Hot Heads and Old Strategies a Bad Mix on the Korean Peninsula

Trump’s questionable “nuclear freeze” strategy - “For years, American presidents decided that each incremental improvement in the North’s program — another nuclear test, a new variant of a missile — was worrisome, but not worth a confrontation that could spill into open conflict,” writes David E. Sanger and William J Broad for the New York Times. “Now those step-by-step advances have resulted in North Korean warheads that in a few years could reach Seattle. North Korea is now threatening another nuclear test, which would be its sixth in 11 years. Unless something changes, North Korea’s arsenal may well hit 50 weapons by the end of Mr. Trump’s term, about half the size of Pakistan’s.”

--“The strategy emerging from Mr. Trump’s national security team comes down to this: Apply overwhelming pressure on the North, both military and economic, to freeze its testing and reduce its stockpile.The upside of the strategy, if it works, is that the “nuclear freeze” would delay for years the day the North can fit a small, reliable, well-tested weapon atop a large, reliable, well-tested missile. The downside is that it would leave the North Koreans with a small, potent arsenal — one the United States would be essentially acknowledging, if not accepting. And every day, there is the chance of miscalculation, or an accident.” Find the full article here.

See also - “Curbing the North Korean Nuclear Threat” by Daryl Kimball for Arms Control Today here.

Kicking the North Korean hornet’s nest - “‘North Korea's a big world problem, and it's a problem we have to finally solve. People put blindfolds on for decades and now it's time to solve the problem… I'm not so sure he's so strong like he says he is, I'm not so sure at all,’ remarked President Trump. Commentators said that Trump, with his strong rhetoric, was backing himself into a corner over North Korea, leaving him in a potentially dangerous position,” writes Ben Westcott for CNN.

--“‘It's been all about pressure and brinksmanship and military tools and tactics and chess something, and now to literally, directly taunt the leader of North Korea is like poking the hornet's nest yet again,’ said Paul Carroll, program director at the Ploughshares Fund… Carroll continued, ‘If you do this kind of ratcheting (up) of rhetorical tensions but also sending military hardware into the region, if you do that absent of any kind of offramp or door or window for the North Koreans to consider walking through and reengaging in any sort of discussions, bad things are going to happen,’” Full article here.

Tweet - @DarylGKimball: “You can't out-crazy Kim Jong Un” by John Kirby via @CNN

See also - “Seoul: North Korea holds drill to mark military anniversary” by Eric Talmadge and Kim Tong-Hyung  for Associated Press here.

Job Announcement - Ploughshares Fund seeks applicants for a competitive, one-year paid position as a Roger L. Hale Fellow. The Fellow works primarily with the policy (analysis/advocacy) team to conduct research on current nuclear weapons-related topics, monitor government policy, and write for publication on the Ploughshares Fund website and other venues. The Fellow will be based in the Washington, DC office of Ploughshares Fund. For details, click here.

East Asia promises military response to DPRK - “Senior officials of South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed at a meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday to take unbearably strong punitive action against North Korea if the communist country launches a fresh military provocation, the South Korean participant said,” reports Yonhap News. “The three countries' chief negotiators on the North Korean nuclear issue held a meeting earlier in the day to coordinate their responses to advancing nuclear and missile threats by North Korea. The trilateral meeting comes amid unusually heightened tension after North Korea ratcheted up its ballistic missile tests and military threats to the U.S. and South Korea this year.”

--“The diplomats denounced North Korea for posing a threat to the peace and stability of the international community. Kim Hong-kyun, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs at the foreign ministry remarked, ‘Since the North remains unchanged on its stance toward denuclearization, the efforts should be focused on keeping up and even further intensifying pressure on the North.’ With North Korea reportedly coming close to owning a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, the U.S. Trump administration has been ramping up pressure on North Korea and persuading China to join efforts to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.” For the full article, click here.

See also - Ploughshares Executive Director Philip Yun appeared on KIRO Seattle Morning News to talk North Korea. Interview begins at 23:37 here.

Take action - Ready to restore checks and balances to the nuclear codes? Inspired by the legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Lieu and Sen. Ed Markey, Ploughshares Fund, along with sixteen other public interest groups, has created a new petition urging Congress to keep America safe by preventing any U.S. President from unilaterally launching a nuclear weapon. Sign and share the petition today.

Playing chicken with the DPRK - “For well over a decade, North Korea has calculated (correctly) that Beijing, Seoul, and Washington would all choose relative stability and conflict avoidance over taking military action to end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” writes Jon Wolfsthal for Foreign Policy. “The threat of North Korean nuclear weapons, the argument goes, contains a risk of disaster — but attacking North Korea to prevent its programs from advancing is a sure-fire calamity. Into this Korean standoff, America is now inserting Trump’s bellicose tweets and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s confused and conflicting statements. A combination of bravado and bad reporting by the media has created a dangerous dynamic in East Asia.”

