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[초청 강연] Prospects for US-DPRK Denuclearization Diplomacy and the Future of the US Extended Nuclear D
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* 2020120일 월요일 오후 2시에 진행됐던 Robert Einhorn(미 국무장관 특별보좌관) 강연 자료와 사진입니다.



(*. Paper presented at the seminar organized by the Institute of International Affairs, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, January 20, 2020)



Kim Jong Un’s Party Plenum Speech and

The Future of Nuclear Diplomacy and the U.S. Extended Deterrent


Robert Einhorn, The Brookings Institution



So where do we stand with North Korea in the wake of Kim Jong Un’s seven-hour speech at the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee meeting?

Is there some prospect of reviving U.S.-DPRK engagement or is denuclearization diplomacy dead for the foreseeable future?

Will the North seek to advance its strategic programs cautiously and incrementally or will it engage in major provocations, such as a resumption of nuclear or ICBM testing?

Are we destined to return to the tense “fire and fury” period of 2017 or can we find a less dangerous form of interaction with Pyongyang?

Can sanctions pressure against the North be sustained and even intensified or will enforcement of existing sanctions erode and efforts to strengthen sanctions fail to achieve the necessary support?

Will the growing threat from the North further complicate relations between Seoul and Washington on such issues as burden-sharing and inter-Korean relations or will it stiffen the resolve of our governments to work closely together to counter that threat?


These are some of the questions I’d like to address this afternoon. I don’t pretend to have the answers. Unlike all of you, I am not an expert on North Korea and I have not had the benefit of reading the summaries of Kim Jong Un’s speech in Korean.

In any event, it is much too soon to make a definitive assessment of the implications of Kim’s major policy pronouncement. We will presumably learn more in the weeks and months ahead.

So for now, I’ll offer some preliminary judgments and policy recommendations, and I’ll count on you in our discussion period to fill in the blanks, offer alternative explanations, and provide your own policy prescriptions.

Like all major North Korean policy pronouncements, Kim Jong Un’s speech to the party meeting is subject to differing interpretations. In this case, the interpretation that seems to be shared by most analysts is that Kim was signaling a very bleak future for nuclear diplomacy and U.S.-DPRK relations.

It’s an interpretation held not only by longstanding skeptics of North Korean intentions but also by some analysts who have often viewed the North’s statements and actions in a more favorable light. Among them is Bob Carlin, a former State Department colleague of mine.

According to Carlin, the “Christmas gift” the North Koreans had promised the United States turned out not to be an immediate nuclear or ICBM test but a “complete strategic policy reorientation.”

In this view, Kim Jong Un conceded that the policy of engagement with the United States had failed and should no longer be pursued. According to Kim, Washington had not abandoned its hostile policy of military threats and economic sanctions. Therefore, rather than sacrifice the DPRK’s security, dignity, and economic interests in futile negotiations with the United States, North Korea would make a fundamental policy shift.

Carlin believes it is not a tactical move – a page out of the old North Korean playbook designed to wring concessions out of the United States. Instead, it is a basic change of approach.

A key element of the policy shift was the further strengthening of North Korea’s strategic nuclear capabilities.  In the near future, Kim said, the world would witness a “new strategic weapon.” Pyongyang would no longer feel bound by its unilateral moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and there would be “a shocking actual action.”

Another key element of the policy shift was to abandon hope of transforming the North Korean economy through negotiated sanctions relief and reliance on vague promises of support from the United States. Kim urged the North Korean people to prepare themselves for a protracted confrontation with the United States, during which they would have to tighten their belts, continue living under U.S. sanctions, and focus heavily again on self-reliance.

For those subscribing to the pessimistic interpretation of Kim Jong Un’s address, the future will be gloomy. Denuclearization talks are dead for the foreseeable future. Sooner or later NK will expand and strengthen its nuclear and missile arsenals. Inter-Korean relations will remain stymied by the deadlock on denuclearization. And the relative calm that prevailed during the period of summit-level diplomacy will be replaced by heightened tensions and increasingly dangerous provocations.

