim Jong Il that nuclear weapons were the only way to protect himself, so he stepped up nuclear development and successfully conducted a nuclear test in 2006 (although it was imperfect). In this way, he loudly declared inside and outside North Korea that his country possessed nuclear weapons.
On the day Trump was elected president, he launched his strategy to win a second election. He must be victorious in the most important preliminary skirmish to that end: the American midterm elections that will take place in November 2018. This is why Trump is trying to overturn all of Democratic President Barack Obama’s achievements, and also withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Iran nuclear deal. It is certain that Trump’s approval rating would rise if he could resolve the North Korea crisis, which would boost his momentum for winning a second term. Rather than fixing this issue right away, he wants to be able to brag about his success when the midterm elections are near, regardless of whether the crisis is solved via talks or military action. He is showing that he is simply and honestly trying to fulfill his campaign promises – whether this is possible or not – as a way to hold on to his core supporters. It is clear that this thinking is what determines his current words and deeds.
The American-North Korean conflict about disarmament cannot be resolved through negotiation
After the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting has been settled, the issue will be resolving the two countries’ different views on denuclearization methods (as described by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun). It seems that a path has been opened to North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons, but it would be impossible to come to an agreement based on genuine “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) and disarmament at this summit meeting. Still, the U.S. is advocating for a “Libya model” of nuclear disarmament followed by the lifting of economic sanctions. Yet as the article on Kim Jong Un and Xi’s meeting described, North Korea believes that “phased, synchronized measures” are necessary. It seems likely that North Korea will ask for compensation at each phase while dismantling a small amount of its facilities (such as for experiments, uranium enrichment, and nuclear reactors) to make a show of disarmament while concealing its completed nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.
Israel has never conducted a nuclear test, yet it is recognized as a nuclear state and no further Arab-Israeli conflicts have occurred after the four of the past. I can understand Kim Jong’s thinking after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein, who made it seem like Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction even though it did not, and Muammar Gaddafi, who experienced the “Libya model.” However, there is strong distrust in the international community regarding North Korea, which has violated the 1994 Agreed Framework that specified the freezing of the North Korean nuclear program, and has secretly continued nuclear weapons development while receiving enormous amounts of aid. Even if the American and North Korean leaders agree to disarmament at their summit meeting, I think North Korea will have to be recognized as a latent nuclear power unless it stops all ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests; immediately gives up all of its nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and intermediate-range missiles; and is subjected to thorough inspections proving that not one nuclear weapon remains. Trump raised the bar by asking North Korea to permanently abandon its weapons of mass destruction and resolve the Japanese abductee issue, but I feel that all of these problems cannot be resolved in negotiations at the coming summit.
A denuclearized North Korea led by Kim Jong Un is a necessary buffer state for Japan
Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012. He looks up to Japan and has always been afraid of China, as evidenced by his statement that the U.S. and Japan are North Korea’s rivals of “100 years” and China its rival of “1,000 years.” One theory says Kim Jong Un thought his uncle Jang Song Thaek might collaborate with China to bring about the collapse of the Kim Jong Un structure. That is why Jang was indicted for various crimes and made to watch two of his aides be torn apart with machine guns. Jang was then brutally executed, and his corpse was incinerated with a flamethrower. Kim Jong Un also killed Kim Jong Nam, his younger brother who was a potential successor, at a Malaysian airport using VX nerve agent. This tragic death likely sent a warning to North Korean defectors.
In addition, most of the other people who were obstacles to Kim Jong Un’s control have been purged. Among the seven top brass who escorted the hearse at Kim Jong Il’s funeral service, all five military personnel have disappeared. Cruel methods were used, such as mortars and machine guns, as a way to ensure Kim Jong Un’s stable authority by inspiring terror among powers who are critical of his government. Despite all this, North Korea is an essential buffer state for the U.S., China, Russia, and Japan, and these countries require the continuation of the Kim Jong Un administration after denuclearization. In particular, the worst scenario for Japan would be for Kim Jong Un to die and North Korea to become a Chinese puppet state. If that happened, North and South Korea would be integrated into a “Korean Federation” that shows contempt for Japan via methods such as using the anti-Japanese media in tune with China’s intentions to start conflicts about fabricated history. It would stir up the anti-Japanese citizens of Japan, and Japan would end up yielding and becoming a Chinese autonomous region.
As I have long asserted in my essays, the only way to maintain the Kim Jong Un government while denuclearizing North Korea would be for the U.S. to show its level of commitment by conducting an air strike with prior warning. The U.S. should first promise to maintain the North Korean structure and give people time to evacuate before an air strike at a clearly specified date and time that destroys around 100 locations at major research, manufacture, storage, and experiment facilities related to nuclear and ballistic missiles, of which there are thought to be hundreds in North Korea. Next, the U.S. should enhance its economic sanctions and negotiations, forcing North Korea to choose between giving up all of its nuclear weapons in exchange for security or the entire system being destroyed in all-out warfare.
