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KEI Spotlight

KEI Vice President Mark Tokola Offers Policy Recommendations at NBR

March 12, 2019

Writing for the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), KEI Vice President Mark Tokola examines the U.S. and North Korean objectives heading into the February 27–28 summit and offers policy recommendations for the U.S. side. Based on publicly available accounts, Tokola concludes that the Hanoi Summit did not produce an agreement because neither leader was satisfied with the concessions that his counterpart offered. 

But coming out of the summit, the biggest loser (in Tokola's view) is Kim Jong-un who is further away from winning sanctions relief that would allow economic growth to take place. Pyongyang had promised economic prosperity to its people following the completion of the nuclear program. This had once justified the hardships, but Tokola wonders if this will be the case going forward now that a successful nuclear program has been developed. 

One of the elements that Tokola sees as vital to reaching a successful agreement is developing the belief in North Korea that the country would be better off without nuclear weapons. Such confidence would require security guarantees from the United States, China, South Korea, and likely the wider international community in some form that is not possible in the current environment.

In this context, Tokola underscores that the critical challenge is resolving the "Korea question," which North Korea's denuclearization will not fully fix nor sanctions relief from the United States. Here, he considers four recommendations to construct a more robust peace regime:

  • Congress should ensure that the administration has a plan to deal with North Korean threats beyond denuclearization. For example, how can North Korean cyberattacks be deterred? Are chemical and biological weapons being discussed alongside the nuclear program? Is there a plan to deal with North Korea’s export of drug precursor chemicals?
  • The administration should reassure U.S. allies South Korea and Japan that Washington is taking their security concerns into account as well as its own. These include not only potential WMD attacks but short- and medium-range missiles.
  • North Korea should not receive a pass on its abysmal human rights record. There are practical ways to raise this issue. For example, if North Korea receives economic assistance from the International Monetary Fund, it would be appropriate to ask that at the same time it join International Labor Organization conventions to ensure that North Koreans who work on internationally funded infrastructure projects receive basic protections.
  • If North Korea wishes to demonstrate good intent toward normalizing its relationship with the United States, the country should be asked to stop jamming radio broadcasts from sources such as the Voice of America and BBC World Service.


Read the full piece here