August 06, 2019

Analysis: North Koreas missile tests point to end of nuclear talks
North Korea’s fourth weapons test in just under two weeks has not killed off the chance to reignite talks with the US over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missiles programme but it does signal that the end of the diplomatic path is drawing closer.    The rush of tests – including new short-range ballistic missiles – and the unveiling of a submarine that could potentially launch nuclear weapons have occurred despite a historic gesture by Donald Trump in late June to become the first sitting US president in history to step into the hermit kingdom. It reveals that despite being partial himself to grand displays of showmanship, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will not be placated by theatrics with little substance. While President Trump is keen to secure a major foreign policy win in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Kim also faces domestic pressure from sceptics doubting his decision last year to pursue nuclear diplomacy. After an embarrassing end to February’s Hanoi summit, when Kim left empty-handed after failing to secure any concessions at all on punishing economic sanctions, the young despot cannot afford to lose any more face in front of his generals. Pyongyang’s rhetoric accompanying its missiles tests makes clear that Kim wants not only to nail down meaningful security guarantees against invasion, but to be treated as an equal among leaders. North Korean missile ranges A statement on Tuesday after the latest dawn ballistic missiles tests was consistent with the regime’s messaging so far – joint US-South Korea military drills and the build-up of South Korea’s own arsenal, including the purchase of F-35A stealth fighter aircraft, is viewed as an unacceptable threat. North Korea has repeatedly stressed that it is not prepared to make all of the concessions with nothing in return. “There is no such law that one side might be allowed to walk away from its commitment and our side only should be bound by the commitment,” it said on Thursday, in the latest variation of a well-trodden theme. North Korea experts have suggested Washington should paid closer heed to Pyongyang’s words. Some argue a reciprocal, staged approach to nuclear disarmament would yield more meaningful results. Others go further – urging the US to ditch its push for “final, fully verified denuclearisation”, and switch focus to accepting and managing relations with an already established nuclear state instead. While Trump’s unconventional approach has yielded unprecedented relations between US and North Korean leaders that may yet lead to peace, analysts have warned that his administration is making several mistakes in its approach. Firstly, the repeated downplaying of short-range ballistic missiles – while not breaching a self-imposed North Korea moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests – is empowering Kim to build up a formidable arsenal that poses a considerable threat to the nearby region.   Kim Jong-un | A history of executions - family, allies and rivals “Trump/Pompeo dismissed short-range missiles last week, maybe to pick their battles & focus on resuming negotiations, but they’re still enabling Pyongyang to grow its arsenal & telling South Korea & Americans there that they don’t matter,” tweeted Duyeon Kim, adjunct senior fellow at the Centre for New American Studies. Experts also caution the Trump administration not to ignore Pyongyang’s warnings of a larger escalation. Earlier this month, North Korea said it may call off its 20th month suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests, while Kim has set a very clear deadline – the end of this calendar year – for getting negotiations back on track. The US would dismiss these statements at its peril, write North Korea analysts Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda in a recent Foreign Policy article: “If North Korea’s end-of-year deadline passes without a shift in the U.S. negotiating position, Kim may ring in the New Year with a bang.”
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