Some other observers of North Korean affairs, however, are not so pessimistic. They have drawn attention to what they consider to be the positive elements of Kim’s speech. For example, while declaring an end to the North’s self-imposed testing moratorium, he did not actually announce a test. While describing the futility of negotiations with the United States, he did not close the door to future negotiations. And while denouncing the hostile policy of the United States, he did not specifically criticize President Trump.

The optimists point to Kim’s remark that “the scope and depth” of the DPRK’s efforts to bolster its deterrent will be “properly coordinated” depending on the future U.S. attitude toward North Korea. And they suggest this could indicate a willingness to limit or even eliminate the North’s nuclear deterrent if the United States abandoned its so-called hostile policy.

Parenthetically, I draw the opposite conclusion – that Kim was saying only that the extent to which the North would build up its nuclear arsenal, not the existence of that arsenal, would depend on the US attitude.

The more optimistic interpreters of Kim’s statement are reluctant to conclude that denuclearization talks are dead. They speculate that his hard line on U.S.-DPRK talks may be a tactic to pressure the United States to alter its negotiating position, perhaps counting on Trump to make major concessions to boost his re-election chances.

In their view, Pyongyang may also hope that the prospect of a negotiating breakdown will induce China and Russia to urge Washington to be more flexible. And Pyongyang may calculate that the buildup of its strategic capabilities would strengthen its leverage in future negotiations.

The optimists are not worried by Kim’s assertion that “there will never be denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” if the U.S. persists in its hostile policy. That, they point out, has long been the DPRK position. If Washington changes its attitude toward North Korea, there could still be complete denuclearization.

The optimists also suggest that, rather than firmly ruling out a resumption of negotiations, Kim may be adopting a “wait and see” approach in light of uncertain domestic developments in the United States, particularly the impeachment process and the November presidential election.

In this view, the North Koreans may be waiting for the situation to clarify before deciding to re-engage. In particular, they’d like to know with whom they may be negotiating and whether they will face the uncertainties of a presidential transition. 

So far, the U.S. and South Korean governments have chosen not to be overly discouraged by Kim’s end-of-year policy statement, at least publicly. Moon administration officials have tried to assume a balanced position toward the party plenum address, citing what they regard as both its positive and negative features and expressing the hope that negotiations can be kept alive.

The Trump administration has also resisted taking “no” for an answer. At the highest levels, including Trump himself and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they have expressed the hope that Kim Jong Un will do “the right thing” and support a resumption of negotiations.

While differing interpretations of Kim’s speech are certainly possible, I tend to side with the pessimistic reading.

Since the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi last February, the North Koreans have done little to demonstrate a genuine interest in reaching a negotiated solution with the United States.

While setting an end-of-2019 deadline for the United States to adopt a more flexible negotiating position, they have resisted working-level talks that would give Washington an opportunity to demonstrate such flexibility.

On the one occasion the North agreed to working-levels talks, in Stockholm last October, U.S. negotiator Steve Biegun outlined what I consider to be a reasonable and flexible approach. But the DPRK delegation dismissed the U.S. presentation as inadequate by reading a statement that had been prepared in Pyongyang before the Stockholm meeting had even begun.

And while North Korea continues to rail against what it calls the U.S. hostile policy, it has tended to disparage steps taken by Washington to address DPRK concerns, including the cancellation or scaling back of U.S.-ROK joint military exercises and even the blocking of a high-profile international meeting on human rights practices in North Korea.

Especially after the failed Hanoi summit, North Korea’s leaders may have come to the conclusion that a deal with the United States was not possible on terms they could accept – both because Washington would make what they considered to be excessive demands (such as constraints outside Yongbyon and intrusive verification measures) and because the United States would not be willing to provide enough sanctions relief.

