See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Illusion of Security From Singapore

The world has a ninth nuclear state; Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump set no schedule for denuclearization or verification.


Written by

Updated: June 21, 2018

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un returned home to a hero’s welcome from his historic summit talks in Singapore with President Donald Trump. He scored a major diplomatic victory by fending off US demands for his regime’s immediate denuclearization. Not only that, by holding the first face-to-face peace talks with the US president, Kim symbolically ended seven decades of hostility with the world’s most powerful nation.

The major upshot of this development is that North Korea is now a nuclear state, with its arsenal comprising 20 or more nuclear devices and the means of carrying them to targets as far as the continental United States, despite ongoing US attempts to deny such status. In Seoul and Washington, it’s becoming accepted wisdom that immediate denuclearization is wishful thinking. Accomplishing this objective, even with Kim’s unlikely agreement, would take more than a decade, according to US nuclear experts. That makes the Singapore summit much more relevant as a ballast for Kim’s dynastic rule. He has accomplished what neither his father nor his grandfather, the state founder, could achieve. His major challenge now is to use arms-control negotiations to bargain for economic aid, without sacrificing the integrity of his weapons capability. The United States and South Korea, targets of the North’s nuclear arsenal, can only hope that a vision of peace and prosperity would entice Kim to choose a rational way out of the crisis for survival.

As for rest of the world, it has added a ninth nuclear state, equipped with intercontinental ballistic capability and therefore much more dangerous than Pakistan. Pakistani nuclear black marketeer Abdul Qadeer Khan helped Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions by providing bomb designs and centrifuge technology. The thermonuclear device North Korea exploded last September was 15 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and theoretically could be carried by the Hwasong-15 ICBM, tested in November, to targets within an estimated range of 10,000 kilometers. Trump may have awakened to the reality, apparent to analysts for decades, that defanging the Pyongyang regime risks starting a new war on the Korean Peninsula with casualties running into millions of people on both sides of the border.

For all that, Trump’s amateurish talks in Singapore have brought diplomatic fiasco. A four-point joint statement issued at the end of the summit was vacuous, containing no detailed roadmaps leading to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, the so-called CVID formula pushed by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hours before the summit’s opening. The joint statement, while talking about building a lasting peace regime and establishing new relations, merely repeated Kim’s commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a largely empty phrase devoid of details or binding clause.  The bland expression was described as “reaffirmation” of Kim’s earlier declaration signed at Panmunjom at separate talks in April with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. No mention was made of the North’s aggressive missile program.

The statement amounted to an astonishing retreat for Trump who came to Singapore vowing he would “walk out” of the conference if Kim showed any sign of rejecting the CVID formula. With Kim’s negotiators adamantly refusing to accept the denuclearization timetable, Trump was pushed into the corner of either cancelling the talks and walking away, as he had threatened, or swallowing his pride. Surprisingly, Trump buckled, turning the talks into a show-business event, not a summit of war and peace.

Trump’s inept diplomacy exhibited his lack of preparation and haphazardness. When talks got tough, Trump folded. Inexplicably, he offered to suspend US–South Korean military exercises while negotiations were underway. He threw away a major bargaining chip without reciprocal concessions. The military exercises, held three times a year for the past two decades, have sent a powerful message to the North that they can expect a robust counterattack in case of invasion. Later in the middle of a rambling news conference summing up the talks, Trump justified suspension of war games in the name of economy; like North Korea, he called them “provocative” and “expensive” to boot. He delivered more shocks by suggesting he may eventually withdraw 28,500 US ground troops from South Korea, another demand pushed by the North since the 1953 signing of the armistice.

The unexpected statements dropped like thunder strikes on Seoul, where the government fights a conservative opposition campaign against Moon’s rapprochement policy with the North. The Korean currency’s value dropped to 1,097 won per US dollar, as much as 3 percent, after the summit. To calm market nerves in Seoul, Moon issued a statement that the matter of US forces in Korea is strictly bilateral between Seoul and Washington, thus separate from the North Korean nuclear issue.

Reactions in Tokyo bordered on panic as removal of US forces would make Japan the first line of defense in a potential war with the North or even China. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who has held three sets of talks with Trump so far, each time advising a tough stance on Kim, was so shaken that he hurriedly asked Seoul and others to help arrange a summit with Kim for himself. Cancellation of military exercises has direct bearing on Japan’s security interests as the Japanese Navy sometimes participates in these exercises, and Tokyo has vital intelligence-sharing deals with both Seoul and Washington. The Kim regime has already lobbed missiles over Japan’s skies during test launches that Tokyo citizens are getting used to hearing emergency sirens urging them to seek shelter during missile tests.

Reaction in Beijing, Kim’s main source of support, was quiet elation. China emerged as the biggest beneficiary from Trump’s new East Asian geopolitical vision that appeared destined to remove the United States as the security linchpin in the western Pacific. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the joint statement showed that China’s formula of “freeze for freeze” was correct, referring to his proposal calling for the US to reward Kim’s nuclear/missile moratorium with suspension of US-Korean military exercises, and responding to Pyongyang’s denuclearization with regime security and a peace accord.

