At domestic level, Kim Jong-Un is pursuing two original and interesting policy lines within North Korea: the rise of a new generation to power and the evident and stable economic expansion.
Under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, the private segment of the North Korean economy has undergone great development and the new class of young people rising to power – who epitomize the general rejuvenation of the North Korean society – is also an unknown factor for the forthcoming talks between the two Koreas and the talks between the United States and North Korea.
Certainly Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un rules without problems, but he shall consider the new climate prevailing within his Party.
At military level, according to the data provided by the US intelligence services, North Korea has an arsenal of 36 nuclear warheads.
Only in 2017 did North Korea fire 23 missiles.
During the bilateral talks with South Korea, however, Kim Jong-Un also said he wanted to impose a moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear missile launches between March and April 2018.
Complex signs hard to decode, but certainly designed to creating a new perception of North Korea in South Korea and in the rest of the world.
The summit meeting will take place on April 27, 2018, south of the demilitarized area of Panmunjom, in the Peace House, near the “Truce Village” – the site where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
An area belonging to South Korea – and indeed, this is a further sign conveyed by the North Korean leader.
The meeting will take place between the two Presidents, namely Kim Jong-Un for North Korea and Moon Jae-In for South Korea.
Two inter-Korean summits had already been held in 2000 and 2007.
The summit meeting held in 2000 took place when the Sunshine Policy had been ended abruptly by the South Korean President, Lee Myung Bak, a politician and businessman recently arrested on charges of bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion alleged to have occurred during his presidency.
The summit meeting held in 2007 focused on the 1953 armistice between the two sides and on the economic relations between North and South Korea, as well as on the issues regarding “human rights”.
For the next summit meeting scheduled for April 2018, North Korea has clearly stated its willingness to denuclearise the whole peninsula, maintaining that there is no need for nuclear weapons when the survival of North Korea is fully ensured.
Nevertheless, the United States has the weapons in South Korea – with 23,468 US soldiers and five divisions – as well as the greatest ability to oppose North Korea militarily.
Moreover, US commands in South Korea often organize exercises against North Korea after its hypothetical invasion of South Korea, with evident results for the South Korean population.
Within negotiations, this shall obviously be followed by the cessation of any nuclear threat to North Korea, regardless of its origin – that is from the United States and, with the conventional threat alone, from Japan.
The South Korean President has also said that North Korea wants to have “frank and candid” talks with the United States, especially on the denuclearization of the entire peninsula and on the future mutual recognition between the two countries.
The more we go forward, the less pro-American South Korea will be – not for the influence of North Korea, but for the same effect suffered by Western Germany during the “cold war”: the Federal Republic of Germany maintained it was against the German Democratic Republic’s regime, but it was aware that if the nuclear conflict had started, it would have been the first and only one to suffer from its consequences.
Hence if results are achieved in the talks with the United States, North Korea will stop any missile or nuclear test in that period.
As reported and certified by all South Korean sources, North Korea really wants to advance quickly along the path of dialogue with South Korea, which is therefore a stable direction of the North Korean strategy.
Hence, regardless of the choice made by the United States, this is a progressive and inevitable decoupling between South Korea and the United States.
Once Kim Jong-Un’s offer of dialogue is also made to the United States, the latter can respond in two ways: US adherence to the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula or the persistence of a “cold war”, with hot phases between the United States and North Korea.
In the former case, the strategic transformation of the Asian peninsula would create a severe military void for the United States, which could respond by increasing its forces in the South Pacific Ocean or in Japan, thus maintaining a serious threat to North Korea.
A serious albeit remote threat, posed by countries that are not willing to bend to US wishes, such as Japan.
In the latter case, the constant presence of US nuclear weapons in South Korea – which would be hard for South Korea to manage from a political viewpoint – would cause a not too much symbolic escalation by North Korea.
At political level, the choice for the United States is very sensitive and not devoid of side effects: South Korea could stop granting some bases to the United States or increase the rent significantly. Or it could make the United States understand that it does not want to become a nuclear target for North Korea.
Japan, which is already continuing its autonomous rearmament, could tell the United States that, beyond the current limit of the US military presence, there is no longer room for it, or that the independent Japanese missile and naval apparatus could have very different strategic aims.
Let us imagine that Kim Jong-Un has analysed very well all these logical connections of the negotiations between the United States, South and North Korea.
