Over the past couple of weeks, there have been increasing signs that the Trump administration – and particularly the president himself – is moderating its position on North Korea’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Gone are the adamant statements that the U.S. will only accept complete, immediate and irreversible denuclearization.
No serious observer of the Korean situation in general and Kim Jong Un in particular would bet that the impetuous young leader would ever willingly surrender his nuclear weapons. They are obviously his best guarantee against U.S.-imposed regime change. As the certainty of this has sunk in for the Trump team, they are seeking another path to a demonstrable foreign policy “win” that can be touted in the run-up to the 2020 election.
While the ultimate shape of what might be termed “denuclearization lite” remains unclear, one can envision the general outline. For starters, the U.S. would likely demand a full, verifiable accounting of North Korea’s active nuclear and missile programs, with specific geographic positions identified. The U.S. could also push for a reduction in the total stockpile to a number that international inspectors could keep under permanent observation, say 50 warheads of a specified level of kilotons each. The warheads would be held in a small number of locations, three or so, each with a technical oversight system (cameras, electronic monitors) to alert inspectors if the facilities were breached. There could be a similar plan for the launcher systems, but they would be based different parts of the country than the warheads. All of this would be verified by international teams, which would have a mandate to inspect the facilities at any time.
In exchange, the North would receive sanctions relief and a large amount of development aid, although perhaps not of the kind Trump famously proposed for North Korea’s beaches in his first meeting with Kim: “Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?”
There are plenty of valid objections to such a scheme. One is that Trump wouldn’t be delivering fully on the problem he has correctly identified: Making sure Kim can’t attack the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. On the other hand, America and its allies live under that threat from Russia and China, and are “comfortable” with other nuclear-armed nations such as India, Israel and Pakistan.
[Read James Stavridis’ full Opinion piece in Bloomberg]