David Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation For Defense of Democracies focusing on Korea and East Asian security. He is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel with five tours in Korea. He tweets @DavidMaxwell161 and blogs at the Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessment of North Korean Strategy in Preparation for High Level Diplomacy in September 2018
Date Originally Written: September 4, 2018.
Date Originally Published: September 7, 2018.
Summary: The only way the U.S. will see an end to the nuclear program, threats, and crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea (UROK). The UROK would be secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.
Text: For Kim Jong-un, the Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore joint statement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula are like contracts that specify the precise sequences in which negotiations and action should proceed:
1. Declare an end to the Korean civil war
2. Reduce and then end sanctions
3. Denuclearize South Korea (i.e. end the Republic of Korea (ROK) / U.S. alliance, remove U.S. troops from the peninsula, and remove the U.S. nuclear umbrella over the ROK and Japan)
4. After completing all of the above, begin negotiation on how to dismantle the North’s nuclear program
The September 2018 summit in Pyongyang between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could set the conditions to end the Korean civil war at the United Nations General Assembly meeting at the end of the month. While there is disagreement among Korean analysts as to North Korea’s true intent, North Korean actions are best viewed through the lens of the Kim family regime’s decades-old strategy. This strategy wants to ensure the survival of the Kim family regime, unify the peninsula via subversion, coercion, and use of force to guarantee regime survival, and to split the ROK / U.S. alliance to expel U.S. forces from the peninsula. Additionally, Kim wants SALT/START-like talks in which the North is co-equal to the U.S. like the Soviets were – but Kim will likely settle for Pakistan-like acceptance.
While U.S. President Donald Trump moved past the last administration’s unofficial policy of strategic patience and now conducts unconventional, experimental, and top-down diplomacy, it is necessary to consider the full scope of the Korea problem, not just the nuclear issue. U.S. policy towards North Korea and the U.S. / ROK alliance is based on answers to the following:
1. What does the U.S. want to achieve in Korea?
2. What is the acceptable and durable political arrangement than will protect, serve, and advance U.S. and ROK / U.S. alliance interests on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia?
3. Does the U.S. believe that Kim Jong-un has abandoned Pyongyang’s seven decades-old strategy of subversion, coercion, and the use of force to achieve northern domination of a unified peninsula in order to ensure the survival of the Kim family regime?
4. Does the U.S. believe that Kim Jong-un has abandoned the objective of splitting the ROK / U.S. alliance to get U.S. forces off the peninsula? In short, has he abandoned his “divide and conquer” strategy: divide the ROK / U.S. alliance and conquer the South?
While pursuing high-level nuclear diplomacy, the U.S. and ROK will keep in mind the entire spectrum of existing threats (The Big 5) and potential surprises that can affect negotiations.
1. War – The U.S. and ROK must deter, and if attacked, defend, fight, and win because miscalculation or a deliberate decision by Kim could occur at any time.
2. Regime Collapse – The U.S. and ROK must prepare for this very real possibility and understand it could lead to war; both war and regime collapse could result in resistance to unification within the North.
3. Human Rights and Crimes Against Humanity (Gulags, external forced labor, etc.) –Oppression of the population keeps the Kim regime in power and it uses slave labor to do everything from overseas work to mining uranium for the nuclear program. Furthermore, U.S. / ROK focus on human rights is a threat to the Kim family regime because this undermines domestic legitimacy – and most importantly, addressing this issue is a moral imperative.
4. Asymmetric Threats – North Korean asymmetric threats include provocations to gain political and economic concessions, coercion through its nuclear and missile programs, cyber-attacks, special operations activities, and global illicit activities such as those conducted by North Korea’s Department 39. All of these asymmetric threats keep the regime in power, support blackmail diplomacy, and provide capabilities to counter alliance strengths across the spectrum of conflict. These asymmetric threats also facilitate resistance following a potential regime collapse.
5. Unification – The biggest challenge since the division of the peninsula is the fundamental reason for the North-South conflict. Unification is also the solution to the Korea question. Note that President Trump in the June 30, 2017 joint statement supported the ROK’s leading role in fostering an environment for peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula.
While the focus is naturally on North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, the conventional threat from the North remains significant. Seventy percent of its 1.2 million-man army is offensively postured between the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Pyongyang. The northern artillery in deeply buried and hardened targets poses a dangerous threat to a millions of Koreans in and around Seoul. Since the Moon-Kim and Trump-Kim summits in April and June 2018 respectively, there has been no reduction in these forces and no confidence-building measures from the North Korean side.
While maintaining its aggressive conventional posture, Pyongyang is also pushing for a peace treaty to remove the justification for U.S. forces on the peninsula, as ROK presidential adviser Moon Chung-in wrote in April 2018. However, the legal basis for U.S. presence lies in the ROK / U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953, which makes no mention of North Korea or the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and exists to defend both nations from threats in the Pacific Region. As such, the treaty would remain valid even if Seoul and Pyongyang were technically at peace.
It is the ROK / U.S. alliance and presence of U.S. forces that has deterred hostilities on the peninsula. As long as there is a conventional and nuclear threat from the North, the ROK / U.S. alliance is required for deterrence. Based upon this need for a U.S. deterrent, the North’s desire for the removal of U.S. troops must be treated with deep skepticism.
The challenge for the ROK, the U.S., regional powers, and the international community is how to get from the current state of armistice and temporary cessation of hostilities to unification. While peaceful unification would be ideal, the most likely path will involve some level of conflict ranging from war to internal civil conflict and potentially horrendous human suffering in the northern part of Korea. The ROK and its friends and allies face an extraordinary security challenge because of the “Big Five.” War, regime collapse, and the north’s nuclear and missile programs pose an existential threat to the ROK. Finally, although some advocate that the U.S. should keep the human rights as a separate issue; it is a moral imperative to work to relieve the suffering of the Korean people who live in the worst sustained human rights conditions in modern history.
 David Maxwell. “Three Simple Things the Trump-Kim Summit Could—and Should—Achieve.” Quartz. https://qz.com/1300494/three-simple-things-the-trump-kim-summit-could-and-should-achieve/ (September 4, 2018).
 James Jay Carafano. July 17, 2018. “Donald Trump and the Age of Unconventional Diplomacy.” The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/donald-trump-and-age-unconventional-diplomacy-26011 (August 10, 2018)
 Patrick M. Cronin, Kristine Lee. 2018. “Don’t Rush to a Peace Treaty on North Korea.” The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/dont-rush-peace-treaty-north-korea-26936 (August 3, 2018).
 Ibid., Maxwell
 “Joint Statement between the United States and the Republic of Korea.” The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/joint-statement-united-states-republic-korea/ (September 4, 2018).
 “Defense Intelligence Agency: Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2017 A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” https://media.defense.gov/2018/May/22/2001920587/-1/-1/1/REPORT-TO-CONGRESS-MILITARY-AND-SECURITY-DEVELOPMENTS-INVOLVING-THE-DEMOCRATIC-PEOPLES-REPUBLIC-OF-KOREA-2017.PDF
 Moon, Chung-in. 2018. “A Real Path to Peace on the Korean peninsula.” Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-korea/2018-04-30/real-path-peace-korean- peninsula (August 6, 2018).
 “Avalon Project – Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Korea; October 1, 1953.” http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/kor001.asp (August 6, 2018).