And if Kim Jong Un felt humiliated after returning from Hanoi empty-handed and faced domestic criticism for the failure, he may have decided to close down negotiations that had little prospect of achieving DPRK goals and risked creating internal problems for him.

Moreover, it was striking to me how direct and forceful Kim Jong Un was with the North Korean people about the economic hardships they will have to endure. Kim’s heavy concentration on his domestic audience, the bitter pill he was asking them to swallow, and the far-reaching changes in expectations he was asking them to make seem consistent with the unveiling of a fundamental shift in national policies and priorities rather than a tactical re-positioning aimed primarily at foreign audiences.

 So it appears likely to me that the pessimistic interpretation is basically right and that we’re headed toward a period of no nuclear negotiations, increased efforts by North Korea to expand and strengthen its nuclear and missile capabilities, stagnant inter-Koreans relations, and heightened regional tensions.

A key question is how aggressively the North will proceed. The “shocking actual action” Kim promised could very well be the resumption of high-yield nuclear weapons tests or the flight-testing of ICBM-range missiles with realistic trajectories and the demonstration of warhead re-entry. But such actions would be widely seen as highly provocative, and KJU recognizes that they could entail significant costs in terms of international reactions.

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has taken a heavy toll on the North Korean economy. The DPRK can ill afford to engage in provocative actions that would alienate its key supporters, especially China, which has provided an economic lifetime to the North by providing massive food supplies and stepping up Chinese tourism in the DPRK.

Beijing has also unevenly enforced existing Security Council sanctions, including by dragging its feet in fulfilling its Security Council-mandated obligation to send all North Korean workers back to North Korea. Together with Russia, which also has an uneven record of enforcing U.N. sanctions, China is now promoting a Security Council resolution that would provide some sanctions relief for the DPRK.

Pyongyang may be reluctant to engage in provocative actions that could jeopardize Chinese and Russian support for sanctions-easing or even motivate them to join with the United States in adopting new sanctions.

But it is not just the loss of Chinese and Russian support that North Korea would have to worry about. A rapid buildup of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs – or aggressive actions by Pyongyang toward the South or in the region – could result in a strong response by the U.S. and ROK.

The allies could increase their cooperation in the transfer of advanced military equipment, carry out more robust joint military exercises, and press for the adoption of additional economic sanctions and other punitive measures.

Moreover, the Chinese and Russians would know that an aggressive buildup of DPRK nuclear and missile capabilities could strengthen support in the United States for enhancing regional and homeland missile defenses as well as for maintaining and even increasing the U.S. military presence in East Asia.

Such U.S. responses would run counter to the strategic goals of Russia and China, especially the latter, and could motivate them to press the North Koreans not to build up their strategic programs provocatively.

If the North chooses to avoid actions that are most likely to trigger major adverse responses, it could still take a range of somewhat less provocative steps that would boost its strategic programs. It could advance its short-range and submarine-launched missile capabilities. It could continue to take steps to prepare for the eventual flight-testing of ICBMs, such as the ground testing of large engines, such as those recently tested at the Sohae Satellite Launch Facility.

It could also make high-profile public announcements of the production or deployment of new systems – including ICBMs, which they could conceivably begin to deploy even in the absence of realistic flight testing. It could display new systems openly in parades or in the field, counting on intelligence services or commercial photography to detect them and on Western media to bring them to the world’s attention.

Such efforts would demonstrate momentum in fulfilling Kim Jong Un’s pledge to strengthen North Korea’s strategic capabilities, but they could be designed to fall below the threshold that might trigger a harsh international response.

At this stage, we simply don’t know whether, in the period following the party plenum speech, the North will act cautiously or aggressively. We are likely to learn more in the weeks and months ahead. But in the meantime, the United States and South Korea need to plan a strategy for addressing the evolving North Korean challenge, however threatening it may turn out to be.

U.S. and ROK policy in the wake of Kim Jong Un’s speech should proceed from the assumption that there may indeed have been a significant and negative shift in the DPRK’s strategic orientation – that the North truly may not be interested in negotiations with the United States, that it intends to significantly expand and improve its nuclear and missile programs, and that we are entering a period of prolonged confrontation.

