Prospects and Pathways to a Diplomatic Resolution the North Korean Nuclear Crisis
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
9:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
The transcript of the event is posted below.
Despite the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum pressure on the North Korean regime, Kim Jong-Un has continued to advance his country's nuclear and missile programs.
U.S. officials say they are open to talks on denuclearization, but also insist that now is time to apply more pressure to bring North Korea to bargaining table. North Korea has said it will not discuss its nuclear program so long as the United States maintains a hostile policy and joint military exercises take place in the region.
Though Washington and Pyongyang maintain a line of communication through the “New York channel,” there is no sign yet of any structured talks designed to resolve the crisis. The time available to find a a diplomatic off-ramp may be limited, especially if North Korea resumes its nuclear and missile testing.
This event—featuring three top experts in the field—will outline the growing risks posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities and whether a serious, sustained, and direct U.S.-North Korean dialogue is still possible. The speakers will assess current engagement efforts and under what conditions Pyongyang might be willing to negotiate the cessation and reversal of its nuclear program.
Speakers will include:
- William Perry, the 19th Secretary of Defense who has extensive experience negotiating with North Korea from his time serving in the Clinton administration;
- Suzanne DiMaggio, senior fellow at New America and participant in recent discussions with senior North Korean officials; and
- Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.
- Daryl G. Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association, will moderate.
The event is open to the public and the press and will be on-the-record.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right, if I can just ask everybody to take seat? We’re going to start in about a minute or so, and silence the cell—the—the mobile phones.
And for those of you in the back, there are some seats up front. I expect there’re a few—there will be a few more people coming in, so this will be your chance to just slip in and get a seat towards the front. Thanks.
All right, well, good morning. Let’s get the ball rolling.
Welcome, everyone. My name is Daryl Kimball. I’m the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which most of you know is a nongovernmental organization that’s been in existence since 1971 to address the risks and the dangers posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.
We publish the monthly journal Arms Control Today and cover a wide range of weapons-related security issues. And we’ve organized today’s forum to explore and discuss prospects and pathways to a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Now, the danger posed by North Korea is not new, but clearly since the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House in January of 2017, a bad situation has become far worse.
So far, the Trump’s administration policy of maximum pressure, occasional threats of fire and fury, military exercises, and mixed messaging about negotiations has failed to bring Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table, and it hasn’t slowed down North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing program.
And just, of course, a few days ago, North Korea’s Hwasong-15 flight test shows that the North Koreans have achieved something that Donald Trump said would not happen earlier this year, developing a long-range nuclear deterrent capability.
Now, President Trump and some of his other senior officials say time is running out before some kind of military options may be pursued. The reality, however, about military action may be far different.
It doesn’t seem as though there are any viable military options to halt or eliminate North Korea’s nuclear missile capability. So what does that leave us with? Pressure and some form of engagement.
Following that Hwasong-15 test of just a few days ago, Secretary Tillerson said, helpfully, “Diplomatic options remain viable and open for now." So that’s good to hear, but what does that mean?
Unfortunately, there are no direct talks right now going on between the United States and North Korea on a sustained basis, but as we’ll discuss this morning with our three expert speakers, there appear to be some new efforts under way to get such a process going.
So we’ve organized this morning’s session to hear from three bona fide experts about the status and the prospects and the possible pathways towards a negotiated or brokered agreement that could reduce tensions, somehow halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and also, in some way or another, address the security current—concerns that North Korea itself says it has.
There’s, of course, no guarantee that such an approach will work, but I think it’s fair to say that all of us here, all of our speakers, the Arms Control Association, believe this is the best option we have to address this grave situation.
So we’re, of course, very honored to have with us this morning Bill Perry, William J. Perry, the 19th secretary of defense, who is, in my opinion, one of the wisest and most thoughtful nuclear policy experts our nation has to offer.
He’s a real statesman who’s been working persistently on this issue, and it’s something that we at the Arms Control Association and, I think, every American should appreciate and admire.
He has, of course, extensive experience actually talking to real North Koreans, particularly during his time while serving in the Clinton administration.
So we’ve asked him to speak here today to discuss his perspectives on the crisis, what the risks are, what can be done to avert a catastrophic war and somehow arrive at a peaceful solution.
So we’re going to hear from Secretary Perry. I would like to invite him to come up to the podium right now to speak. And then we’re going to take some—take your questions for him.
And then we’re going to turn to our panel, and Secretary Perry is going to join two our other expert speakers, Suzanne DiMaggio, who’s a senior fellow with New America, and Kelsey Davenport, our own director for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association.
So Secretary Perry, if I could invite you to come on up? Thank you for joining us and for your long and distinguished service to the country. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.
WILLIAM PERRY: Thank you, Daryl. I’m going to get right to it by telling you what I think North Korea has today, which is about 20 to 25 nuclear weapons, a few of them, thermonuclear or hydrogen, and a couple hundred missiles, most of them short-range, but a few of them medium-range.
And they’re developing an ICBM, which I think has another year or two to go before it becomes operational, but I have no doubt that they will get there. So that’s the North Korean nuclear arsenal today.
We should never have let them get that arsenal. I’m going to talk about two things. First of all, how we happened—how we let that happen, very briefly, and then what we’re going to do about it.
We had, in my judgment, four opportunities to stop that development from happening, all of which, one way or another, failed. The first one went all the way back to 1994.
I have a special fondness for that one because it was the first crisis I faced as secretary of defense, so it’s etched into my memory.
I won’t go into the details of what happened in that crisis except it ended up with a diplomatic agreement called the Agreed Framework, which was negotiated by Bob Gallucci, and by which North Korea agreed to stop their nuclear program.
Basically, they shut down Yongbyon, which was their nuclear facility, and we agreed to supply—we being the United States, Japan, South Korea—agreed to supply them with two light water reactors to replace—to provide their electricity and then some, which they thought they were going to get out of their facility at Yongbyon.
These new light water reactors would not be susceptible to being easily diverted to making nuclear weapons. And the—the Agreed Framework eventually was abandoned both by—by both United States and North Korea in the early part of this century.
And while North Korea fully complied with their activities at Yongbyon, that is they shut down, basically shut down their plutonium facility at Yongbyon. They proceeded in a covert R&D program to develop a highly enriched uranium option for making nuclear bombs.
The Agreed Framework—Framework, in my judgment, probably delayed their nuclear program by almost a decade. That’s what we got out of it. But it did not stop their aspirations to have nuclear bombs and did not stop them from proceeding with an R&D program in highly enriched uranium, going to—getting a head start on how to make a bomb out of HEU.
In 1999, they conducted a early ICBM test, and that sent shockwaves, both in the United States and our allies, Japan and South Korea.
But why was it so important? It was because nobody would build an ICBM unless they were planning to put a nuclear warhead on it. It was an indication that they had kept something going in—in the nuclear program.
We didn’t know at the time what it was. We now know it was an R&D program in highly enriched uranium. But it was a very implicit indicator that it had—still had aspirations and some program for—for making a nuclear bomb.
In dealing with that crisis, I was now happily back at Stanford teaching. I had no desire to leave, but President Clinton called me and asked me if I would be his envoy for North Korea, see if I could deal with this problem.
To give you a little background about that, I thought I was a very poor choice for that task because during the previous crisis, I’d been secretary of defense.
And we had taken a very strong position that we would not permit North Korea to make a nuclear bomb—that we would not permit them to make plutonium, which was the first step to getting a nuclear bomb.
And I was a spokesman for Clinton in that regard. And we’ve said things like that many times since then, but this time we meant it. And we were—really were going to stop them if they did it. I had on my desk a plan to use a conventionally-armed cruise missile to destroy Yongbyon if they persisted in making plutonium.
It’s not so important that we were planning to do that is—as it is that North Korea believed we were planning to do it. In other words, our threat this time was a credible threat. And that’s what brought North Korea to the bargaining table, I think.
So why did he pick me to do this? I was the face of the opposition to Pyongyang. In fact, their—two days after I made my statement, the North Korean state-run newspaper had come out the headline that "Secretary of Defense Perry is a War Maniac." War maniac. I have never been called anything quite that exciting in my whole lifetime.
So I thought they might have a very negative reaction to my being the envoy there. But it—in any event, we—but let me just tell you about what to propose to them. It was about a tri-lateral study. I invited the Japanese and South Koreans to join me in this study.
We had a report made—but the key thing about the report, one sentence in the report, I think it’s worth repeating. It said, "We must deal with North Korea as it is and not as we would wish it to be." And that was my guideline when we went to Pyongyang to—to try to negotiate another agreement with them.
I spent four days in Pyongyang, made a very explicit proposal to them of what benefits would come to North Korea if they verifiably agreed to give up not only their nuclear program but their long-range missile program and the incentives if they would do that and the disincentives if they didn’t do it. So it was a very frank and freewheeling discussion.
And I left Pyongyang after four days believing we were very close to an agreement, that we had sort of a verbal understanding that they were willing—willing to do this.
Some months later, Kim Jong-il sent his senior military man to Washington to do the final negotiation of this agreement. He stopped off at Stanford on the way. I gave him a tour of the Bay Area, held a dinner in his honor, and then we went back to Washington.
The summary of that meeting was that he and President Clinton had a hand shake agreement on the deal we had negotiated in Pyongyang, and all of it—that was left was signing it. And Clinton wanted to sign it personally and Kim Jong-il wanted to sign it personally, so we were going to set that time in another—another month or two.
But a funny thing happened three weeks after that meeting in Washington, which was called a U.S. election, and a new administration was voted into office. Clinton decided, I think probably rightly, that he shouldn’t sign this agreement and then hand it to the new president. He should let the new president do the signing.
And at the time, we were confident that was going to happen because the incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell had said that he had liked the agreement and that he was going to bring it to a conclusion as soon as they got their new term started.
So we saw that being signed in maybe February or March of 2001. But in fact, President Bush, I think, under the strong guidance of his Vice President Cheney, decided not only not to sign it, but to cut off all discussions, all negotiations with the North.
