North Korea denuclearization could take many years

Talks between US and North Korea leaders Donald Trump and Kim Yong-un are currently on again, and may happen next month, but denuclearization could take many years according to an expert who has toured North Korea’s nuclear plants, Siegfried S. Hecker.

NY Times North Korea Nuclear Disarmament Could Take 15 Years, Expert Warns

As the Trump administration races to start talks with North Korea on what it calls “rapid denuclearization,” a top federal government adviser who has repeatedly visited the North’s sprawling atomic complex is warning that the disarmament process could take far longer, up to 15 years.

The adviser, Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, and now a Stanford professor, argues that the best the United States can hope for is a phased denuclearization that goes after the most dangerous parts of the North’s program first.

Dr. Hecker’s time frame stands in stark contrast with what the United States initially demanded, on what could be a key sticking point in any summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Center for International Security and Cooperation Stanford University:  A technically-informed roadmap for North Korea’s denuclearization

– Our history study shows that North Korea’s nuclear development has been deliberate and determined, and not primarily predicated on cycles of provocations, appeasement and reversals. Diplomacy has several times slowed or even reversed the program, but never eliminated it. There has been and continues to be a huge trust deficit between the two sides that will almost certainly compel Pyongyang to hedge its bets in any agreed path forward – as it did multiple times over the past 26 years.

– Our experience in dealing with the North has also taught us that retaining a civilian nuclear program and a peaceful space program are of great importance to the North – both for technical and symbolic reasons. Over the past 17 years, the US has considered such civilian activities as covers for military ambitions and has consistently denied these, fearing that such activities would support the North’s military programs. However, this type of risk avoidance instead of risk management has led to several missed opportunities to halt and/or reverse the military programs.

– …we propose a phased risk management approach to denuclearization…The mosaic is meant to provide an overall sense of what’s manageable and what must be eliminated. The phases constitute what might be possible during the first year, the “halt” stage, in years 2 to 5, the “roll back” stage, and in years 6 to 10, the “eliminate” stage. The details are shown in a subsequent chart. Political development will, of course, determine whether or not that time frame can be shortened or lengthened.

– The approach suggested here is based on our belief that North Korea will not give up its weapons and its weapons program until its security can be assured. Such assurance cannot be achieved simply by an American promise or an agreement on paper, it will require a substantial period of coexistence and interdependence

Trump promises and US agreements on paper under Trump’s leadership are not secure assurances. Trump dumped the TPP Agreement (before the US ratified it), forced a renogotiation of NAFTA, withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement, and withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear agreement.

And Trump seems to shift his position at whim – this may be the art of his business dealing, but it leaves substantial uncertainty in international affairs.

Trump has set expectations of a an immediate denuclearization if he is to do a deal – a deal that on the surface seems very one sided. He may need to compromise if he is to reach any sort of long term deal.