At the same time, while planning to counter what is likely to be a growing North Korean threat, we need to allow for the possibility that the pessimists are wrong and that the posture announced by Kim Jong Un at the party plenum may be more tactical than strategic.

And even if Kim’s speech did in fact signal a new and more confrontational strategic direction, we need to allow for the possibility that such a direction could change. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the byungjin policy was replaced by a new policy line prioritizing economic development – and now byungjin seems to have returned. So North Korea’s strategic direction is subject to change, and U.S. and ROK policies can influence that change, hopefully positively.


A U.S.-ROK strategy to address the post-plenum DPRK challenge should, in many ways, resemble the strategy that we have pursued for many years. Key goals should be to deter North Korean provocations and aggression, whether conventional or nuclear, and promote security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. To counter the North’s expanding nuclear and missile programs, we will have to strengthen our own defensive capabilities.

The United States and South Korea should continue to bolster conventional deterrence, including through U.S. supplies of advanced military equipment and the conduct of joint military exercises in a manner and at a scale needed to ensure readiness.

The allies should reduce the vulnerability of allied forces and populations to DPRK missile attacks by strengthening South Korean and U.S. regional missile defenses and pursuing conventional strike capabilities that could preempt an imminent North Korean missile attack or destroy the North’s ability to launch follow-on attacks. Washington will also need to augment U.S. homeland missile defenses against a North Korean ICBM attack.

Washington and Seoul should work together to reinforce the reliability of the U.S. extended deterrent, including by maintaining a credible U.S. ability to reinforce Peninsula-based forces in a crisis and ensuring an effective U.S. nuclear umbrella. In addition, ROK confidence in the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent could be enhanced by giving South Koreans a more prominent role in operational planning for the deterrent and in crisis consultations.

The allies also need to increase the resilience of their cyber networks against growing North Korean threats in that domain.

In all of this, U.S.-ROK alliance solidarity is essential. The two governments should overcome current strains by quickly resolving the current dispute on burden-sharing, and they should develop a conditions-based path to the transfer of wartime operational control that maintains alliance cohesion and ensures effective deterrence.

And alliance solidarity would surely be given a huge boost by a strong and unequivocal U.S. presidential statement reaffirming support for the alliance and pledging to maintain a robust U.S. military presence in South Korea.

Countering the evolving North Korean challenge will also mean maintaining sanctions pressure. The failure of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign to compel the North Korean regime to abandon its nuclear deterrent demonstrated the limitations of sanctions, especially in seeking to pressure a regime well versed in the art of sanction evasion.

But sanctions can still play a useful role in squeezing the resources available to North Korea’s military programs, sharpening the trade-off between strategic capabilities and economic development, and encouraging Pyongyang once again to change course and pursue engagement in order to reduce economic pressure.

The U.S. approach to sanctioning North Korea in the period ahead should be based on Pyongyang’s behavior. If it pursues its strategic programs aggressively – including with a resumption of nuclear or ICBM tests, or otherwise acts provocatively on the Peninsula or in the region – Washington should seek additional sanctions as well as the strict implementation of existing ones. China and Russia should be called upon to send a tough message of disapproval to Pyongyang, including by scaling back cooperation that is not covered by existing sanctions, such as tourism.

But if the North proceeds cautiously and incrementally, sanctions need not be increased, although existing ones, especially Security Council measures, should be enforced. Current sanctions are sufficient to dampen Kim Jong Un’s hopes of an economically viable future and to provide incentives for him eventually to concede that self-reliance is not enough and that engagement with the United States and negotiated sanctions relief provide the only realistic path to economic success.

That may be the most that sanctions can do. They are not a panacea and will not bring the Kim regime to its knees.