And so for two years there was no discussion at all with the North. And they started acting out again. The Chinese became very concerned at this. So that was the second opportunity we had to stop the program, and that was aborted just before the agreement was signed.
And so then a full discussion of what I’m—of that—those meetings and what the agreement was is in my book, "My Journey at the Nuclear Brink," which you can get for 20 bucks at Amazon.
I was not only disappointed at the time; I would say I was a little bitter on all this work, all this effort on such an important problem, and it was just thrown overboard.
In 2002, the Chinese became concerned about what was going on, and proposed something called the six-party talks. You’re all familiar with that. I won’t dwell on it.
I believe they were on the wrong negotiating tactic in the six-party talks, but that’s just an opinion. In any event, the upshot of the six-party talks was during the time they were talking, the North Korean built about six or seven nuclear bombs.
In other words, all of the—while they were—while the—while we were talking, they were building. And then finally the six-party talks were abandoned. That was our third opportunity to stop them.
Last year, in 2016, I proposed once more diplomacy to deal with this problem, in particular diplomacy before they tested their ICBM and before they tested a hydrogen bomb, which I felt confident was in the offing.
I thought if we could get an agreement to stop them then that would be very well worth—it didn’t get rid of this nuclear arsenal they had, but it kept it from getting worse. And in my judgment getting a hydrogen bomb and getting an ICBM made it a lot worse.
I think we might have had that agreement a year ago, but that was never pursued. So that was the fourth opportunity we had.
That wouldn’t have stopped them entirely in their arsenal, but it would have stopped them from getting an ICBM and a hydrogen bomb because you cannot truly aspire to—to have that kind of capability if you haven’t tested it.
So as a result of those four missed opportunities, we’re now looking today at a nuclear arsenal, as I said, of about 20 to 25 nuclear weapons and building. They’re building, I think, at a pretty fast rate now with an H—an HEU capability.
I still believe that we could have averted that outcome if we had concluded the agreement in 2000. At the very least, that agreement would have stopped their program for at least another decade.
So four times we—our diplomacy was either unsuccessful, or we simply passed up the opportunity to do it. So that takes us up to today.
Let me start off with a negative statement about our options today. I do not believe that even inspired and successful diplomacy today will be successful in getting them to give up their nuclear arsenal. If that’s the aspiration for our negotiations, I do not think they will be successful.
It could have been successful in 2000. It could have been successful maybe even in 2004 during the four-party—six-party talks. Now they a nuclear arsenal, and they’re very happy with it.
I can’t quite imagine what it is we’re going to offer them to the—encourage them to simply give it up. And to say that we want them to give up their arsenal before we begin to talk is just sheer idiocy. They’re not going to do that.
Their successful test of a hydrogen bomb has now given the essential data they need to build an arsenal of those deadly weapons. And their ICBM tests have taken them far enough that, in my opinion, they’re not going to stop those tests until they have an operational ICBM whatever we offer them, whatever we propose them
So whatever opportunity we had in the past to prevent them from getting in that position, that has passed and we’re now facing a different situation. They now have a nuclear arsenal, a nuclear arsenal which will soon have both ICBMs, and hydrogen bombs in its capability.
So we must face the near certainty that North Korea will have, within a few years, the capable (sic) of delivering nuclear weapons, including hydrogen nuclear weapons, to any place in the world including, of course, the United States.
And we should not have let them get that capability, but they will soon have it as a result of our either failure in diplomacy, or simply walking away from diplomatic options we had some years ago. That’s the bad news.
Let me give you a little bit of good news in this situation. I do not believe that North Korea will use this weapon, this arsenal, in an unprovoked attack. I do not believe that.
I’m not worried about them firing a nuclear weapon at San Francisco, or if they could get the capability—range capability, they’re not going to do that.
They have endured great economic hardships to build this arsenal because they believed that it was necessary to preserve their regime, that is to sustain the Kim Dynasty. That is their over—has been from the beginning, their overriding objective.
Some—the reason some of our negotiations failed, our six-party talks, which failed, for example, is because we had the wrong understanding of what they were trying to achieve.
We offered them economic incentives, which they were happy to take, but they’re not willing to give up their nuclear arsenal for it. That is, in those days, they were not willing to give up the option of getting a nuclear arsenal.
So I say they’re not going to use this in an unprovoked attack. This regime is ruthless, it’s reckless. It is not suicidal. It is not suicidal.
They are seeking to survive, and they know that if they launch a nuclear weapon at the U.S. or its allies, that their regime will be destroyed. So that’s a little bit of good news.
However, I want to say this very clearly, this nuclear arsenal is very, very dangerous. It’s all to a me—easy to imagine scenarios—scenarios in which they blunder into a nuclear war.
They’re a reckless country. They—they all—they have a history of taking very dangerous provocations, particularly with South Korea. And if anything, this nuclear arsenal will probably embolden them to take even more provocations.
And depending on how South Korea reacts, depending on how the United States reacts, that could easily escalate into a nuclear war—pardon me, into a conventional war.
And if they get into conventional war, the North will lose. They know that. That’s why they’re building their nuclear weapons.
So they see the nuclear weapons as deterring this war, but also I’m afraid they see it as emboldening—emboldening them to take even more reckless provocations, which create the condition in which a conventional military response would take, which could then escalate into a nuclear war. That’s the scenario I see which allowed—encouraged me to say this is a very dangerous situation.
Beyond that, the United States itself could create the conditions that would cause us to blunder into a nuclear war. If, for example, we today make, as we are saying it’s on the table, a conventional military strike against North Korea, I have no doubt that they would respond with a conventional military response to South Korea. And that’s exactly the scenario we can imagine then escalating into a bigger war, then finally escalating into a nuclear war.
So that’s the very serious situation we’re faced with today, and in the beginning of wisdom and any negotiations, any actions we take, any diplomacy we take, any actions we take, is to understand what the problem is. And that, I think, is the problem.
What options do we have then? I think first of all, it’s still useful to engage in diplomacy, but only if we do it with lowered expectations. We cannot go into diplomacy thinking, as we sit down at the table, we’re going to offer them something which would cause them to give up their nuclear arsenal.
That might happen over time, but it’s not going to happen as a result of a first negotiation. No diplomacy of which I can conceive in the short term at least, is going to persuade North Korea to simply hand over its nuclear arsenal.
We had that opportunity in the past, I don’t think we have it today. The diplomacy would still be directed at the lesser, but still very important, goals of lowering the likelihood of blundering into a nuclear war.
This war, to be very clear, would be devastating. Whatever it does to the United States, it would be devastating to both South Korea and to Japan.
An all-out war with North Korea, nuclear war, even if China and Russia did not enter, which is always a possibility, but even if they do not enter, best case, could still entail casualties approximating those of World War I or even World War II.
Seoul has 20 million people or so. Tokyo has 20 million or so. Several hydrogen bombs on those two cities would destroy those two cities.
So this is a very grave consequence that we’re looking at, and we should think about if we stop focusing on whether they can have an ICBM that reaches the United States and concentrating on the very grave threat they pose today to South Korea and to Japan.
So we have a serious requirement for diplomacy not only with North Korea, but with South Korea, Japan and China. China in many ways has been a key to a solution to this problem, but we have muffed that opportunity through the years, because we haven’t understood what China’s objectives are in all this.
It’s been quite clear to me for some time that China’s objective is to avoid to having a unified Korea with American troops on their border.
And years ago we could’ve been talking with China about that and offering them assurances that we would not take advantage of that opportunity if their actions led North Korea to collapse. Besides with China, what about our two allies?
They’re going to be asking themselves right now the question, now that North Korea has hydrogen weapons, and then they will soon have weapons capable of reaching the United States, would the United States be willing to sacrifice New York or Washington to save Tokyo or Seoul?
I posed it that way because that was exactly the question asked during the Cold War by the Germans. Would the United States be willing to sacrifice Washington or New York to save Bonn or Hamburg?
If the North Koreans—if the South Koreans and the Japanese don’t ask that question, the North Koreans will ask—ask it for them, or suggest that they should be asking it.
So our diplomacy should leave no doubt in the minds of North Korea that will we honor the commitments of extended deterrence to our allies. And it should deal with the concern, the very real concerns, that the South Koreans and the Japanese are having. And that’s going to take some real diplomacy.
During the Cold War, dealing with the doubts of the Germans, we resolved that issue by deploying nuclear weapons in Germany, which was neither necessary nor desirable for military reasons, but we did it to ease the minds of the Germans.
And those of you who are old enough to remember those days, you can remember also we had this about allowing two fingers on the button, both the German chancellor and the United States president.
I want to be very clear, I do not think it’s either desirable or necessary to deploy nuclear weapons again in South Korea or to deploy them in Japan. I do think, however, that would be preferable to those countries getting an independent nuclear force.
We need to look at what develops there, and we need to have our diplomacy, first of all, focusing on solid reassurance to our allies in South Korea and Japan that the extended deterrence is real and that we will honor it.
If we can do that, if we can forestall the—the immediate crisis, then over time I think we can work with diplomacy with North Korea to start getting first to stop the building of the arsenal and then in time to roll back.
I don’t see that happening today. I think we have to stabilize the situation with our allies first. And the last thing we need to be doing today, the last thing, is making reckless threats to North Korea.
That’s that we’re going to make a surprise attack that decapitates the government, because that’s exactly the situation which can promote exactly the thing we’re trying to avoid, which is a North Korean nuclear strike.
They will not, in my judgment, use their nuclear weapons against us or against our allies unless provoked into doing it. That could be either a military attack against the North or a credible threat that we’re going to conduct a surprise decapitation attack.
Those are the things that could stimulate the North Koreans to take an act, which otherwise I believe they will not take. I’m giving you a very grim story because I think we have a very dangerous situation today, and our options for dealing with it are not really very good.
