The clock is ticking for Trump to dismantle North Korea weapons

The clock is ticking for Trump to dismantle North Korea weapons
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After the historic summit in Singapore, the risks and danger to the security of the United States and our allies are clear: Kim Jong Un’s strategy is to drag out the process of “working towards denuclearization” for as long as possible as China and South Korea break the sanctions arrayed against him. Kim will create provocations as soon as he is due to make good on any coming obligation. Kim will do this to garner greater concessions. He will secretly try and solidify, or even grow, the North Korean program of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

The greatest evidence for this? History. This is how the Kim family has always negotiated, and Kim has shown no indication that he is intent on changing this longstanding North Korean strategy. If he was planning on doing so, we would see signs of “reform and opening” right away, from letting political prisoners out of the mass gulags to creating the type of free trade zones that Deng Xiaoping created when he began the “reform and opening” process in China.

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These are just a few steps that Kim could take to indicate that he intends to direct North Korea down a new strategic course. He would also explain to his people that because of the “trust” developed with the Americans, there is no longer a need for a “hostile policy” against them. Thus, the North Korean people should be ready for thousands of U.S.-led inspectors to enter into North Korea to remove its WMDs.

Why is of all this so important? Because current North Korean strategy absolutely requires nuclear weapons to extort China and South Korea for revenue, to create a defensive shield against the hostile Americans, and to provoke South Korea into giving up and agreeing to unification on Kim’s terms. WMDs are also needed as a source of hard currency for North Korea, transacted in exchange for their sale on the rogue terrorist market. The human rights abuses are “necessary” to ensure that the people do not figure out the truth about the misery forced upon the them by North Korean policy. In turn, nuclear weapons protect the Kim regime against any real international pressure on human rights issues.

Thus, without major internal changes in North Korea, the chances of Kim giving up his WMDs are almost nil. The formula is this: Without a radical change in North Korea’s strategic, economic, and political course — and without a public explanation of this change to the North Korean people — Kim’s strategy will remain based on WMDs. To be sure, the Trump team deserves some, but not too much, time before a final judgment is rendered about whether they will achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of all weapons of mass destruction. The Trump team assembled the most successful pressure campaign, of which military threats were a critical part, that the United States has ever implemented against North Korea. Kim knows Trump is able to change his mind again, and quickly, which provides Washington with leverage.

But there should be a very limited window for the United States. It needs to move fast in sending dismantlement teams into North Korea. It is likely that, as the first wave of American-led teams are set to arrive, Kim will provoke, bluster, and break his commitments. At that point, a president who has shown himself capable of a massive coercive campaign should be ready to ramp up this campaign to include targeting Kim’s personal sense of safety and sanctioning the hundreds of entities he was ready to sanction before preparation for talks began.

Kim revealed that he is a nervous and fearful man while Trump jostled him around the summit this week. Kim even brought his own toilet, for reasons better left to psychologists to explain. His bodyguard jumped in to check the pen that was used to sign the communique. This all indicates that there are a multitude of options open to the United States that will greatly impact Kim’s personal sense of security.

Moreover, in a ramped up maximum pressure campaign, the Trump administration can target Chinese financial institutions that continue to support the Kim regime. The United States should expand its sanctions list to include major Chinese banks, the ones that will find ways to finance North Korea. These “secondary” sanctions would force China to choose between continued support of its North Korean ally or the survival of its banking system. Indeed, while not directly related, following through with sanctions on China related to the Section 301 trade investigations would be a good sign that the president is not afraid to shake up our relations with Beijing. The strategy behind this “Plan B” would be to make things so uncomfortable for China that they will finally join us completely in ridding the world of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Dan Blumenthal is director of Asian studies and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as a senior director at the U.S. Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004, was a commissioner and vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission from 2006 to 2012, and has been a distinguished visiting professor at the U.S. Naval War College since 2014. He is the coauthor of “An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century.”