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It will be ‘like pulling teeth’ to get North Korea to give up its nukes

June 14, 2018

The North Korean government will not easily give up its nuclear weapons because doing so would remove their most potent security guarantee and negotiating leverage, a George Mason University professor said.

Much was made of President Donald J. Trump’s pronouncement after his summit with Kim Jong Un that North Korea’s leader was on board with denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“It’s just a statement,” said Colin Dueck, a professor in George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “They know very well their nuclear weapons are an ace, so it’s going to be like pulling teeth to get them to give [those weapons] up. It would be a very protracted process, frankly, and I don’t know why they would.”

In fact, Dueck said, denuclearization means something different to North Korea than it does to Trump.

“We have to assume what North Korea means by [denuclearization] is what it has always meant by that, which is removal of U.S. guarantees to [South Korea], removal of U.S. troops from the South,” Dueck said.

What does North Korea really want in its negotiations with the United States? To illustrate, Dueck paraphrased Georgetown University professor Victor Cha, who was director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council from 2004 to 2007 and wrote the book “The Impossible State: North Korea Past and Future.”

“They want to keep their nuclear weapons,” Dueck said. “They want a permanent peace treaty for the Korean war. They want to sit down with the United States as an equal. They want economic help from the outside. They want security guarantees from the United States. They want the U.S. to help prop up their regime and also remove its troops and alliance commitments from the region. And you can add to that, [they want] unification of the Korean Peninsula under control of the North.”

“Those are terms probably no U.S. president could accept, though we don’t know what Trump is really willing to accept, but we’ll find out,” Dueck said.

For the time being, Dueck said, the United States should maintain its presence in South Korea, maintain economic sanctions and maintain its close relations with key allies South Korea and Japan.

“The North Korean regime is only going to respond to pressure,” he said.

In the end, though, Dueck doesn’t see much changing in the historical standoff between the United States and North Korea.

“The most likely outcome, if I had to guess, would be North Korea doesn’t actually give up its nuclear weapons and the U.S. doesn’t actually walk away from the peninsula,” Dueck said. “Then you get a kind of standoff. That doesn’t have to mean open warfare, but reduced tensions, maybe; a kind of prolonged standoff with this regime.”

Colin Dueck can be reached at 703-993-9349 or cdueck@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.