(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

An Assessment of the US-North Korea Summit and an Outlook for the Future of the Korean Peninsula

Junya Nishino, Keio University


There are varied assessments of the June 12, 2018 US-North Korea Summit and of the Joint Statement ("Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit") derived from the Summit. The most predominant views are that the Summit and the Joint Statement fell short of expectations that the US and North Korean leaders could reach some concrete agreement upon the denuclearization of North Korea, and that CVID (complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization) might be referred to in the text of the Statement. Forward-looking pre-Summit prospects reiterated by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the possibility of such an agreement helped foment public expectations. On the day before the Summit, Pompeo repeated at a press conference that CVID would be the only outcome acceptable to the United States.

In retrospect, however, President Trump's recognition about the denuclearization of North Korea gradually turned pessimistic from mid-May, and the president went so far as to announce the cancellation of the Summit. After a meeting with Kim Yong-chol, Deputy Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the White House in early June, President Trump said, "June 12th, we'll be in Singapore. It will be a beginning. I don't say and I've never said it happens in one meeting." "We're going to really start a process," he said.1 Guessing that any distinct progress could not be expected toward the North Korean denuclearization, the media turned more attention to a declaration to end the Korean War. President Trump also said after the meeting with Kim Yong-chol, "We talked about ending the Korean War." His proactive attitude invited an increasing attention to a war-ending declaration. However, the Joint Statement failed to make any concrete reference to the denuclearization, or to a war-ending declaration. Consequently, there is a prevailing general public impression that the US-North Korea Summit fell short of expectations.

I. An analysis of the Summit and the Joint Statement

1. An ill-prepared Summit talk

As for the most focal issue of North Korea's denuclearization, the Summit barely included a short statement, "Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."2 The Joint Statement maintains complete silence about the definition of "denuclearization," a possible road map, or a specific timeline.

But this development should be seen as a matter of course when we look back over the past history. The recent Summit meeting is worth being called an event of paramount complexities for the leaders of the two nations that have been in confrontation over 70 years, fought directly in the Korean War, and are still legally in a state of war with each other. President Trump first officially announced his intention on March 8 to hold a bilateral summit, and later scheduled it for June 12. A preparation time of three months was unquestionably short for both parties to reach an agreement on the difficult issue of North Korea's denuclearization. Preparatory working-level meetings were held in succession six times at Panmunjom, and three times in Singapore on the previous day of the Summit, but failed to reach any concrete consensus on denuclearization procedures.

Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the Joint Statement specifies both parties' commitment to holding follow-on negotiations to implement the outcomes of the Summit, designating Pompeo to pilot the negotiations. It is quite interesting that in such a historic document as the Joint Statement, the name of Mike Pompeo is inscribed alongside with that of the two leaders. As is well known, Secretary of State Pompeo visited North Korea twice for preparation of the Summit and held a high-level meeting with Kim Yong-chol several times. President Trump seems to think that Pompeo should be accountable for the process to the end.

2. A start toward a "new relationship"

In defiance of numerous adverse comments, the protagonists Trump and Kim have in a self-congratulatory manner praised the Summit and the Joint Statement. At the time of the signing ceremony, they said that they would regard the Summit as "a new start." They made an appeal to the effect that the Summit is worth being called "historic" in the sense that it would touch off the process of terminating hostility between the United States and North Korea that has lasted for over 70 years since 1948 when the divided states came into existence in the Korean Peninsula3.

Certainly, the Summit was unprecedented and historic in the sense that the leaders of the two states in conflict met for the first time and signed a joint statement. The United States and North Korea concluded some agreements in the past --- the Geneva agreement in October 1994 and the "Leap Day" agreement in February 2012 --- and issued a joint communique at the time of an October 2000 visit to the White House by North Korean Chasu (Vice Marshal) Jo Myong-rok. This communique included such statements as "the two sides agreed there are a variety of available means, including Four Party talks, to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula and formally end the Korean War by replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement with permanent peace arrangements" and "the two sides stated that neither government would have hostile intent toward the other and confirmed the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity."4 It was more concrete and comprehensive than the recent joint statement in Singapore. Unfortunately, however, the communique lacked the commitments of the state heads of the two nations and did not serve as a manifestation of their political wills on the implementation of the agreed to issues. The contents of the communique were not implemented. (Among the other reasons for this outcome were the influences of the change in the US government in 2000 and the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.) Considering these past experiences, it is of a special significance that the US and North Korean leaders signed the Joint Statement in Singapore --- particularly that the North Korean supreme leader himself signed the document.

3. An agreement on a large framework

Although the Joint Statement does not include any reference to concrete procedures for North Korea's denuclearization, its significance lies in the fact that the document specifies a large framework for US-North Korea transactions or a "deal" as called by President Trump. The Joint Statement draws attention to its four commitment clauses: "1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity. 2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. 3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. 4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified." However, the most important part of the document is the statement in a preceding paragraph, "President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula", representing a scheme of trading "security guarantees" with "complete denuclearization." Yet, since the Joint Statement is no more than a framework agreement, the meanings of "security guarantees" and "complete denuclearization" remain obscure at this moment and it is up to the two leader's political judgement as to how to define and construe those key terms.