They have to start with being calm and measured in our rhetoric—have to start with very creative and serious diplomacy with our two allies. And to get a long-term solution of the problem, we have to have some really creative diplomacy with China because we’re going to eventually work—to start working this arsenal backwards.
We have to deal with the North Korean overriding goal, which is security assurance. When I negotiated with them in 2000, I gave them that assurance in various ways, which we can talk about if you’d like.
But then I was just—all I was thinking to do is to get them to give up building a nuclear arsenal. Now they have one. They’re going to be very reluctant to give it up.
And so our negotiations by the United States alone cannot do that. We have to have the United States and China making these assurances.
We have to have China—whatever agreement we would sign in North Korea has to be countersigned not only by the United States and our two allies, it has to be signed by China as well.
And it has to give assurance to North Korea that we will not conduct a military attack against them to overthrow their regime.
So there’s the near-term diplomacy of dealing with our two allies and getting them to stand firm and to believe that our extended deterrence works and to not move off on an independent nuclear arsenal of their own, which have long term, very serious consequences.
And there’s the longer term diplomacy, which has to do with China, which addresses the arsenal that North Korea has and finding ways of first all making it less dangerous so it’s less likely to be used, and secondly getting some sort—getting it stopped from getting any worse, and then finally starting to roll it back.
These are very difficult goals, but I think over time they could be achieved, but they could only be achieved in close partnership with China.
And Daryl, that’s the bad news I had to bring this audience today, and I’m open to questions about it.
KIMBALL: Well, thank you for being here. I don’t thank you for the bad news. It’s not your fault, Bill. We have a chance for some questions for you but before we do that, why don’t we trade places?
KIMBALL: So you can have a seat, and we’ll take a few.
PERRY: (Inaudible) a good idea.
KIMBALL: All right, so we’re going to take a few minutes to take your questions for Secretary Perry on his remarks, and then we’re going to go into further depth with Suzanne DiMaggio and Kelsey Davenport and Secretary Perry on the diplomatic path ahead.
Michael Gordon—and if you could, just identify yourself, ask your question, and we have a mic so that our transcriber can pick this up.
QUESTION: Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal. Secretary Perry, can you explain in a little greater detail what you think the first steps might be in a serious negotiation with the North Koreans?
I mean, I take your point you don’t think you can persuade them to eliminate their arsenal, denuclearize the peninsula, give up these long-range missiles that they’re developing, and that you have to begin to roll it back, but what would be the first two or three steps you think—tangible steps that might be negotiable to de-escalate the situation, if not disarm the North Koreans?
PERRY: Yes, I think the first negotiations have to be the same ones I proposed a year or two ago, but it won’t have the same results. And that is a freeze on testing, no more long-range missile tests and no more nuclear tests.
The idea is to simply keep the situation from getting any worse than it is. A year or so ago, had we been able to negotiate that, it would’ve been a very big benefit because it would’ve stopped them from getting the hydrogen bomb, and it would’ve stopped them from taking the ICBM test, which they recently conducted which I think isn’t the—could not be the last test for them, but it’s given them assurance they could—that they can make an ICBM operational.
So that would—that would be a step worth—worth taking. I don’t think we can achieve that without China as a partner in the negotiations.
And then the next step after that, if we achieved that, would be talk about the conditions in which they start rolling back what they have.
I don’t have much enthusiasm for proposing that because the objectives are limited, and doesn’t stop the main threat that they already have. I’m just—do not believe we can get any more than that today.
Our opportunity to negotiate away their arsenal under one negotiation has passed, I believe. So as I said at the start of my talk, we have to deal with North Korea as it is and not as we would wish it to be.
As it is, it has a nuclear arsenal, and it has this overriding aspiration – I have a high confidence that the regime will survive, to be sure.
Given those two goals, the best we can get right now, I think, is keeping the situation from getting worse, and then in time starting to roll it back. And even to get those two objectives, I think we have to have China as a partner in the negotiation.
And to get China, we have to have a preliminary discussion with them which assures them of our willingness to come to an agreement with them that we’re not—not going to take advantage of the situation if there ends up being a unified Korea.
I think what we should tell China is the reason we have troops in South Korea today is to protect them from the threat of a North Korean attack. That’s why they’re there. They would not be there if we didn’t have that.
And so if the North Korean danger goes away, by whatever means, we have no reason to keep our troops there any longer. That’s, I think, the issue which has China hung up, and has been hung up for some time.
So we’d have to be able to deal with that issue if we’re going to have success in bringing China into the negotiations as a partner. And I think without China as a partner we’re not going to be even to get the limited objectives that I’ve described to you.
QUESTION: OK. What would you (inaudible) be prepared to give for that initial, let’s say, freeze? Are you among those that...
PERRY: Give to China or give to North Korea?
QUESTION: North Korea.
QUESTION: Are you among those that see merit in a freeze for freeze, or do you, as a former secretary of defense, who—who knows what it takes to defend this—South Korea, think that would be a disadvantage to our military presence?
PERRY: No, I—I think that as long as we’re faced with the military situation we’re faced with today, we should not be talking about decreasing our military capability in North Korea. If anything, we should be looking at increasing it.
The specific issue is defending South Korea and Japan against a missile attack. And we have a ballistic missile defense systems deployed in Seoul and with—with the Aegis systems deployed around Tokyo. Neither of them, in my judgment, would be successful in defeating a deterrent attack by North Korea.
But there are various things we could do to bolster those defenses. I am not thinking that it makes any sense to have a major deployment of—of American ground troops in North Korea, but there are many things we can do in terms of air and naval component.
So air and naval and ballistic missile—and missile defense would be the three things. I just fear, though, that the—putting more batteries of our present ballistic missile defense system in South Korea is not going to do it.
Even—the system has been criticized in the past for not living up to its specifications. But my point is that even if it performs exactly as it was designed to performed, it is fundamentally susceptible to saturation.
Any missile defense system is subject to saturation. And a missile defense system that operates during free flight is very easy to saturate with decoys.
And I think we have been going on blissfully assuming that the North Koreans would not be sophisticated enough to make sophisticated decoys. I’m—my contention is if they’re sophisticated enough to thermonuclear bombs, they’re sophisticated enough to make sophisticated decoys.
So we have to assume that any missile defense system we have in South Korea or Tokyo is going to be subjected to decoys and therefore saturation attacks, and we have to deal with it.
We have to look at ballistic missile defense systems that deal with that fundamental issue and that fundamental problem. It’s possible to conceive of such systems because of the peculiar geography of North Korea, which is North Korean missile launch sites are all access—accessible, line of sight (ph) accessible from the air.
And so we can conceive of airborne missiles defense systems which could operate during a powered flight of—of firing. That would give us quite a different—that fundamentally beats the decoy problem.
So I’m not proposing a system now. I’m just saying if we want to deal with this problem we have to start off with the understanding that the systems we have over there now are subject to saturation, even if they work as they’re supposed to work, and find a way of bolstering the systems to overcome that fundamental problem. And that—technically there are ways of doing that.
KIMBALL: So why don’t we take, I’ve got a question here from Julian Borger. We’re going to take—we’re going to take one more question and then what I want to do is I want to bring our other panelists into the conversation because we are starting to get into some of the issues that we had planned to discuss, so...
QUESTION: Julian Borger from The Guardian and I just wanted to follow up on Michael’s question. What would you offer them in terms of scaling...
PERRY: The North?
QUESTION: Yeah, what would you offer the North for a freeze in—in testing?
PERRY: Yeah, well, there’s two buckets of things you would offer. One of them is a bucket of goodies, economic incentives. And we have done that in the past, and they have been very attracted to the North in the past.
Economic—North Korea is an economically deprived country and there are many things we could do that would deal with that issue. One of the most significant and important ones is, which the South has already done at least once, is helping them economically develop.
And in my mind the joint North-South facility that was built at Kaesong on the border in North Korea, as an example of things can be built on and replicated. But fundamentally we have to offer them a way of—we have to be able to find a way of providing assurance, security assurances.
That cannot be done, in my judgment, today by the U.S. alone. It has to be done in conjunction with China. North Korea might take seriously a mutual security pact between the U.S. and North Korea that is co-signed by China, but I don’t think today they would take it seriously without that.
I would not offer as a—and let me—let me be explicit about this, the freeze for freeze. I would not offer not building up a military capability. The threat is very real and our diplomacy may not succeed and therefore we have to be prepared to deter. Diplomacy is—to solve the problem, is far preferable to deterrence, but our diplomacy has failed up to this point and therefore we cannot simply give up our deterrence.
We have to be able to—in fact in my judgment, we should be building it right now. And there are ways of building in—in relatively non-provocative ways as we’re—we are talking about a defensive capability, not an offensive capability.
KIMBALL: All right, so I want to thank Secretary Perry for focusing our minds on the hard, cold realities and outlining the potential path ahead.
And—and what we’re now going to do is turn to our full panel to explore more deeply the implications of the North Korean nuclear missile capabilities for our policy objectives.
We’re going to talk a little bit more about the current status of engagement efforts, such as they are, and talk about what it might take to get these negotiations even started, because as I said in the beginning there are no sustained, direct discussions that are currently happening.
And so we’re very pleased to have with us Suzanne DiMaggio who is senior fellow at—at New America and as many of you know, has been a key participant in recent discussions with senior North Korean officials.
She’s got a long resume of experience with Track 1.5 talks, so it’s unofficial discussions with senior officials on both the Iranian nuclear issue and also now on North Korea.
And I think she visited Pyongyang earlier this year. It was in January, right Suzanne?
KIMBALL: February. And we also have with us Kelsey Davenport, who is the Arms Control Association’s director for Nonproliferation Policy.
She’s been tracking and analyzing the North Korean nuclear and missile file since 2012, and she will be going off to South Korea next week. So we are hoping there will not be any more missile tests while she travels on that airplane to—to Seoul.
So their full bios are in your program. And in lieu of set presentations from Suzanne and—and Kelsey, we’re going to—I’m going to ask them four basic sets of questions that help us get into these issues a little bit further.