Persuading North Korea to show restraint and eventually accept meaningful negotiated limits will require the close cooperation and active support of countries close to the DPRK, especially China and Russia. But an overly aggressive U.S. sanctions policy, especially one that penalizes Chinese and Russian companies or economic interests, could undermine that cooperation and support.

Therefore, in pursuing its sanctions policy, the United States will need to balance the need to pressure the North Koreans against the need to bring Beijing, Moscow, and some other key countries on board an effective overall strategy to achieve North Korean restraint. 

While preparing for what could be a prolonged confrontation with North Korea, the United States and South Korea should do what they can to moderate that competition and prevent it from getting out of hand. And they should make clear that they are more than willing to resume dialogue and negotiations if the North is willing to engage seriously.

Even if the military competition intensifies and relations become more tense, Washington and Seoul should seek to maintain existing channels of communication with the North. That include the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong and the U.S.-DPRK New York channel. Efforts should also be made to tone down inflammatory rhetoric on both sides.

It would also be useful to find scope for advancing some items on the inter-Korean agenda, especially items that are not precluded by sanctions, such as tourism by individuals.

In conducting their military exercises, the United States and ROK should avoid needlessly provoking the North – for example, talking about “decapitation” or flying U.S. strategic bombers near North Korea. And they should seek understandings with Pyongyang about rules of the road that could reduce the risk of accidents or miscalculations that could lead inadvertently to armed conflict.

Although Kim Jong Un seemingly slammed the door on further negotiations with the United States, Washington should make clear that it is willing to resume negotiations. For much of the last two years, the initiative has exclusively been with North Korea and specifically with Kim Jong Un. He has called the shots and the United States has reacted. That was painfully apparent as the world sat back patiently and passively and waited for Kim to bestow his Christmas gift and make his end-of-year pronouncements.

It is time for the United States to take the initiative and to do so publicly and loudly. It should make a proposal, consistent with the Singapore summit statement, that would be widely recognized as reasonable and constructive, including by China and Russia, and would put the North on the defensive.

My recommendation would be for an interim agreement that would verifiably shut down Yongbyon and at least one currently undeclared enrichment-related facility outside Yongbyon, such as Kangson. The interim agreement would also permanently ban nuclear testing and the flight testing of missiles beyond a certain range.

It would commit the parties to eventually achieve complete denuclearization and could even define what complete denuclearization would involve. But it would not set a deadline for achieving that goal.

In the meantime, the North would be allowed to retain the nuclear weapons and fissile materials it had already produced, although it might be required to make some token reductions as a gesture of good faith toward eventual denuclearization.

In exchange for accepting the verifiable shutdown of key nuclear facilities and the ban on testing, the North would receive compensation. A reasonable compensation package might include a declaration to end the Korean War; the establishment of liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington; limits on the scale of US-ROK joint military exercises; a commitment not to pursue new U.S. or U.N. sanctions; humanitarian assistance; exceptions to existing sanctions to permit certain inter-Korean projects (such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex); and the suspension of certain U.N. sanctions, such as limits on the import of petroleum projects.

An interim agreement along these lines is not very far from what the United States has already proposed to North Korea in working-level talks. This may be a surprise to many observers. A widespread perception of the Trump administration’s negotiating position is that insists on complete denuclearization in a short and definite timeframe and that it refuses to provide compensation to the North until major progress toward denuclearization has been accomplished.

But that is not the case, as far as I understand. It is unclear to me why the administration has been reluctant to disclose publicly that its position is a lot more reasonable and flexible than is widely assumed. Perhaps it is concerned about the criticism it might receive from domestic North Korea hawks.

In any event, it would be useful to discuss such a proposal privately with key countries, including China and Russia, and then make a public offer to the North Koreans. So far, Pyongyang has showed no interest in such a proposal and – if Kim’s party plenum speech is to be taken at face value – the North is likely not only to reject it but to reject any negotiations with the United States.