II. How the negotiation process proceeds

1. Time-consuming denuclearization process --- a common outlook

The Joint Statement suggests the trading of "complete denuclearization" with "security guarantees," but includes no reference to any specific procedures to achieve the goal, or to any rule of reciprocity regarding each other's actions. However, if, as reported by the June 13 issue of "The Rodong Sinmun," the United States and North Korea shared the recognition of the importance of abiding by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action, the future process of denuclearization would span long periods of time5.

In this connection, the third paragraph of the Joint Statement reads: "(the two leaders recognize) that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." In other words, both sides share a common recognition that the realization of the Peninsula's denuclearization would be difficult without confidence-building between the United States and North Korea. The two leaders, therefore, have decided to build mutual trust by manifesting mutual goodwill. From the viewpoint of President Trump, the cancellation of US-South Korea joint military drills (Ulchi-Freedom Guardian in 2018) is a manifestation of the United States' goowill, while the abandonment of a missile engine testing site is similarly a sign of North Korea's goodwill. "The Rodong Sinmun" reported that President Trump "expressed his intention to halt the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, which the DPRK side regards as provocation, over a period of good-will dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S., offer security guarantees to the DPRK and lift sanctions against it along with advance in improving the mutual relationship through dialogue and negotiation."

On the other hand, several technical reports appeared on a timeframe for North Korea's denuclearization. A Stanford University research team led by Professor Siegfried Hecker estimates the timeframe to be from 10 to 15 years,6 whereas other experts including Professor David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) suggests a two-year or so timeline.7 As mentioned earlier, it is largely up to relevant political leaders including President Trump to judge the completion of North Korea's denuclearization. At his post-summit press conference in Singapore, President Trump said that the complete denuclearization would require a long time, but he did not comment on the definition of complete denuclearization.

2. North Korea prioritizing the building of a peace regime

President Trump called the day of June 12 as a beginning of the process, while Chairman Kim Jong-un designated the Joint Statement as "a historic document" heralding "a new start," saying, "The world will see a major change." Both leaders share the awareness that they have made "a new start," but it is evident that there is a discrepancy in recognition by the two countries about how to proceed with the future process. For the international community including the United States, the issue of North Korean denuclearization is the focal point of the process. For North Korea, on the other hand, the primary issue is peacebuilding in the Korean Peninsula inclusive of regime guarantees.

Then, what are the regime guarantees North Korea requires? North Korea may think that a combination of different measures is necessary for regime guarantees --- which can be readily inferred from the fact that "security guarantees" are presented in plural form in the Joint Statement. When "regime guarantees" consisting of multiple measures are realized, the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," which should have been pursued in parallel, will also be completed --- North Korea seems to envisage such a development of events as the establishment of a "peace regime" in the Korean Peninsula. If I may venture to offer a simplification, what is mentioned above may be formulated as follows: the implementation of "regime guarantees" measures + the parallel implementation of "denuclearization" measures = the establishment of "peace regime" in the Korean Peninsula.

Concrete measures for North Korean regime guarantees may be discussed in three different dimensions --- political guarantee, military guarantee, and economic guarantee (Categorization by a South Korean Moon Chung-in, Special Advisor on Unification, Diplomacy and National Security Affairs). Principal measures under each of the three categories may be summed up as below. These three categories of measures are not independent, but are related to each other. In the future process of North Korea's denuclearization, these measures will be implemented along with the denuclearization efforts of North Korea.

Political guarantee: Normalization of the US-North Korea relations (Step-by-step measures from the creation of a liaison office to the establishment of diplomatic ties) / Step-by-step multilateral measures from a declaration of ending the Korean War to a peace treaty

Military guarantee: Suspension of US-ROK joint military drills / Non-deployment of strategic weapons around the Korean Peninsula / a US-North Korea non-aggression agreement / a downward review of the USFK presence

Economic guarantee: Relaxation and cancellation of economic sanctions (both United Nations Security Council resolution sanctions and member states' indipendent sanctions) / Economic cooperation and support by foreign countries / North Korea's admission to international organizations (IMF, World Bank, etc.) and relevant support to that end

3. The Joint Statement and the Panmunjom Declaration --- an inseparable set

The improvement of the inter-Korean relations starting in early 2018 has been inseparably related to the realization of the US-North Korea Summit. In the future process in which the United States and North Korea are to continue improving their relations, or in the process of implementation of the Joint Statement, the Panmunjom Declaration signed by the two Korean leaders on April 27 is to be implemented alike. We can learn this process from the fact that the US-North Korea Joint Statement refers to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula by reaffirming the Panmunjom Declaration.

The content of the Panmunjom Declaration consists of the following three pillars8:

(1) Promote common prosperity and reunification of Korea through dramatic improvement and development of inter-Korean relations

(2) Elimination of military tension and substantial elimination of war risk

(3) Establishing a permanent, solid peace regime for the Korean Peninsla

As is shown below, the three pillars comprise a large number of individual measures, and the implementation of these measures can be said to lead directly to the North Korean regime guarantees. Consequently, the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and that of the Joint Statement are an inseparable set in the light of the North Korean regime guarantees. Particularly, the third pillar, or the building of a permanent, solid peace regime, encompasses gradual disarmament, a declaration of ending the Korean War, and a peace treaty --- the most vital topics related to the North Korean relations with South Korea and the United States.