And we’re really—really happy Bill Perry is able to—to join us. We had first thought he wasn’t going to be able to, so he’s now going to be a part of this—this discussion.
So the first thing I want to ask Kelsey and Suzanne to address, and maybe Kelsey you can start us on this, is given what we heard from—from Secretary Perry about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, you know, what are some of the more—the details?
What do we think they’re trying to achieve? How might they try to further advance? And then finally—and this is a question for all of you, is there still some nonproliferation or some security value in trying to secure that halt of further nuclear and missile testing?
So Kelsey, why don’t you start off please?
KELSEY DAVENPORT: All right. Thank you, Daryl, and thank you, all of you, for coming today. It’s an honor for me to be sitting between Secretary Perry and Ms. DiMaggio, whose work I—I admire a great deal.
But to get to the—the brunt of Daryl’s question, looking a little bit more closely at what North Korea has accomplished in this most recent test, I think it’s very clear that, as Secretary Perry said, the goal for North Korea is a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM that’s capable of threatening key cities in the continental United States along the East Coast.
And after North Korea’s July ICBM tests, you know, they weren’t there. If the July test had been flown at a standard trajectory, these missiles likely would have had a range of about 10,500 kilometers, which probably would not have allowed them to reach Washington.
And it’s questionable whether or not these missiles tested in July could have borne a full weight warhead delivered to that—to that distance.
But the test last week represented a significant technical advancement for North Korea. Looking at the Hwasong-15, it’s clear that this is not just a version of the July missile with a—with a little bit more power. This is a very different, much more advanced system.
You know, the first stage, for instance had—had two rockets. It’s very clear from the payload space that not only can this missile carry a full weight warhead but there’s also space for decoys, which as Secretary Perry mentioned, can be a critical component in trying to evade and saturate U.S. missile defenses.
So it’s clear that this—this missile is a significant advance. And if the missile had been flown on a standard trajectory, the range, even with a full weight warhead, you know, would likely still exceed 13,000 kilometers, which would put cities like Washington within range.
So there are still questions about the reliability and the accuracy of this system. And—and there are still remaining questions about whether or not the warhead would successfully re-enter the atmosphere upon, you know, a—a standard trajectory test.
You know, U.S. officials, you know, were recorded as saying that they have some doubts about whether or not re-entry from the tests last week, you know, was actually successful. So certainly, you know, more tests will be needed to actually ensure that this is a reliable system.
But the system—the fact that they’ve tested it, the fact that U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said this missile is capable of reaching almost anywhere in the world, certainly is a psychological victory for North Korea because now, you know, they can back up their bark with a little bit of bite.
You know, they can say that they have a missile capable of targeting these cities, and in the event of a crisis they could actually try and use it. And there’s no guarantee that the missile itself would fail. So certainly it’s a clear advancement.
Now, when talking about the benefits of a freeze, I think it’s important not just to think about how this would impact North Korea’s ICBM program, but also their range of missiles.
You know, certainly freezing, you know, progress on their ICBM would prevent them from actually having a sense of how reliable this system is. Freezing it before they launch it on a standard trajectory would certainly raise questions about whether or not it actually could meet those parameters.
But North Korea is not just developing an ICBM. You know, there also have been tests, you know, in the past year looking at medium range solid-fuel ballistic missiles. And activity at North Korea’s shipyard indicates that they’re still interested in developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
And building out those capabilities would give North Korea a greater range for actually delivering nuclear warheads. So halting progress on solid-fuel ballistic missiles I think would prevent them from manufacturing reliable missiles that are more difficult to track, that are harder to, you know, preempt because the—the time to launch is much shorter.
And preventing them from developing a reliable submarine-launched missile, you know, will keep them from being able to evade missile defenses in South Korea by moving a submarine essentially outside of the field of the THAAD radar.
So from a technical perspective, you know, even though North Korea has achieved this key milestone of testing a missile capable of targeting the entire continental United States, there still is benefit in the testing freeze because it would prevent that system from being more reliable and being tested on a standardized flight path.
You know, and it could prevent North Korea from making progress on these other areas like solid-fueled and—and submarine-launched systems.
KIMBALL: So let me just expand on this question a little bit, Suzanne. I—I ask you to try to offer your comments on what you think the North Koreans are trying to achieve from your discussions.
And the other question for all three of you really is, you know, given what the North Koreans have just done, how should the United States government be describing it or stating it to make—should we be diminishing this capability because they haven’t yet achieved all the technical barriers?
Or should we acknowledge what, you know, the independent technical experts appear or are—are saying, which is this is a—a viable, credible capability?
SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well, first let me say thanks, Daryl and Arms Control Association for organizing this event. And thanks to all of you for attending.
So there’s no doubt that the North Koreans are and have been hell-bent—can you hear me?
DIMAGGIO: Yes? Hell-bent on demonstrating that they’re capable of hitting us within a nuclear-tipped missile. The recent tests I think demonstrates that they’re well on their way to achieving this. And by the way, in my discussions with them, this position has absolutely hardened over this past year.
So I agree with the other panelists that there is no chance to negotiate a denuclearization at this time. Some experts have said it could take as long as two years to perfect that capability.
I think Sieg Hecker has an article in Foreign Affairs that makes that point, published yesterday. Secretary Perry said closer to one year, and some experts think even less. Our own national intelligence estimates put it at about a year or less now.
So the point is, though, that they already have, in my estimation, achieved a deterrence capability because we know that they can hit our allies, both Seoul and Tokyo with nuclear-tipped missiles. So that question to me, I think, is pretty much a—a done deal.
On the point of freeze for freeze, I think that what the administration should be doing now, in light of this test and, of course, the other tests that we saw earlier this summer, the two ICBM tests and the hydrogen test, is to move to aggressively pursue talks about talks, or we can call it pre-diplomacy if that’s a better term, to see what might be possible at this time.
And I think the first order of business is to try to convince the North Koreans to freeze both the testing of their missiles and their nuclear detonations. I, for one, think that we should offer not a suspension of our military exercises with South Korea but some adjustment.
In my discussions with the North Koreans they’ve been fairly consistent that one of the key pillars of the so-called U.S. hostile policies are these tests. And based on conversations I’ve had with military experts and others, it seems to me that these exercises have gotten very expansive over the past few years.
For example, we could probably respond to one of North Korea’s very key problems with these joint exercises and that is the decapitation exercises. They bring this up every time you meet them and see them, and I think there is a way for the United States to maybe not advertise that we’re doing it so openly. Maybe move it to another theatre.
Those—that’s what I mean by adjustments, not stopping the exercises, but certainly finding a way to tone—tone them down. And of course economic incentives would be other thing to offer.
It’s very interesting that after this test last week the government announced that they had achieved the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development and the completing of the state nuclear force. What does that mean?
This is another thing. We should be discussing them in pre-diplomatic talks. I see it as a potential opening to aggressively pursue.
There are a couple of other openings. That leads to the question of the North Korean policy of the Byungjin line, which is the parallel development of their nuclear program with economic development.
So clearly they have made tremendous progress on the first but nothing on the latter. And I think that is another set of discussions to pursue with them.
What are their goals post-declaration? In terms of the economic development, I would make the case that Kim Jong-un has staked his credibility, not only on nuclear development but also on economic development, something he probably feels compelled to fulfill in the eyes of the North Korean people. So that’s an opening I think we should be pursuing aggressively.
The other potential opportunity at this time is—is the timing of it. We have the Winter Olympics coming up in South Korea. I think that presents a perfect opportunity to tone down these exercises, maybe even postpone them a bit.
The South Korean government has indicated a interest in doing something like that, so there is a timing element that lends itself to this sort of thinking.
And then also there’s another opening in the sense that we’re at a moment where both sides, both North Korea and the United States, in my view, can now come to the negotiating table in a position of strength. Certainly the North Koreans with these recent tests can do that.
And I would argue even the Trump administration, that has emphasized and concentrated on maximum pressure, and they’ve achieved that. They have two of the—of the strongest, toughest U.N. Security Council sets of sanctions passed this year.
They also have unilateral sanctions that have also followed up that—the multilateral sanctions. They’ve re-designated North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and followed that up with more unilateral sanctions.
They’ve pressured a—a number of countries to cut off relations with North Korea. A number of countries are also expelling North Korean officials and so forth.
So the maximum pressure is—is working in the sense that they are moving forward with that. But it’s not working in the sense of changing the behavior of North Korea, and maybe that’s something we could talk about in a next question.
I would say the Trump administration now needs to move to what I would call a post-declaration strategy. Now that the North Koreans have said they’ve completed this program, what are our—what are our strategic objectives in this post-declaration environment? And I would have some ideas on that if we have a future question.
KIMBALL: All right. Why don’t we (inaudible) for a second? I just wanted to give Secretary Perry a—a chance to respond to this more specific question with military exercises and whether there might be a way to modify, as Suzanne DiMaggio was saying, modify the exercises in ways that make them less threatening while still providing the deterrent value and military value?
And I ask this in part because as we sit here, amiably here at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, having our coffee and talking about this, there is a major exercise going on involving U.S. and South Korean forces that is—is said to include mock attacks against North Korean missile launch sites with mock North Korean radars.
Now, is there a way in which, Secretary Perry, I mean, the United States might, as Suzanne said, modify these—these kinds of maneuvers and exercises so that they appear less threatening while we maintain our—our readiness?
PERRY: I—I would give a general guidance I think for exercises we conduct. They should be designed to strengthen the ability of U.S. and ROK forces to work together. It’s not automatic that’s going to happen.
So you have to exercise the two different—the unitives of the two different forces to work together. That’s a—a legitimate objective and exercise.
And more—more generally, you do it to strengthen your ability to respond to an attack. So to the extent our exercises meet those two tests, U.S. and ROK work together, they exercise. U.S. and ROK working together they exercise our ability our respond to attack. They are not only legitimate, I think, but I—probably under the circumstances are—are necessary.