--“It is a classic game of chicken, where the driver willing to appear and act irrational can gain an advantage. Despite what many have said for decades, the North Koreans are dangerous and criminal, but they are neither crazy nor irrational. And now this regime in Pyongyang has to worry about just how far Trump’s America might go. In chicken, playing the irrational actor can work to your advantage if you are, in fact, rational. While the president is being criticized for flipping on a variety of foreign and domestic policy issues, from the North American Free Trade Agreement to Syria to health care, North Korea is one issue where talking tough but then offering a diplomatic way out would make sense. Maybe, just maybe, the instability caused by Trump can pay off.” Find the entire article here.

Pressure and diplomacy must go together in NK - “[Kelsey Davenport] said diplomacy through negotiations is the only way to stop North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship, calling for the Trump administration to give more weight to engagement,” writes Kim Jae-kyoung in his interview with Kelsey Davenport for the Korea Times. “‘If Trump is serious about talking with North Korea and reaching an agreement, this plan could lead to progress on halting and eventually rolling back North Korea's nuclear and missile programs,’ she said. ‘But to get there, Trump needs to signal to Kim Jong-un that the offer for engagement is real. Otherwise, pressure without a plan for diplomacy is a dead end.’"

--“‘If the state does collapse, uncertainty about the locations of North Korea's nuclear warheads will contribute to the chaos and increase the likelihood of a nuclear accident or intentional use by a desperate regime… Scenarios like this underscore the urgency of a diplomatic effort to cap and roll back Pyongyang's nuclear program and ultimately reduce the risk posed by North Korea.’” For the full article, click here.

Hard line on Iran inadvisable - “As with other foreign policy issues, the Trump administration’s approach to Iran has been full of mixed messages. Yet amid the confusion, there has been an ominous tendency to demonize Iran and misrepresent the threat it presents. This could lead to an unnecessary and risky confrontation,” writes the New York Times Editorial Board. “For his part, Mr. Tillerson, in talking to reporters, compared Iran to North Korea, which unlike Iran has produced nuclear weapons, and said that its ‘provocative actions threaten the United States, the region and the world’ and that the administration ‘has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration.’”

--“Where exactly is Mr. Trump going with this? His comments echo statements used by past presidents when they tried to build a case for military action, as, for instance, against Iraq. This is not the time for such action. Mr. Trump would better serve himself and global stability by developing a strategy that seeks to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior, but also seeks cooperation where possible.” For the full article, click here.

See also - “Unraveling Iran deal would be Trump’s biggest mistake” by John Kirby for CNN here.

Quick Hits

--“China’s Leader Urges Restraint on North Korea in Call With Trump” by Chris Buckley for The New York Times here.

--“Instead of threatening North Korea, Trump should try this” by John Delury for The Washington Post here.

--“Why America Must Stop Russia from Violating the INF Treaty” by Steven Pifer for The National Interest here.

--“3 maps that explain the geopolitics of nuclear weapons” by George Friedman for Business Insider here.

--“Fantasyland: Vice President Pence on North Korea” by Stephan Haggard for The Peterson Institute for International Economics Blog here.


--“Toward a Fundamental Change in Nuclear Weapons Policy" Soka Gakkai International-USA. Thursday April 27, 2017, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the United States Capitol Visitor Center - Congressional Meeting Room South (CVC-217). Details here.

--Markey-Lieu Press Conference on the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons” Bill. Wednesday May 3, 2017 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Details to come!

--“Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War.” Featuring: Joe Cirincione, William Hartung, Elaine Scarry, and others. Massachusetts Peace Action. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Saturday May 6, 2017, 9:00a.m.-5:00p.m. MIT Room 34-101, 50 Vassar St, Cambridge, MA 02139. Details here.

--“Debate: Modernization of Nuclear Missiles.” Hosted by Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) and Ploughshares Fund. Featuring: Jon Wolfsthal, Christine Parthemore, General C. Robert Kehler (Ret.) and Heather Williams. Tuesday May 23, 2017, 4:30p.m.-7:00p.m. at CSIS Headquarters 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036. Details here.

--“The Women’s March to Ban the Bomb.” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Saturday, June 17, 2017, 12:00p.m.-4:00p.m. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Greenmarket, 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Details here.

--“PONI 2017 Summer Conference.” The first conference of the 2017-2018 PONI Conference Series will be held June 21-22 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Center for Global Security Research in Livermore, California. The two-day conference will feature a series presentations from emerging nuclear experts, a keynote address, tours of facilities at Lawrence Livermore, and a breakout discussion on nuclear terrorism adapted from a ministerial-level scenario that will led by Corey Hinderstein and Heather Looney from NNSA. The conference will be off-the-record. Details here.

Edited by