But even a DPRK rejection would have considerable value. The proposal would demonstrate that the United States and its allies continue to remain open to negotiations, and it would put the onus on North Korea for the breakdown of talks. It could also make the Chinese and Russians more sympathetic to the U.S. position and more willing to exert pressure on Pyongyang to reengage in negotiations and exercise restraint in its strategic programs.

And even if the proposal goes nowhere in the near term, which is likely to be the case, it would provide a good starting point for future negotiations when and if conditions permit.

But at least in the near future, there is little prospect of an interim agreement that would cap North Korea’s nuclear capability. And in my view, there was never any prospect of Kim Jong Un agreeing to abandon his nuclear capability completely – and I think that has only become more apparent in the wake of the party plenum.

During the early days of summit-level diplomacy, there was hope – encouraged I think unrealistically by the Moon administration – that complete denuclearization was achievable and that this would eliminate the nuclear weapons asymmetry between the ROK and DPRK that many South Koreans find politically and militarily intolerable.

It has become increasingly clear that the asymmetry is very unlikely to be eliminated – for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.

This is highly disturbing to most South Koreans. But for many of them, the asymmetry would be acceptable – provided the ROK could continue to count on security assurances from the United States.

But in recent years, South Koreans have witnessed some worrisome developments:

President Trump has pursued a transactional approach to alliances in which U.S. security commitments seem to depend significantly on the extent to which the United States is financially compensated.

This has not been confined to U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia. Financial considerations play an important role in Trump’s approach to NATO. But the difficult SMA negotiations have highlighted this matter in the U.S.-ROK context.

In addition, U.S. allies may not always be consulted in advance of major decisions affecting their security, such as when Trump decided in Singapore to suspend large-scale U.S.-ROK joint military exercises.

President Trump only appears concerned by the North Korean ICBM threat and not by the shorter-range missile capabilities that threaten Japan and South Korea.

Moreover, the posture the United States takes in one region and with one set of security partners affects perceptions of reliability in other regions and with other partners.

So South Koreans undoubtedly noticed the last-minute cancelation of the U.S. military response to Iran’s shoot-down of a U.S. drone, the erratic U.S. position on the stationing of U.S. forces in Syria, the failure to retaliate for the attack on a major Saudi oil facility, the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds in northern Syria, and Secretary of Defense Esper’s current “zero-based review” of the deployment of U.S. forces worldwide.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Trump administration is solely responsible for sending such signals. Some similar signals pre-dated Trump. To a significant, extent they reflect an American public that has gotten tired of foreign entanglements.

I also don’t want to suggest that America is about to turn away from its commitments to allies and partners. Despite some troublesome signals, especially by the current U.S. administration, I believe the dominant view in the United States is to support a strong military presence globally and to remain a reliable security partner.

Still, I recognize that questions have begun to be raised in allied capitals, including here.

In South Korea, some politicians, editorial writers, and nongovernmental experts have begun to voice concerns about whether the ROK can afford to rely so heavily on U.S. assurances.

And from time to time, I hear proposals ranging from giving the ROK a greater role in the use of U.S. nuclear weapons, to re-deploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, to South Korea developing its own nuclear deterrent.

My impression is that advocates of re-deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea or the ROK developing its own nuclear weapons are still a distinct minority.

The current South Korean government strongly opposes those ideas. And the South Korean national security establishment still appears to be confident in the reliability of U.S. security assurances and the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

But the growing realization that North Korea’s nuclear capability may be permanent, combined with emerging questions about the value of American security commitments, could – and perhaps should – prompt a public debate on the subject.

My purpose in raising this issue today is not to provide my own advice on how South Korea should best ensure its security in the period ahead.

Instead, it’s to prompt you to share your perceptions of the reliability of U.S. security commitments and your views on whether the ROK needs to fundamentally re-examine its nuclear options for the future.

With the hope and expectation that you’ll now share your thinking – both about the meaning and implications of Kim Jong Un’s party plenum speech and South Korea’s future security choices – I'll close my presentation.



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