On the other hand, there are a whole set of exercises we can take that are designed to threaten or intimidate the North. The North, I believe, are quite counterproductive. They don’t intimidate easily. So you can antagonize them, but you—you cannot intimidate them.
An example of that latter kind of an exercise is flying a nuclear bomber right up to the North Korean borders and then turning away.
We don’t—we know we can do that. They know we can do it. We don’t have to exercise doing it as a design to intimidate them, to threaten them.
And so we should avoid, I think, exercises that intimidate and threaten, first of all, because they don’t work, and secondly, in the current environment I think they’re dangerous.
So that would be the litmus test I would put to the exercises, whether they’re designed to strengthen our ability to respond to an attack as opposed to be exercises designed to intimidate and threaten.
KIMBALL: All right, thank—that’s helpful guidance and clarification.
So why—why don’t we turn to what—what I think you wanted to discuss, Suzanne, which is, you know, how and whether the Trump administration might be able to make this adjustment to adopt a—a new strategy towards North Korea in this post-, as you say, declaration of their nuclear deterrent capability environment?
And just to start, let me ask each of you to assess very briefly, I mean, your understanding of what the Trump administration’s strategy has been. OK, what is it? Because many people, I think including the North Koreans, are a bit confused about what it is.
Many members of Congress are confused. I think the American public are somewhat confused. So if you could just describe what it is.
And then also, I mean, Suzanne, if you could provide a little bit of perspective on how you, as somebody who’s spoken with the North Koreans most recently among us, how they are perceiving this?
I mean, what is their reaction to the Trump statements and the other cabinet secretaries’ statements, the whole package?
DIMAGGIO: So let me begin by just mapping out very briefly the—what I call the hits and misses between the Trump administration and the North Korean leadership since Inauguration Day.
So I think when the Trump administration came in, the North Koreans saw it as a potential opportunity, an opening to have a different relationship with the United States, mainly because there was no psychological baggage with this new administration, unlike the Iran situation where from the point of view of the Trump administration, where they are saddled with a deal that they hate—even though it’s working by the way.
In the case of North Korea, there wasn’t that baggage either. So I think the North Koreans at that time thought it could be a fresh start. And at first, there was an effort to have an interaction between North Korea and—and U.S. officials actually here in the United States in early spring.
The visas had been issued, or at least approved. But then it happened to coincide with the timing of the killing of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. And at that time the administration decided to pull back on those visas.
The next opportunity came in the late spring of 2017 and that was a meeting that took place in Oslo. So we had a Track 2 discussion at that point set up in Oslo and Ambassador Joseph Yun quietly joined us there for those discussions.
He had conversations with the leadership of the North Korean delegation, Madame Choe Son-hui and that set of discussions led to the release of Otto Warmbier.
I think at that point there was every indication that those discussions would continue, but that the outcome, the tragedy of that situation, really threw a wrench into that plan. And that is when the Trump administration backed off a bit.
And then if we look—move up to early fall, there were a few things teed up to try to restart this dialogue again. But as you’ll recall at that point, at the U.N. General Assembly, President Trump gave a very, shall we say, colorful speech at the United Nations.
It was not received well by the North Korean leadership. It included personalized insults and that derailed efforts at that time, too.
So now we’re in a situation where I do think the Trump administration would like to explore talks about talks at this stage. I think the North Koreans are assessing the timing of when to do that.
That’s why I find this statement so interesting, this declaration, that they’ve completed their nuclear force. So I think this is a time to try again to try to get something initiated and off the ground.
And as—in—in response to your question, Daryl, as I said before, I think the Trump administration has been more or less completely focused on the maximum pressure side of the coin and less focused on the engagement side of the coin.
And I would contend that this probably is as a good time as any to try to pivot to that engagement side. And, of course, this is much more of an art than a science.
As I just mapped out, there are a lot of factors that are—have to be weighed. And let’s face it. When—we’ve had a series of missed opportunities. When one side has been ready, the other side has not.
And there have been a lot more misses than hits. So when I think about maximum pressure and engagement, I think of the model of the Iran talks as a potential way to look at this.
And I think that during those talks the Obama administration before beginning the talks, I should say, really hit that sweet spot of pivoting from pressure to engagement.
And as I said, it was more of an art than a science. But it was more than just good timing. They also had a strategy in place how to build off the pressure that they built. And I don’t see that with the Trump administration. I don’t see that they have a strategy in place.
In the case of the Iranians, there were a series of secret talks to talk about all these things and map out that strategy. I think a pivotal point was when the U.S. conveyed to the Iranians that they would respond to one of their red lines, which was to allow them to enrich uranium on their soil. That was an absolute turning point with the Iranians.
We need a similar turning point with the North Koreans. We need to build off the maximum pressure that this administration has now achieved, pivot to engagement and provide an off-ramp. And we need creative thinking on what that off-ramp should be.
I think the first step, certainly, should be the freeze agreement on their testing in exchange for an adjustment in the exercises and perhaps some economic sanctions relief.
There are other things to talk about besides denuclearization. And I agree with Secretary Perry completely. That ship has sailed. I can’t imagine any scenario where the North Koreans would agree to any dismantlement of their nuclear program at this stage of the game.
That doesn’t mean we should drop it as a long-term objective. In any negotiation we enter with the North Koreans, we should insist that that remains our long-term objective. But we need to focus on what is achievable at this time.
There are also a lot of other things on the agenda we can discuss with the North Koreans. And let me just begin by one that I think is very important and that is nonproliferation.
Securing an assurance from them that they will not transfer their nuclear weapons, their fissile material, their chemical and biological weapons to third parties. That’s a point we’ve discussed in Track 2, and I think we need an official dialogue on that now.
The other thing I would think would be important to discuss with them in an official setting is what are their objectives now that they’ve reached this completion of their nuclear force? How do they see their priorities moving forward? What are their plans for economic development?
Also, they consistently tell us in Track 2 that their nuclear and missile programs are purely for defensive purposes. We need to explore that with them. What do they mean by that? What is the nuclear doctrine that they are intending to follow? Are there elements of the NPT that they see as applying to themselves?
Those are also discussions we should be having. And then along the way we should be prodding to have negotiations on a cessation in the production of nuclear materials and missiles. But I think that may take some time.
And then, of course, the longer term discussion is addressing what they call the U.S. hostile policies. How to get to a point where they feel that they have been addressed in a sincere way?
And, of course, this sort of discussion would be a much longer discussion, probably quite arduous. It could probably include some sort of peace agreement, security assurances for sure. And—but that’s something I think that also should be put on the agenda.
So my point is that even though denuclearization would not be on this initial agenda, it would be a long-term goal. There still are a lot of important issues to be discussing with the North Koreans that aim to clarify their intentions, make sure they don’t use their nuclear weapons, also prevent proliferation to third parties and so forth.
So I would say that’s a very full agenda.
KIMBALL: All right.
Kelsey, your thoughts on the same question?
DAVENPORT: Yeah, I certainly agree with what Suzanne said, but I think I would just add it’s important that when the Trump administration, you know, and if the Trump administration manages this pivot to lay out a diplomatic path for how to leverage the pressure that it’s created, that it does what it can to also take the U.S. Congress with it.
I mean, certainly the U.S. Congress, you know, will not be negotiating with North Korea, but they can help or hinder the process depending on the steps that—that Congress decides to take going forward.
And in Congress, you know, the tendency to increase pressure by utilizing sanctions, you know, certainly remains prevalent. And what—what Congress has been doing more recently with sanctions writ large is narrowing the space for which the president can offer waivers down the line if there is ever any agreement or—or movement forward with North Korea.
So ensuring that the existing measures, that any future measures continue to preserve that flexibility, that could allow the president to pull sanctions back if we get to that point where—where that’s an appropriate step to take, I think certainly will remain critical.
You know, also, you know, doing what, you know, what the administration can to, you know, assure Congress that, you know, any attempts to negotiate with the North Koreans will not weaken U.S. security alliances and will not compromise U.S. objectives I think will certainly be critical so that, you know, we also can, you know, refrain from, you know, outright criticism from Congress where possible sort of against this—this—this approach.
And—and certainly, you know, keeping Congress in the loop I think will also, you know, cut back on the instances like Senator Graham, you know, continuing to talk about, you know, war being imminent. The importance of even, you know, beginning to withdraw, you know, U.S. you know, dependents from the Korean peninsula because all of that is still picked up on by—by North Korea.
So conditioning the space and bringing Congress along for the ride, you know, in the diplomacy pivot I think is—is certainly critical.
KIMBALL: All right, thanks.
Let me—let me—speaking of sanctions, let me ask you and Suzanne a question that is coming up very soon which is how the U.N. Security Council might handle the situation in the wake of the Hwasong-15 test.
I mean, we have seen a pattern over the last couple or three years in which the North Koreans conduct a nuclear test explosion or a ballistic missile test.
There is a Security Council statement from the president, sort of a consensus statement, and then there are consultations about whether and how to tighten sanctions.
KIMBALL: So, you know, as you said, Suzanne, I mean, the—the last set of sanctions has been unprecedented in its scope and—and—and its strength. That’s Resolution 2375 from back in September, and so, you know, what is the wise next step given this moment?
What would your advice be to the members of the—the council? Should they be looking for ways to tighten sanctions further or implement existing sanctions better?
And I—I would also, if I were there, I would remind them that that same resolution makes it clear that all sides should pursue diplomacy...
KIMBALL: ... by the way.
DIMAGGIO: ... exactly.
KIMBALL: And it also says that.
DIMAGGIO: You just took...
KIMBALL: ... so...
DIMAGGIO: ... my answer, Daryl.
KIMBALL: Oh, well, OK, I’m sorry. Great minds think alike. So—but what is your advice about the overall approach...
KIMBALL: ... of the council?