Another alternative could be fully controlling North Korea’s nuclear weapons rather than disarmament. During the Cold War, the U.S. entered into a nuclear sharing agreement with four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to guard against the Soviet Union. The nations in this agreement jointly manage American nuclear weapons in times of peace and receive the right to use them from the U.S. when emergencies occur. During their recent meeting, it is possible that Xi tried to make Kim Jong Un agree to a Chinese version of this in which China and North Korea jointly manage the North Korean nuclear weapons, and the rights to use them are restored to North Korea in times of emergency. However, I do not think Kim Jong Un will go along with this, as the North Korean nuclear program is a way to hold China at bay.
If North Korea believes nuclear armament is necessary for security against the Chinese threat, another possible option is for the U.S. to conclude a security treaty with North Korea guaranteeing the current system, which would oppose the Chinese pressure and make North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons. In that case, it is highly likely the U.S. would also demand that Japan pay around one trillion yen of pre- and post-war reparations as North Korea demands. However, Japan did not wage an aggressive war on the Korean Peninsula. The Empire of Japan and Korean Empire concluded the Japan-Korea Treaty for the Japanese annexation of Korea, and there is absolutely no need for Japan to provide economic aid like these indemnities. Japan incorporated Korea into its country, just like Hokkaido. Japan invested huge amounts of money in infrastructure on the North Korean peninsula before World War II to build facilities including dams, railways, and many schools. This remaining infrastructure has a value much greater than the asked-for reparations, and Japan should reject them as totally unnecessary.
Japan’s dilemma: should the Kim Jong Un administration be destroyed or maintained?
Japan has long wished for the return of its abductees, but North Korea merely keeps acting and speaking in ways to castigate Japan, saying that Japan is bringing up the abductee issue to obstruct peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, and suggesting that Japan cannot set foot in the holy land of North Korea for 100 million years.
Despite this, I am concerned that the Japanese media attaches too much importance to the abduction issue in its reporting on North Korea. North Korea infringed on human rights when no war was taking place as a measure to prepare for future war, and it did not just kidnap Japanese citizens. It is thought the number of South Korean abductees is dozens of times greater than that of kidnapped Japanese, and North Korea also abducted people from other countries as well. Inside North Korea, over the three generations of the Kim dynasty (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un), political offenders who are critical of the government are imprisoned in concentration campus and forced to do harsh labor until they die. It is said these concentration camps hold hundreds of thousands of people, even today. These numerous human rights violations cannot be resolved without the collapse of the Kim Jong Un government. Even if some of the Japanese abductees are released, I think it would be impossible for all of them to be freed under the current government. This is a major dilemma for Japan, which also hopes for the maintenance of the Kim Jong Un administration in North Korea, which is a geopolitical buffer zone.
In the 73 years since the end of World War II, Japan has not experienced the horrors of war thanks to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that relies on the U.S. However, I believe an era will arrive in which the global situation is rapidly transformed, and individual nations must maintain a nuclear balance when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons falls apart. Amidst these changes, Japan must promptly reform its constitution to become a country capable of independent self-defense that can safeguard its national sovereignty including the lives and assets of its people, as well as its land and territorial waters. However, considering the current public opinion and government approval rating, I think constitutional change will have to be done in two phases. First, the constitution should be amended to clearly recognize the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), as Abe suggested. Next, comprehensive, wide-ranging amendment should take place as soon as possible. National Diet members in favor of constitutional change currently occupy two thirds of the seats in the upper and lower houses, but they have inconsistent ideas on what should be amended. Still, it is possible that all of them would approve the specification of the JSDF only. If we cannot achieve constitutional reform now – when Japan is faced with the clear threat of North Korea – I do not think it can be accomplished for some time until another favorable opportunity presents itself.
It is impossible to negotiate with dictatorships if one lacks strength in the form of military power. The U.S. successfully had its three detainees freed because it displayed strength against North Korea. I think it is accurate to say that North Korea was forced to take this action.
Japan must start by abolishing its Three Non-Nuclear Principles, revising the constitution, and concluding a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. Peace does not come merely by wishing for it; it is the result of a balance of power. To become a nation that can realistically serve as a leader in maintaining peace, Japan should aim to achieve the first phase of constitutional reform by 2020 (the year of the Tokyo Olympics), which is Abe’s target. North Korea must also be denuclearized to resolve the imminent North Korea threat. Japan, which cannot retaliate with nuclear weapons, is the most likely target of a North Korean nuclear attack. The opposition parties are still bringing up the Moritomo Academy and Kake Educational Institution issues, which are not illegal at all, to impede constitutional change. Japan does not have time to keep focusing on these topics, and for the immediate future it should work on obtaining railguns and laser guns as self-defense weapons.
May 18 (Friday), 8：00 p.m.