North Korea has been saying the right things in the last four months. After weeks of silence regarding his intentions for the upcoming summit meetings with South Korea and the United States, Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, announced on Saturday morning a dramatic announcement promising unilateral borders for his nuclear weapons and missile programs. Although the announcement has been widely praised as an encouragement – President Donald Trump has made this a sign of "great progress" – that is in fact not a path to denuclearization. However, it opens the door to cut off Kim's arsenal and keep America and its allies safer during the talks.
Before the Central Committee of his ruling party, Kim described six so-called "decisions" on nuclear weapons. Weapons policy. This included a statement that North Korea was satisfied with its existing nuclear warhead designs and had closed all nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile tests (ICBM) and closed its nuclear test site in Punggye Ri. Kim also announced that North Korea would suspend nuclear testing and reaffirmed its commitment not to use nuclear weapons "unless there is a nuclear threat [a]" and stop the spread of nuclear technology. He also said that North Korea will focus on developing its economy and improving dialogue with neighboring countries.
The suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests would severely curtail North Korea's nuclear activities. But these are proposals to shape the arsenal rather than eliminate it-meaning that North Korea still has nothing to say publicly about its denuclearization intent. While Kim said that Pyongyang supported the vision of "global disarmament," this is a common troop in North Korean propaganda, suggesting that North Korea will soon demand arms control with the United States.
All this implies that Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign did not bring Kim down. Instead, Kim essentially made a statement about his regime's nuclear policy-the act of self-confident nuclear power.
In truth, Kim's announcement is an opening bid that would allow him to keep his nuclear and missile forces intact. Despite its allegations, North Korea has not created an advanced, survivable, and reliable arsenal to most military and technical standards. Suspending tests would effectively prevent the use of newer, more efficient or more compact warhead designs.
But Kim's proposed upper limit is only partial. He has said nothing about North Korea's fissile material production, which continues at a staggering pace today: the US Defense Intelligence Agency has found that North Korea can produce enough material for 12 nuclear weapons every year. In his speech, Kim did not mention submarine-launched rockets or land-based short-range or medium-range missiles that could endanger US allies in the region. In addition, North Korea could bypass its own limitations by reclassifying long-range missile testing as space launches, a move that defeated the recent agreement in 2012. There is evidence of ongoing work on a satellite launchers most advanced ICBM, the Hwasong-15. In short, even if North Korea fulfills its obligations, it could still produce and test more warheads and missiles.
Moreover, North Korea may not comply with these obligations – it is easy to have a self-enforced unverified moratorium as soon as this moratorium becomes impractical. Pyongyang could undo any of its obligations in no time, just as in 2006 when it broke a moratorium on rocket launches in 1999.
The key to Trump's upcoming meeting with Kim will then be to transpose these commitments from a partial cap to a hard cap. To achieve this, US negotiators must codify, clarify, and review Kim's proposed borders during the summit. This means that limits are imposed on all missile tests, including satellite launchers and festival tests. Strictly capping the program would make Americans safer if the negotiations on a comprehensive deal dragged into the summer and fall.
Apart from Kim's promise to restrict testing and market launches, his promise to ignore the proliferation of nuclear technology may be the most intriguing. If this commitment could be verified, this would invalidate much of the case for military action and appease a major US concern for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Yet, the commitment itself is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. North Korea used to be willing to export reactor designs and expertise to Syria. Pyongyang would have to provide sensitive information about the location and purpose of its nuclear facilities so that US intelligence agencies or international inspectors could limit their search, instead of inspecting every piece of cargo crossing the borders of North Korea. If the United States and North Korea could agree to such limits, it would be a great achievement.
With his announcement on Saturday, Kim revealed measures awaiting many observers at the upcoming summit meeting with Trump. But the United States can not accept these measures as victory – they are a starting point to forge a verifiable ceiling on Pyongyang's arsenal. A tough cap can keep America and its allies safer, while Trump negotiates a broader agreement – something that can only happen if the president does not give too much self-confidence and optimism.