DIMAGGIO: ... based on what I’m hearing at the U.N. I don’t expect a new sanction—set of sanctions immediately. Maybe you have other information, but that’s what I’m hearing.
I think we can expect more unilateral sanctions. I think those are definitely in the pipeline. But I think you made the right point, is that resolution, that toughest resolution we’ve seen, it seems implementation has improved—improved.
Maybe it’s not perfect yet, so stressing implementation of the previous set of sanctions would be a good goal. And then, of course, that very important clause you mentioned. It really does call on the parties involved to make a good effort—good faith effort at diplomacy. And that’s really what we should be stressing right now.
And keep in mind that the top diplomat within the Department of Political Affairs at the U.N. is in Pyongyang right now as we speak. He’s been dispatched for, I think, a three- or four-day visit. It’s been a long time since a senior U.N. official, political official, has been in Pyongyang. I think maybe seven years?
I can imagine that he has some mandate to explore the potential for beginning a dialogue, maybe using the good offices of Secretary General Guterres, and I would expect that he will be received at a high level, at least the Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, maybe higher.
So that is excellent timing I think. And it’s exactly what the U.N. should be doing, senior officials at the U.N. So hopefully he’ll come back with some positive news.
But beyond that, I do think, you know, the—the idea of slapping on new sanctions—again, I don’t think that’s going to change North Korea’s strategic calculus at the moment.
Of course, the Trump administration now is trying to push the Chinese to cut off oil supplies. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Again, if someone else in this room thinks that’s going to happen, please let me know.
There’s also talk of secondary sanctions on the Chinese. And then there’s talk of the interdiction of ships in the waters of northeast Asia as another way to exert pressure.
So again, my point is pressure is a good thing when it’s part of a broader strategy, when there is a real strategy to leverage it into a changing behavior, getting concessions. And I just don’t see that this administration has that strategy yet, but I’m hoping that they’ll turn their attention to that very soon.
Kelsey, on the sanctions and the future question?
DAVENPORT: Yeah, I certainly agree with Suzanne that sanctions alone are not going to change North Korea’s calculus. And actually, at a very rare and public event, the CIA said in October that that was their assessment as well, that no amount of pressure alone was going to significantly alter Pyongyang’s course.
And—and I think, you know, right now given these much more stringent U.N. Security Council resolutions and a—a more recent U.S. executive order that allows the Treasury Department to target sort of correspondent accounts from North Korea in—in— Chinese entities in particular, you know, all of that needs to be given time to work. And it needs to be given time to implement it—to be implemented properly.
I mean, one—one thing particularly in the U.S. domestic context is to respond to these North Korean provocations by continuing to pass additional sanctions, you know, irrespective of whether or not all the prior measures have been fully implemented and irrespective of whether or not the U.S. could do more to try and encourage better implementation.
So, you know, right now I think that, you know, one area that the Trump administration could be looking at is, you know, what programs have been used in the past that the State Department, at the Defense Department, at even DOE to better ensure that sanctions and export controls are actually properly enforced? And is the U.S. engaging in the type of sanctions diplomacy that it needs to build international support for sanctions?
And that was something that the Obama administration pursued very heavily in the lead up to talks on the Iran deal. And they spent quite a bit of time trying to get China, in particular, on board, with actually implementing the sanctions that were on the books.
So ensuring that—that those measures are in place, I think, is—is just as critical as evaluating whether or not we have all the sanctions, measures that—that we need.
I—I—I would also say, too, and when we talk about sanctions implementation, you know, much of the focus is on—on China, and, to a certain extent, that makes sense, because of the volume of trade that comes from China.
But North Korea, particularly when it looks at areas like, you know, proliferation financing, I mean, it—it probes the international system for weaknesses. So as focus on China, you need to—to—to ignore kind of other sort of weak spots in building up sanctions implementation, I think would be detrimental to the sanctions regime as—as a whole.
So ensuring kind of a more balanced approach to, you know, addressing weak spots, I think certainly—certainly will be key, and then complementing that with some of these other measures and programs that the United States has that can be important for counterproliferation efforts.
The Proliferation Security Initiative, for instance, you know, can play a very critical role in ensuring that there are no sort of imports and exports related to—to WMD materials out of North Korea.
They can help countries, you know, with smaller amounts of capacity to actually build up their ability to—to enforce sanctions, to enforce export controls, and to better understand measures in U.N. Security Council resolutions that give them the authority to inspect North Korean cargo, if there are concerns, you know, when, you know, these shipments sort of transit their ports.
So a better focus on implementation, I think, is—is—is—where the United States, you know, and the international community really should be focused right now.
KIMBALL: I would just add that those kinds of interdiction efforts and strengthening them could be very useful in terms of preventing the outflow of material, technology, weaponry in the future from North Korea, which is something Suzanne was—was expressing concern about. Not so much the import...
KIMBALL: ... but we need to think about that in terms of the longer-term strategy...
KIMBALL: ... also.
DIMAGGIO: But also we need to keep in mind that those sort of maneuvers can be—can spiral...
KIMBALL: Yep, yep.
DIMAGGIO: ... and then escalate into skirmishes, conflicts. And when a case like North Korea, where there is no channel—I met with a senior North Korean official a few weeks ago, and he made the point that the United States and North Korea have no arrangement in place to prevent accidents. And I think that was a very good observation.
So when we’re talking about these more pressured tactics, we also have to keep in mind that they raise the stakes to heighten inadvertent conflict as well. And we need to safeguard against that.
DAVENPORT: Especially when there’s so few channels for communication.
KIMBALL: Yeah. We don’t have a —a hotline agreement. We have a—a—a Twitter arrangement right now.
DAVENPORT: Can I—I—just—just to add one point on—on the idea of—of—of accidents that, you know, Suzanne made me—me think of. You know, in—in—in considering accident scenarios, too, I think it’s also important to remember that North Korea is operating a reactor that produces plutonium that’s decades old, that has been stopped several times, parts of which has been rebuilt, and then restarted and then stopped and restarted and rebuilt.
And so there’s also potential for, I think, very serious nuclear accidents, sort of, at that reactor. So I think that also argues for, you know, space kind of within any negotiations with North Korea, to think about the security and safety of that facility, but also argues for the importance of contact.
Because if something happens there, it’s not just North Korea that will suffer the fallout of any type of reactor incident. That certainly will be regional.
And if there isn’t communication lines open, if—if there isn’t enough, you know, consultation in advance, both with South Korea and China, you know, that could certainly turn into a serious regional incident.
KIMBALL: All right. We’re going to take questions from the audience now. We have a microphone that Kelly will take. We’re going to start with the folks in the back, so if you could go around the giant post. Just identify yourself, ask your question, let us know who you’re asking.
QUESTION: Michele Keleman with NPR. You’re all talking about a pivot to diplomacy, but for that, you need diplomats, so I wonder if you can comment on what’s happening at the State Department? And also if you fear if—if there’s a, you know, if there is a change, Tillerson out, Pompeo in, what does that do to this strategy?
KIMBALL: All right. Any one of the three of you?
Suzanne, you want to take a whack at that, please?
DIMAGGIO: Yes. Thank you for asking that very good question.
So I think one of the major problems this administration is facing right now is the contradictory messaging it is sending out on North Korea.
So we have, on the one hand, Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson putting diplomacy first, emphasizing diplomacy. Secretary Mattis said, "Lead with diplomacy backed up by military might."
And on the other hand, then you have National Security Advisor McMaster making a case that traditional deterrence with North Korea won’t work. I don’t understand how he can make such a statement. It seems to be working.
Also, he seems to be making the case for a preventive war and other narratives that have been pushed to the fore.
And then, of course, we have our own president, who says on the one hand, he would love to meet Kim Jong-un, but on the other hand, at another time, he says diplomacy is out of the question or diplomacy is a waste of time and undercutting Secretary Tillerson, while he was in Beijing, talking to the Chinese, probably talking about our diplomatic efforts and our own president undercut him.
So clearly there’s a need for this administration to speak with one voice and stop this contradictory signaling. I think it’s high time for the president to move from what I would call a dithering approach to a real strategy and empower our diplomats to carry that strategy out.
Now, Michele, you made the point, do we have the diplomatic firepower to do that? It’s worrying. Certainly, in the case of Ambassador Yun, who is the special envoy on—a special representative for North Korea, we have a very seasoned foreign service professional in him.
But we—of course, if we go down the road that—any part of the road I just mapped out, this would require a team. It would require not only seasoned high-level diplomats. It would probably require technical, scientific, nuclear experts as well.
If we go into the economic realm, we’d need people with that expertise. And it’s very hard to imagine if Pyongyang called tomorrow and said we’re ready, we’re ready for a major negotiation, what kind of team would this administration pull together at this stage of the game?
Also, I thought it was interesting over the weekend, Michele Flournoy, at a conference here in Washington, made a very similar point about the Pentagon, how all the policy—senior policy positions in the Pentagon are basically unfilled.
And then, of course, we have to think about our allies in the region. We still do not have an ambassador in Seoul. How can that be possible at the stage we’re at right now? It just doesn’t make sense.
So this is a big concern, I think. Even if this administration gets the strategy right, and that’s a big if, who is going to carry it out?
KIMBALL: All right.
Let’s take this gentleman in the front, will take a question in the front.
QUESTION: Uri Friedman with The Atlantic. I’m wondering what you make of—Suzanne, you mentioned this a little bit already, but over the weekend, there were a lot of statements about focusing on the capability of North Korea.
So H.R. McMaster said with each test, we get closer and closer to war. And Lindsey Graham on the Sunday shows said that having talked to the administration, he understands the policy as the capability of being able to strike the United States as unacceptable.
The argument seems to be twofold, one, that Kim Jong-un is particularly provocative and reckless, and then secondly that North Korea can hold the U.S. hostage in ways that it can’t now to achieve kind of revisionist goals, that it’s not just a defense capability.