In this maelstrom of terrible initiatives, Washington’s confusion over Kim’s nuclear challenge isn’t expected to end soon. Pompeo, visiting Seoul and Beijing on summit briefing tours, reportedly said he expected Kim to complete his denuclearization process – a huge undertaking requiring locating more than 100 secret sites related to bomb-making operations – in 30 months. The timeframe was presumably calculated to match the timetable for Trump’s reelection campaign. Leading nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who visited North Korean nuclear sites several times estimates that completing the disarmament process would require up to 15 years.

Days after the summit, the Kim regime insisted it was sticking to its own formula of “phased and synchronous” denuclearization – a process of the United States matching every step of the North’s denuclearization with political and economic rewards. Indeed, the North’s state media have begun spelling out what the goal of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” means. According to Choson Sinbo, Pyongyang’s propaganda voice published in Tokyo, the formula includes as an essential condition the removal of American troops and termination of US strategic commitment providing “extended nuclear coverage” or a “nuclear umbrella” for South Korea and maybe Japan as well. Ultimately, this formula is unacceptable for the United States, South Korea or even Japan as it would mean curtailing the US superpower role responsible for keeping Asia’s peace – a tall order indeed even if it comes from Kim Jong-un.

Written by Shim Jae Hoon.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Yale Global Online
About the Author: YaleGlobal Online is a publication of the International and Area Studies program at Yale.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

In Indonesia, a nation of voters won’t be swayed

Change no longer the rallying cry in Indonesia. When Joko Widodo first ran for president in 2014, Indonesia was in the mood for change. Everything about Mr Joko then was about hope and change: his path to power, his man-of-the-people image, his focus on services. A businessman selling furniture in Solo, he was not part of the Jakarta political elite and triumphed at the polls as an outsider candidate. Leaving aside whether Mr Joko has delivered on his promises or what one might think about his opponent Prabowo Subianto, what is striking today is that change is the furthest thing from voters’ minds. If the projections from the pollsters hold up, then the results of 


By The Straits Times
April 18, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

A FAQ on Indian Elections

Asia News Network’s Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about the Indian election. Termed the “biggest democratic exercise’ in the world, India’s mega election spans over a number of days and involves a significant percentage of the world’s population. Asia News Network Associate Editor Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most pressing questions as the elections continue in India.  Why do the Indian elections take so long? Primarily, because of the logistics involved in conducting elections in this continent-sized country. India has close to 900 million eligible voters spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. Some of these areas are battling armed Islamist/Maoist insurgencies, others are considered sensitive due to issues of social unrest/law and order, and all of them are robus


By Asia News Network
April 16, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Managing Pakistan’s slowing economy

The government will find it challenging to keep Pakistan afloat. In case you’ve missed it, there have recently been a slew of forecasts that say the economy is likely to slow to less than 3.5 per cent GDP growth this year (from 5.8pc last year), and next year will be even more difficult as it is expected to contract further to 2.5pc or thereabouts. The World Bank has put these projections out most recently, but the State Bank agrees (though they have not put out any projection for next year at this stage), and the data that the government and the IMF are dealing with during their talks says more or less the same thing. Meanwhile, inflation is set to rise further for a few months, crossing 13pc, as per the World Bank, before it stabilises. The IMF and government projections show inflation to be elevated all thr


By Dawn
April 12, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Bangladesh will not relocate Rohingyas

Foreign minister says won’t relocate Rohingyas if stakeholders don’t agree. Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said Bangladesh would not relocate Rohingyas to Bashan Char, an island in Noakhali, if all concerned think that would be a problem for them. “We thought they [Rohingyas] will live there better,” he told reporters mentioning that the government had made big arrangements for Rohingyas in Bashan Char. The foreign minister was talking to reporters after jointly inaugurating “Demonstration and Introduction of STP (Set-Top) Boxes for Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)” in Bangladesh Missions abroad with Information Minister Hasan Mahmud at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foreign minister said the government had a plan to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char on a voluntary basis in April next but now they did not know when it would take plac


By Daily Star
March 28, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Foreign companies eyeing stake in Malaysia Airlines

National carrier has been struggling since two high profile crashes in less than a year.   Several foreign companies, including from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, are keen to acquire a stake in Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB), says the Council of Eminent Persons chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin. He said they do not necessarily take over the whole company, but may hold only part of the national carrier’s interest that is currently 100 percent owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd. “Alhamdulillah, those who are keen to buy MAB stocks are either from Asia, Europe and the Middle East. They have expressed their wish to the government and some have written to me. “They can do research on the company (MAB),” he said in an interview on TV3’s prime-time Buletin Utama on Monday (March 25) night. Daim said the aviation sector is increasingly complex and complicated, and huge funds and expertise ar


By The Star
March 26, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

North Korea may have had core deciphering computers stolen

Computers may have been stolen during a break in in Spain. North Korean decryption computers may have been stolen from its embassy in Spain in last month’s raid by as-yet unidentified assailants, a high-profile North Korean defector claimed Sunday. Thae Yong-ho, a former deputy North Korean ambassador to UK said on his blog that the group of men who allegedly infiltrated the North Korean Embassy in Madrid may have stolen computers used to communicate with Pyongyang, which would be a harsh blow to the communist regime. “The world is reporting on the attack on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, but North Korea has been keeping quiet over the incident for a month. I believe this is because they (the assailants) stole the ‘transformation computer,’ a core classified item in the embassy,” Thae said in his blog. “In a North Korean embassy, the transformation computer is considered more imp


By The Korea Herald
March 26, 2019