North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile testing. He also said that his regime would close a nuclear test site. “The nuclear test site has done its job,” Kim Jong-un declared. Kim made the announcement days before he is scheduled to meet with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Kim had previously indicated that he would not insist on the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition to negotiating denuclearization.
A spokesperson for President Moon’s office said his country views “the North’s decision as a significant step toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula the world has wished for.” President Trump initially welcomed the move, tweeting, “North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit.” On Sunday, however, President Trump struck a more cautious note. “We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell … But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!” President Trump tweeted. The president had previously said that he would be willing to forego his own planned summit with Kim Jong-un in late May or early June, or walk out while it is underway, if he concludes that it is a useless exercise.
While better than nothing, there is less to North Korea’s announced suspension decision than meets the eye. At best, it preserves the current shaky status quo, as no testing has occurred for several months. Assuming Kim follows through with his announcement, his decision is completely reversible. He would only be temporarily freezing in place further testing of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles that have largely been proven to work. The test site Kim claims to be closing can be easily re-opened. Kim is getting rid of nothing. He is dismantling nothing. He is not pledging to halt the testing of short and medium range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan and other countries in the region or even Guam. His announcement does not include any mention of halting research and development or production of more advanced nuclear weapons or missile technology, including an operable reentry vehicle capable of carrying a warhead through the atmosphere to its target in the United States.