I’m wondering, for the panelists, what do you make of this assessment—assessment focused on capability? And secondly, how seriously do you take the Trump administration’s rhetoric, that this is unacceptable and something that could lead to military conflict, if they feel they have—North Korea has really demonstrated this capability in a reliable way?
KIMBALL: Secretary Perry, if I could ask you to take that on?
PERRY: Could you restate that question? I’m not quite sure—I got the statement, but I couldn’t quite...
PERRY: ... get the question.
KIMBALL: So the—the question is what do you make of H.R. McMaster and Secretary Mattis saying this is unacceptable, and the—the theory that North Korea—has revisionist goals, that is, they may want to use their nuclear capability to blackmail the United States to advance other kinds of objectives or to prevent the U.S. from responding to other provocations along the DMZ?
PERRY: I would cite some history. President—President Bush said it was unacceptable that the North Korean would get a nuclear program. President Obama said it was unacceptable. What the hell does unacceptable mean? It means we feel bad about it if they do it, I think.
But there’s no evidence that any of our administrations have an action tied to that unacceptable, that is being unacceptable means you’re going to do something about it. I have—it’s evident that neither the Bush administration or the Obama administration had a plan to do something about it.
I suspect that’s true of the Bush administration, too, but I don’t know that for sure. Time will tell. And then if they do something about it, is it something stupid or something enlightened? We don’t know that either.
So I find that, basically the history is when we say it’s unacceptable it means we don’t know what—we don’t know what we’re going to do. We don’t like it, but we don’t—we don’t know what we’re going to do.
And in this particular case, they may actually have a plan for doing something, and I might not like the plan of what they—what they are going to do. So it doesn’t make—it does not make me comfortable at all.
Fundamentally, what’s been said in the past, the past two administrations, has been an empty threat. And I think the worst thing you can do in diplomacy is to make empty threats because you damage your credibility seriously.
And the U.S., as a country, our credibility has been badly damaged by our empty threats in the past in the North Korean nuclear program.
So either what Trump is doing is repeating this history of empty threats, which is bad, or he really has in mind doing something like a military strike, for example. And that could be even worse. So in either way I don’t feel very comfortable about it.
KIMBALL: All right.
Suzanne, Kelsey, you want to talk about the—the coercion theory, and—and—and—or something else?
DAVENPORT: Oh, I—I just wanted to add a—a point there. I think, in—in addition to damaging U.S. credibility, it also risks prompting North Korea to try and prove their capabilities even further.
And you don’t want to end up in a situation like China where the U.S. continued to, you know, doubt the Chinese capability, and then they actually put a warhead on an ICBM, and launched it across the country to demonstrate that they actually did have a nuclear-capable ICBM.
And North Korea has raised this idea that they might actually try and detonate a warhead, you know, over the Pacific, presumably on an ICBM.
So by continuing to sort of publicly doubt and ridicule, you know, North Korea’s capabilities, I—I think it could have the opposite effect of just pushing North Korea even further to try and prove what they actually can do.
KIMBALL: All right. Well, why don’t we take a couple of other questions.
This gentleman in the front, and then we’ll go to the back.
QUESTION: Tim Shorrock from The Nation magazine and I also write for the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul. One of the things that’s kind of disturbed me about the war talk we hear a lot recently, is that South Korea hardly seems to be considered at all. And a lot of officials and people on TV in particular talk about war without even, you know, referencing South Korea as a country.
It’s—it’s part of—of a broader nation than is—North Korea, and but they have their own interests and desire to have peace and not to have a war there.
With—with—the question is, one, who is driving, do you think, war talk here in Washington? Who is behind—like, I know McMaster is, but there’s other people that are, you know, talking to people that get on the media that say, you know, we have to have a—a preemptive strike, that kind of thing? And so who is driving it?
And second, how much is South Korea actually being considered? I mean, I know President Trump talks to President Moon Jae-in considerably, but how much has the Korean interest, South Korean interests, really being taken into account?
KIMBALL: Well, good question. I mean, our—our—we talk about our allies, but sometimes we forget to ask them what they actually think.
So let me just ask Kelsey to just briefly describe what the South Korean government is saying in response to the situation after the Hwasong-15 test.
Maybe Suzanne, you can take on some of these other questions that Tim is asking.
DAVENPORT: Yeah, I thought it was very interesting after the Hwasong-15 test that South Korean President Moon Jae-in, you know, not only sort of directed his remarks at the North Korean regime, but also at Washington and at the Trump administration, and reiterated that the United States should not take any sort of military action, you know, that wasn’t in concert, you know, with South Korea and essentially warned against any preventative military action.
So I think that that is—is—is critical and underscores that there is legitimate concern in—in Seoul that the United States might go that route.
And—and I think that that is also, you know, manifest in—in efforts in Congress to try and ensure that the president, you know, cannot take, you know, a military strike without an authorization of—of—of the use of war.
And there have been bills introduced in both the Senate and the House that would, you know, push—that would require the President to actually come to Congress and—and get that authorization before taking any action, because there is that concern about, you know, what a preventative strike—would do in terms of retaliation against Seoul
And I think there was a very good effort in the House by Representative Ted Lieu and, I believe, Representative Gallegos to actually request from the Department of Defense, but also former officials, you know, an assessment of what North Korea’s capabilities to retaliate against South Korea and Japan and U.S. assets there would actually look like in terms of casualties.
Because, you know, when—when we talk about, you know, conventional war, you know, breaking out, you know, short of nuclear war, you know, North Korea could still try and escalate to use its large stockpile of chemical weapons.
So there are a variety of different scenarios, you know, all of which I think, you know, would be, you know, quite catastrophic to—to the region, and—and, you know, particularly to South Korea.
So I think that, you know, continuing to highlight that, you know, those—those risks, continuing to demonstrate that this is not as, you know, Lindsey Graham says, a war that would just be fought, you know, over there, that there would actually be real consequences, you know, for—for the United States, for—for personnel, you know, for our allies.
You know, is certainly critical for pushing back against sort of the war hawks here in—in—in the United States, amongst which, you know, there certainly are some—some very prevalent voices, as you noted, you know, McMaster, members in the Senate like—like Lindsey Graham.
And—and—and I think, you know, ultimately, you know, Trump himself, with his—his very vague threats, I think continues to sort of open this space for—for others to make those, you know, those—those very provocative and—and dangerous statements.
PERRY: I’d like to give a historical note in reference to your question. In 1994, we were considering two different kinds of actions. One of them was reinforcing the American troops in South Korea, and the other was conducting a conventional strike against Yongbyon, their nuclear facility.
In the first case, I actually went to the prime minister of Japan and the president of South Korea on the reinforcement to get permission to do that, to get permission to reinforce the troops in South Korea and to get permission in Japan to use their airbases there as a staging for that reinforcement. We believed we had to do that in order to conduct it.
In terms of the preemptive strike, had we decided to do that, which we never did, but had we decided to do that it was clear in my mind that we had to get the authority from the president of South Korea to do that.
Not that we would have to use our bases in South Korea to do it, but the likely consequence of a strike against—against Yongbyon would be a military response against South Korea.
So because of that, I believe strongly that we had to get the authority of the South Korean president, as well as the American president, before we could take action like that.
Whether the present administration has that same view I cannot say. It seemed very clear to me back in 1994 that we required the permission of the South Korean president to do that.
KIMBALL: All right.
DIMAGGIO: All right. So keep in mind when President Trump came into office, he made it very clear that North Korea was a crisis he inherited, and that he would not kick this can down the road like his previous—his predecessors did.
So that’s, I think, the framing of how he thinks of North Korea. And when you juxtapose it with the two narratives that we are increasingly hearing, especially in this town, the first that deterrence, traditional deterrence, won’t work with Kim Jong-un, because he’s just too crazy, he’s too bad, he’s too evil, even though it has worked in the past with other dictators with nuclear weapons.
And then the second narrative is that the North—North Koreans’ end – real end goal is to take—reunify the peninsula on their terms. And I think the problem with how these narratives are being presented, and I would add Ms.—Director Pompeo as someone who also articulates these points of view.
The problem is it presents a very binary choice doesn’t it? Either complete capitulation by—on our part or we have to take them out. There’s no in between, and I think what I’ve presented is there’s a lot of in between.
There’s a lot of things we can be discussing with the North Koreans to de-escalate to lower the threat. And at the end of the day if we go through this process and it becomes clear maybe they are going to take the peninsula hostage, then we can consider our military options.
But at this moment when we haven’t even stuck our toe in the water of—of diplomacy with North Koreans, I think it’s just completely irresponsible to be putting military options first.
I think the longer that we delude ourselves that there is a viable military option, the longer the current course—course of escalation will persist and intensify and the greater the chances of spiraling into a military conflict, either by design or by miscalculation.
Sure, I have it written down as a matter of fact. It’s actually I have it taped over my desk. The longer we delude ourselves that there is a viable military option, the longer the current course of escalation will persist and intensify and the greater the chances for spiraling into a military conflict, either by design or by miscalculation.
KIMBALL: All right.
We’re going to take a question from the gentleman in the back. Microphone is coming.
QUESTION: Thank you, my name is Don Kirk (ph) I’ve spent some time in—a lot of time as a journalist in Korea. Just following up on the previous question about South Korea’s role. I noticed that Secretary Perry, maybe I missed something, didn’t really mention a South Korean role in—while he emphasized China in his remarks and other people have seem to be emphasizing China, China, China.
Are we ignoring South Korea in the negotiating process? Are we downplaying them? We—we know that we want their permission, so to speak, for a preemptive strike, but what about South Korea’s diplomatic role? Why is that so underplayed here? Maybe members of the panel could address that.
KIMBALL: I will—why don’t we talk about what their role should be? And I mean let’s just also use that as an opportunity to talk about how the Winter Olympics play into this, because it’s pretty remarkable that in the middle of this crisis South Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics and is hoping that North Korean athletes will come and partake.
