It has been identified that North Korea destroyed a portion of its test stand for launching ballistic missiles in mid-May. According to 38 North, a website devoted to analysis about North Korea, a land-based, canister-launched ballistic missile ejection test site located, which is in Iha-ri, Kusong City, North Pyongan Province, disappeared. North Korea has been sending messages that it will not engage in additional nuclear and missile test, while abolishing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site on May 24.
Even though this is a positive progress, this is practically irrelevant from the essence of denuclearization that is “Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID).” However, the recent situation of the White House appears to imply that it may leave denuclearization with a declarative intent rather than coming to an agreement on CVID at the summit in Singapore as well as the possibility of a few more additional North Korea–U.S. summits. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told journalists on Wednesday that there could be more than one meeting, more than one conversation. Some U.S. media is already writing speculative articles on the venue of the second North Korea-U.S. summit.
The most concerning scenario is President Trump being satisfied with achieving specific and definite result such as the abolishment ICBM and closing down of the missile launch pad at Tongchang-ri and passing the agreement on specific means for denuclearization as assignments for additional summits. For Trump, eliminating the North’s nuclear threat to target the mainland United States is an achievement big enough to exaggerate politically within the United States. Also, if declaring denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is even a little bit more progressed than the September 19 agreement in 2005, Trump could glamorize it as an accomplishment that his predecessors never made.
However, the painful experience of the 1994 Geneva Agreement and the September 19 Agreement of 2005 alarms that additional negotiation to declare denuclearization could get ruined in the mid-process, ultimately having to start everything over. The international regime that was built with great struggle can also collapse during such process.
Of course, CVID is not something we can achieve with a single summit. President Trump must have shouted for a package settlement because of his lack of understanding on North Korea’s nuclear issues. As Conway delivered that President Trump is recently receiving a systematic and intense briefing, Mr. Trump appears to be adjusting his level of expectations through learning.
The Singapore summit is the starting point of a long journey towards denuclearization. It is also inevitable to amend the speed and strategy. The starting point, nonetheless, should be based on manifest agreement on complete denuclearization. President Trump should not forget that the purpose of the N. Korea-U.S. summit is CVID, not the halt of ICBM or a “peace event.”