(1) Promote common prosperity and reunification of Korea through dramatic improvement and development of inter-Korean relations.

1) Implement all existing agreements and declarations adopted between the two sides thus far. 2) Hold dialogue and negotiations in various fields including at high level, and take practical measures for the implementation of the agreements reached at the inter-Korean summit. 3) Establish a joint liaison office in the Gaeseong region. 4) Encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels. 5) Resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the country, and to solve various issues including the reunification of separated families. 6) Implement the projects previously agreed to in the October 4 Declaration (issued from the 2007 inter-Korean summit), in order to promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation.

(2) Elimination of military tension and substantial elimination of war risk

1) Transform the DMZ into a peace zone. 2) Devise a practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone. 3) Ensure active mutual cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts, and hold frequent meetings between military authorities.

(3) Establishing a permanent and peaceful Korean Peninsula peace regime

1) Reaffirm the Non-Aggression Agreement. 2) Carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is reduced and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building. 3) Pursue during the year 2018 trilateral meetings or quadrilateral meetings with a view to declaring an end to the Korean War, turning the Korean Armistice Agreement into a peace treaty, and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime. 4) Confirm the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

III. Expected impacts on Japan

The meaning of "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" has yet to be defined. The states concerned share a recognition that it would take North Korea a considerable length of time to dismantle its nuclear program. The current process, if destroyed prematurely without reaching the goal, would bring about the danger of allowing North Korea to make their possession of nuclear weapons an accomplished fact. The longer time elapses without completing the North Korean denuclearization, the more danger we will face of eventually neighboring with a nuke-armed North Korea, never being free from the main source of our security anxiety.

Actually, all of the actions so far taken by North Korea after the Singapore Summit are the suspension of nuclear testing and missile launch experiments, the destruction of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, and a verbal declaration of the abandonment of missile and engine testing facilities. DPRK has not yet stopped producing nuclear materials or nuclear warheads, nor it has disposed of nuclear materials or nuclear warheads produced in the past. Above all, it is necessary to immediately take actions for denuclearization against North Korea's nuclear developments past and present. Otherwise, it would be difficult to judge that the Japanese security environment has improved.

In addition to paying attention to North Korea's denuclearization process, Japan should focus more than ever concern on the process of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.9 If, as the Panmunjom declaration expresses, the state of armistice from the Korean War comes to an end and a peace treaty is concluded in place of the present Armistice Agreement, the current order in the Korean Peninsula lasting for 65 years from 1953 will shift to a new one. Although this is basically a desirable move, we will face another question of addressing the state of instability and uncertainty accompanying an orderly transition period. Furthermore, "turning the Korean Armistice Agreement into a peace treaty" would entail a complex process of coordinating interests involving South and North Korea, the United States and China. There is a possibility that during the transition period, international politics in Northeast Asia will be saturated with tension.

To safeguard its security, Japan should prepare for the following three developments. Firstly, if the military tension in the Korean Peninsula is reduced in a mid- to long-term perspective, the United States and South Korea will eventually have to consider a downward review of the USFK's quantitative and qualitative presence. The USFK will not be reduced in the short term; however, since it is a problem directly affecting its security, Japan should keep watch over the development of the current situation from a long-term perspective. The downsizing of the USFK presence might not only entail the instability of the regional situation but an increase in Japan's security expenses.

Secondly, the conclusion of a peace treaty between South and North Korea is highly likely to result in the dismantlement of the United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the implementation of the Armistice Agreement. The UNC, which was established based on a series of UN Security Council resolutions adopted in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950, will end its role with the coming into force of a peace treaty between the two Koreas. In that case, the role and existence of the seven UN-designated bases in Japan, including UNC-Rear at Yokota Air Base, will be reviewed.

Thirdly, a transformation of the ROK-US Combined Defense System will take place along with the above. Since the 1990s, "Koreanization of Korean defense" has been promoted. This involves a stronger leadership by the Korean army in its national defense efforts with support from the USFK. The latter half of 2000s witnessed full-scale preparations for transferring OPCON (wartime operational control) of the Korean army to the Korean side. Currently, the ROK-US Combined Forces Commander (a US army general) still holds OPCON of the Korean army. Once the above OPCON transfer has been realized, the chain of command of the US and South Korean armies will alter a great deal, and the ROK-US Combined Forces Command will likely be dissolved amidst reform efforts.

These three changes can be said to represent a major transformation of the security mechanism in Northeast Asia which has been in existence for nearly 70 years. The transformation will call for a full review of Japan's security policy. In addition, if a Korean Peninsula peace regime has the possibility of becoming a reality, Japan will be asked a difficult question on how to help build the regime or, in other words, what contribution it will make toward peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. It is time that Japan should prepare her answer to the question and be ready for action at any time.

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