Nevertheless, the political climate between the two Koreas has changed and some analysts have spoken about the end of the “1990 spirit”.
In the previous relations between the two Koreas for this year’s Olympic Winter Games, the primary goal of the South Korean leader was above all holding peaceful Games without political tensions.
There had been, at first, Kim Jong-Un’s end-of-year speech aimed at peace with South Korea which, however, appeared to everybody as a usual charm offensive, typical of North Korea’s foreign policy.
Moreover, South Korean President Moon Jae-In had been elected by a vast majority of voters who wanted peace with North Korea and, above all, wanted to avoid nuclear or conventional war on the Korean peninsula.
This also counted.
In the New Year’s Day of 2018, the North Korean leader had mentioned his country’s victory in the field of nuclear weapons, saying that by now the optimal standard for a nuclear response or attack had been achieved.
This could make us think that, from now on, the North Korean leader wants to underline the purely economic side of the “Byungjin Line” developed by Kim Jong-Un to pursue the parallel goals of economic development and a robust nuclear weapons program, thus making them interdependent.
Hence, once stabilized national defence, North Korea wants to deal simultaneously with the United States and South Korea.
There had been a diplomatic “offensive” towards the United States a few months ago, but no results were reached.
The “olive branch” offered to South Korea was instead immediately accepted.
The visit of Kim’s younger sister and of the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong Nam, to South Korea had already taken place – the powerful symbol of a new North Korean policy line, with a subsequent visit paid by some South Korean leaders to North Korea, received by Kim Jong-Un in person.
This happens very rarely.
A first hypothesis is the following: North Korea wants to suspend nuclear and missile tests for a certain period of time and plans to use this period of time to improve relations with South Korea.
Hence North Korea may not be interested in the full disarmament of the country and of the whole peninsula.
China, however, could later play a decisive role in inter-Korean negotiations.
In fact, if the process of dialogue between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States continued long enough, China could propose to the UN Security Council a Resolution aimed at lifting at least some of the sanctions on North Korea.
The Resolution could be rejected by the United States and, possibly, by France and Great Britain, but this would enable China to unilaterally reopen its markets to North Korea, by later accepting to act as a broker for other countries wishing to trade with North Korea.
The Russian Federation would follow Chinese operations closely.
In this case South Korea would have two options available: to definitely close the Kaesong industrial zone or accept China’s proposal, which would certainly be very attractive from the economic viewpoint.
In this case the United States could not do much more than exert military and political pressure on South Korea.
Another hypothesis is the following: South Korea may not want to go beyond the limit of current sanctions on North Korea – and China would not show any reaction.
Hence we would have the full reactivation of North Korea’s missile and nuclear program, with equal and opposite reactions by the United States.
Nevertheless, South Korea must be careful, because military tension could stop also its economic development, not just North Korea’s.
Conversely, if the negotiations between South and North Korea thrive, for the United States this will mean a radical rethinking of its military and strategic presence in Asia, from support to Taiwan up to the acceptance of Korean reunification under the auspices of the People’s Republic of China.
Therefore, the United States should take part and play an active role in the Korean bilateral negotiations, without preconceived close-minded attitudes towards North Korea which – once new friend of the United States – could influence also the Chinese and Russian policies in a pro-US direction.
The real danger for the United States is nuclear proliferation.
As Kissinger said recently, “if North Korea keeps nukes, other countries will seek them”.
The real danger for the United States is a mass of small countries with so many nuclear weapons as to prevent the US military and commercial transit through some very important areas, which could be denied to relations with the United States.
This would mean the end of US global power.
This is the reason why the United States has always and almost obsessively opposed nuclear proliferation outside the traditional China-Russia-India-Pakistan-USA context.
Hence if the negotiation on the freezing of North Korean nuclear power were successful, the United States would gain a free and uncontrolled right of passage to Southeast Asia and the Straits of Malacca, which are still essential for the world market and for the military and intelligence control of the whole South Pacific region.
Will the United States be able to use every aspect of the negotiations between North and South Korea, which will soon extend to the United States?
What role will be played by the selective maintenance of sanctions or by their removal, with subsequent economic negotiations between the United States, China and Russia?
For the time being forecasts are uncertain, apart from the evident good will of both Koreas.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France