Korea Dialogues: Adequate Pressure to Support Political Deals

Efforts for the optimum balance of dialogue and pressure raise the probability to convince Kim Jong-un that his tangible steps will be necessary in the talks to avoid unfavorable consequences for his regime, Hiroshi Yamazoe writes.

Since the Kim-Trump Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018, parties have been working for the goal of a peaceful settlement of the Korean crisis. As this is one of the most difficult problems the international society faces, which one or two summits of top political leaders cannot solve. It takes time and patience, without which a wrong breakthrough could result in a disaster. What is necessary is the adequate extent of reduced tensions and continued pressure to keep North Korea motivated for further steps toward rapprochement.

If Kim Jong-un’s efforts for dialogues were responded with a threat of imminent military contingencies, then North Korea would have to return to brinkmanship. Suspension of parts of US-ROK military exercises is positive in this sense. On the other hand, if North Korea believed the motivations for pressure were fragmented among major diplomatic players, then they would not find it necessary to take actions toward denuclearization. Therefore, the fundamental parts of US-ROK military exercises as preparation for contingencies are still necessary. Development of missile defense is not to impose military pressure, but to reduce effectiveness of North Korean missile threats during the long process of negotiations. The message is that if this round of rapprochement fails and military tensions rise again, the US and allies can respond and North Korean adventure will fail. This message should be supported, not undermined, by China and Russia, through the implementation of the sanctions the UN Security Council adopted.

Efforts to convey this message continue. At the Tokyo meeting of US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on July 8, Pompeo said “North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to complete denuclearization” and “however, North Korea will first have to fulfill its commitments to denuclearize. Sanctions will remain in place until final, fully verified denuclearization, as agreed to by Chairman Kim, occurs.” Also, at the meeting with UN Security Council members, he said “Members of the UN Security Council, and by extension all UN member-states, have unanimously agreed to fully enforce sanctions on North Korea, and we expect them to continue to honor those commitments. When sanctions are not enforced, the prospects for the successful denuclearization are diminished.” Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not yet a frontline player in direct talks with Kim Jong-un, he has been active to facilitate the international cooperation, especially through his personal ties with Donald Trump.

Now Russia invites Kim Jong-un to the Eastern Economic Forum in September in Vladivostok, where Prime Minister Abe might be able to have a direct talk to him. This opportunity would give North Korea, Japan, and Russia chances to raise their diplomatic positions and find better options. The high-level Japan-Russia security dialogues, not only frequent Abe-Putin talks but also foreign-defense ministers’ “2+2” meetings (the third one on July 31, 2018) and regular security council secretariat heads meetings, also have a significance in confirming common interests concerning security of the Korean Peninsula, despite the differences on many issues. While these talks have more positive meanings than negative, the Japanese agenda about North Korea including denuclearization and abduction issues are highly difficult and require a long and patient process toward a solution.

The planned summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore forced the Japanese premier to request urgently a meeting with the American president. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew to the United States for the second time in two months. The meeting between the leaders of Japan and the US in the White House on June 7 showed that despite the official statements about common interests, the foreign policy priorities of the United States and Japan are different.

In all of these opportunities of high-level talks, efforts for the optimum balance of dialogue and pressure raise the probability to convince Kim Jong-un that his tangible steps will be necessary in the talks to avoid unfavorable consequences for his regime. If he underestimated the resolve of Donald Trump and international community including China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and US, then the dialogues might prove a failure and a new round of military tensions would affect the parties surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

Views expressed here are those of Hiroshi Yamazoe alone, not of any organization such as NIDS or the Japanese Government.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.