So on that question of South Korea’s role, Secretary Perry or Suzanne, you want to offer your—your thoughts? And I think one reason we’re not talking about it is we just haven’t gotten around to talking about it. I don’t think it’s because we don’t think it’s important, but if you could address that?
PERRY: On the—let’s take the Olympics for a moment. It’s a very interesting question, and I give a historical reference. In 2000 on the Olympics, this was just a few months after the negotiations I had in Pyongyang, the North and the South marched together in the Olympics.
It was very—we thought a very significant, symbolic action that the North was ready to become sort of a normal nation again. Of course, that never happened. The—that negotiation never was consummated, so we don’t know—don’t know whether the kind of political consequences such as that would have—would have—would have gone on.
The role of China, as I would see it, is that they could have played a very significant role in the earlier negotiations to stop North Korea from getting a nuclear weapon had we worked in partnership with them.
What we’re doing, both the Trump administration and earlier the Obama administration was we point to China and say, "You solve the problem." And China points to us and says, "You solve the problem" and neither of which is working very well.
It would seem to me that there was an opportunity then and there may be even still today for the U.S. and China to work together in a partnership on this. In any negotiation you need both incentives and disincentives which diplomats call carrots and sticks.
But with North Korea, the United States has lots of carrots but no—really no significant sticks except the threat of war which is not a credible threat—threat to North Korea.
But China has a lot of sticks, which they’re not willing to use because they are concerned with how the United States might take advantage of it.
So China could have played a very significant role in the earlier negotiations had they been brought in as a partner and had they been willing to be—function as a full partner, but that would have required prior diplomacy between the U.S. and China to make—to make that happen.
KIMBALL: Kelsey or Suzanne your thoughts?
DIMAGGIO: I just wanted to read a quote from President Moon that I thought was particularly interesting. He said we must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a preemptive strike.
So I thought it was very interesting that he was putting both of these scenarios side by side in the same statement. I think it gives a good sense of his state of mind and maybe South Korea’s state of mind more generally.
In the case of—and on the question of where does South Korea fit it in, I have—obviously have focused my remarks on the United States and North Korea, but clearly the South Koreans should be part of this and consulted every step of the way.
I think South Korea and North Korea need a parallel intra-Korean dialogue that, of course, the United States should be encouraging. The reality though is this. I think the North Koreans have made it fairly clear that they only want to speak to the United States at this stage.
They do not want to have discussions in this realm with others, and I think the South Koreans understand that in order to get there, in order to get to an intra-Korean dialogue there needs to be some understanding reached first between the United States and North Korea.
But absolutely the United Stated should be consulting, coordinating, cooperating with Seoul as our key ally in the region, as well as with Tokyo.
DAVENPORT: Yeah, I would just add in terms of cooperation and coordination, we saw very clearly with, you know, the P5 plus one in their negotiations with Iran, you know, the importantce of having unity, both in terms of goals, but also, you know, agreement on—on tactics.
And I don’t think that that exists right now between the U.S. and all of the important partners in the region. So continuing to build that unity just from a process perspective I think will be very important.
And—and more specifically on this question of the Olympics, just a—a few weeks ago, you know, a South Korean official, you know, raised the idea that South Korea had been thinking about the possibility of—of scrapping or reducing joint exercises with the United States in 2018 in order to try and reduce tensions with North Korea around the Olympics.
And the—the blue house sort of later, you know, walked that back and said, you know, we haven’t—we haven’t made a decision.
But if that is something that South Korea, you know, wants to pursue I think that the United States has an obligation to consider very strongly that that—that viewpoint and to look at, you know, possibilities to—to reach that—that goal, sort of ahead of the Olympics by—by taking that South Korean concern in—into account.
KIMBALL: All right. We’re going to take one or two more questions. And we’ve got a couple right here in the middle, if you could? The gentleman in the rear, or you—you could pick? Yeah, yeah, thank you.
QUESTION: This one’s mostly for Suzanne, but I just want to expound upon something that you talked earlier about.
KIMBALL: Just identify yourself please.
QUESTION: Sorry, I’m Aaron Masler (ph) with (inaudible) Television. You mentioned that the U.N. Deputy Director Feltman is on his way to talk to North Korean officials. Do you think that could lead to, like, more Track 2 talks or some kind of official dialogue with North Korea?
DIMAGGIO: It’s he’s undersecretary general for Political Affairs, so he is the chief diplomatic person within the U.N., high level official. And by the way, he’s a former State Department official, a very seasoned U.S.—former U.S. foreign service officer.
So I am just guessing that while he’s there, and he’s already there, that while he’s there he will be discussing the press notes, that policy dialogue with North Korea. I—I doubt he’s discussing Track 2.
I think he may be discussing the possibility of using the good offices of the United Nations and maybe in particular Secretary General Guterres himself as a potential mediator in this situation. It wouldn’t be the first time the U.N. has played a role in crises situations.
But this is me just pontificating. I don’t know for sure what’s on his agenda. Of course, the U.N. has a presence in North Korea. He could simply be there to visit U.N.—his colleagues, but I think it’s more than that. And I think the press note indicates that.
KIMBALL: I think this trip by Jeffrey Feltman, the undersecretary general, comes at a critical time. It’s also clear that the U.N. Security Council has been seized with this matter for some time.
Security Council members, the permanent and the elected members are very, very concerned about the overall situation. It’s clear the secretary general is concerned.
So we’re just speculating, but this does come at an interesting time. This is not a coincidence. He’s not just talking about humanitarian aid. He’s probably talking about other issues.
The other thing I would just add is that given everything that we’ve just said about the lack of a strategy on the part of the Trump administration, the inconsistent messages, the determination by the North Koreans to press ahead, I think we also need to recognize that this situation may require, in order for it to become unstuck or to prevent it from worsening, a third-party intervention.
Neither—I can’t imagine that Kim Jong-un has ever had anybody say no to him in his life. Donald Trump is probably in the same category but in different ways. So, you know, this could potentially play a useful role. What it may be, we may not know for some time, but I think it’s a positive development.
We’ve got one other question from this gentleman here?
QUESTION: Thank you. Yonho Kim, U.S. Korea Institute at SAIS. I—I would like to follow up on the question on the role that South Korea can plan in this picture. You know, in effort to make their voices heard in this whole situation, South Korean government not only Park but the Moon Jae-in government has been seeking some kind of a multilateral security mechanism in northeast Asia.
The nickname being called NAFSE (ph) and Moon Jae-in government calls it NAFSE (ph) plus, but I—I understand the initiative has not been well-received in Washington, very strong skepticism whenever South Korean people try to talk about that in Washington.
So my question is what would it take for the—the Washington policy circle to take this kind of South Korea’s initiative more seriously?
KIMBALL: Kelsey or Suzanne, you want to try to address that not so—so easy question?
DIMAGGIO: Can I be very blunt? Great idea, wrong administration.
DIMAGGIO: On our side, on the U.S. side.
DIMAGGIO: Great idea but I think I’ve seen no evidence from this current administration, any—that they put any value in alliance systems and mechanisms. I mean, just look how NATO was treated.
KIMBALL: All right, any other questions from this distinguished audience of experts yourselves before we conclude? No other questions? All right. Yes, this gentleman. I’m—I think I know who he is.
QUESTION: Greg Thielman, Arms Control Association Board. I’m wondering how we can best answer the argument of North Korea and others thinking in terms of global nonproliferation, that the United States reserves the right to engage in preventive war, unilateral preventive war, against countries we don’t like, because that message doesn’t seem to help advance the overall global nonproliferation objective.
KIMBALL: Kelsey, you want to try to take that on? First of all, do we have the right to engage in preventive war? What is the UN system suggest about that?
DAVENPORT: From an international legal perspective I would say no, but I don’t think the United States would consider itself bound by that.
And naturally, since the question came from the man who taught me just about everything I have learned in this field, I would, of course, agree with his—with—with the—the concern of—of setting sort of a—a double standard there.
I also think the—the United States’ inability to declare that the sole purpose of its nuclear deterrent is to deter against nuclear weapons. The U.S., you know, failure to, you know, move towards a—a no first strike nuclear posture.
I think all of that kind of, you know, reinforces this double standard that does make, you know, moving towards, you know, global nonproliferation efforts sort of more difficult because not only is there the concern about sort of preventative war, but it reinforces the haves versus have nots dichotomy that, you know, risks, you know, undermining the nuclear nonproliferation treaty by, you know, failing to kind of make more progress on—on disarmament.
So I—I agree that it’s absolutely a problem and connected to, I think, larger problems of posture and—and doctrine within sort of the U.S. nuclear thinking.
KIMBALL: Which will be the subject of other briefings that we will hold in the near future as the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review approaches completion and as the nonproliferation treaty states parties prepare to gather early next year.
So I just want to—just conclude with a couple of very short summary remarks. I mean, it seems as though from all that we’re hearing from our—our experts here with—some of them with vast experience, like Secretary Perry, we are truly in a new and much more difficult situation, one that we really never have seen in the history of the nuclear age.
There are messaging discipline challenges that this administration faces. There seems to be a lack of a strategy. There is a need for a strategy adjustment.
I mean, this—with the situation we’re describing here is—is very difficult, but what I think Suzanne and Kelsey and Secretary Perry in—in various ways are suggesting is that there needs to be a strategy adjustment that does not accept maybe—it acknowledges the fact that North Korea has this capability.
That we want to continue with a long-term strategy for denuclearization and a peace regime in the peninsula, but we need to focus on the interim steps necessary to initiate a dialogue to reduce tensions and to halt North Korea’s further nuclear and ballistic missile testing, which remain very dangerous and—and escalatory.
So that’s how I would summarize a lot of this—a lot of rich detail here from our speakers. I want to thank each of them for being here. I want to thank everybody for your attention today.
We’re going to have a transcript of today’s session on the armscontrol.org website in a couple of days. This—the panelists are available for you to chat with afterwards.
I want to thank them and thank all of you for being here today. Please join me in thanking them
KIMBALL: And we are adjourned.