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Op-ed:The 2018 North Korean Summit—What Should U.S. Goals Be?

Following North Korea that indicated its willingness to have denuclearization talks with the United States, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plan to meet face-to-face for a historic summit said to take place either in May or early June.

The potential summit, which addresses the future challenges that lie ahead in the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, signifies a watershed in U.S. foreign policy as it would mark the first time a U.S. president accepting an invitation to sit down with a North Korean leader.

The crisis escalated in August 2017 after North Korea announced the production of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In response, President Trump declared that North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Photo: CNN

Photo: CNN

Failure to come up with a viable solution for North Korea’s accelerated nuclear capability efforts poses numerous implications that could lead to intensified conflict. If it one day hopes to achieve the "complete, irreversible and verifiable" denuclearization of North Korea, the U.S. should have several realistic goals in mind for the negotiations as preparations go underway.

First, in the strict interests of protecting the American homeland, the U.S. should strive to push North Korea into halting any further ICBM development that can hit the U.S. at current notice. According to an ABC News Report that cited the Pentagon, North Korea is roughly estimated to have 200 launchers able to fire on short notice a variety of short-, medium- and intermediate-range missiles. Missiles that travel far enough to hit the mainland USA, which include the Hwasong 14 and 15 missiles, satellite-launched missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and KN-08 and 14 two stage systems, should cease to operate.

 The U.S. should simultaneously call for strong inspections as to confirm North Korea’s compliance. While the majority of North Korea’s established missile force would remain in tact, having such a strategic goal in mind would ensure that American cities are not left vulnerable to immediate attacks.  

Next, the U.S. should seek to have North Korea forgo future nuclear weapon production of fissile materials. North Korean facilities currently producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, as reported by the Diplomat, have enough fissile material to make 12 additional weapons per year. With an approximate amount of 20 to 60 nuclear weapons in its arsenal that North Korea does not seem likely to destroy any time soon, terminating the expansion of an existing nuclear force can act as a pivotal step. A capping agreement of this nature can also apply to minimizing North Korea’s militarization of nuclear weapons.

 Third, if history is any indication, the U.S. cannot afford to go into the summit without intending to enforce full prohibition of North Korean ballistic missile transfers and other illegal practices. In February, UN experts had found North Korea responsible for sending items used for Syria’s chemical weapon program. Other countries like Pakistan, Libya, and Iran have also been recipients of North Korean missile systems.  

Moreover, North Korea has skirted UN sanctions through illicit ship-to-ship transfers of material primarily between Russia and China. A deal that allows for the channeling North Korean trading ports must be made to prevent North Korea’s nuclear arms complex from becoming sustainable. Cutting the cord on North Korea’s source of funding as well as preventing missile technology from getting into the wrong hands is essential if a global nuclear arms race is to be avoided.

 Finally, as of March 2018 three U.S. citizens are being held by North Korea. If the Trump administration fights for their release, it could win a symbolic feat.

Of course, the concessions that the U.S. gives will have to be considered. With the proper framework set up, however, these are the goals for the summit that, in a nutshell, can curb North Korea’s ambitions to threaten U.S. security and its allies.