Pyongyang no longer faces any ban on testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, continues to expect North Korea to denuclearize.
Since 2013, North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong Un has given a New Year’s address annually, while also giving insights into his foreign policy considerations. In 2020, Pyongyang moved away from this strategy. Instead of a New Year’s speech, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) only released a media release after a four-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ party central committee. This had ended on New Year’s Eve.
"The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future."
— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake) January 1, 2020
Pyongyang accuses Washington of breach of trust
There was disappointment in Kim’s words about the behaviour of Washington and American President Donald Trump. On his initiative, North Korea imposed a unilateral moratorium and has not tested nuclear weapons or long-range missiles for more than two years, Kim said. He said he wanted to build trust in the United States through this move, the state news agency said. Instead, contrary to his personal promise, Trump pushed ahead with the American-South Korean manoeuvres and sent state-of-the-art military equipment to the Korean peninsula.
The only logical conclusion for Kim from this breach of trust is that Pyongyang no longer feels bound to stop the tests. The strong man in North Korea also announced that his country would present a new strategic weapon in the near future. Pyongyang had reported successful tests over the past few weeks without disclosing details. There is speculation that it may have been rocket propulsion systems.
The self-imposed North Korean testing moratorium isn’t over until it’s over. But this language makes it sound like the decision to test and field a reliable persistent nuclear force has been made: “will” not “may.” It’s now likely just a question of when. pic.twitter.com/uPWyzL40Nv
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) January 1, 2020
At the beginning of December, the North Korean State Department issued a statement saying it was up to Washington which Christmas gift the United States would receive from Pyongyang. The phrase alluded to Kim’s April speech. At that time he had announced that if America would not move by the end of 2019, his country would take a new course. The question is why Pyongyang did not present a “Christmas present”.
China may have increased pressure on North Korea to refrain from testing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Beijing would otherwise be in an uncomfortable position. China is campaigning for sanctions to be eased as a sign of goodwill towards North Korea. However, further tests of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles in the United Nations Security Council would put Beijing under pressure to further tighten sanctions against Pyongyang. China’s party and state leader Xi Jinping, however, does not want to cause any further conflict due to the intensifying US-Chinese clashes.
Sanctions as a burden
However, according to KCNA, Kim has not yet fully closed the door to the United States. He said it would depend on Washington’s behavior how his country would develop nuclear deterrence. The North Korean ruler is aware of the burden of sanctions for the economic development of North Korea. However, he assured that one would not buckle under the load. North Korea’s security cannot be sacrificed for economic success, KCNA Kim quotes.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 29, 2019
The dilemma in the American-North Korean conflict also shines through here. Kim and Trump have already met three times and the observers always had the impression that the two heads of state got on well. The two countries still don’t dare to cross the path. The worst breach of trust for Pyongyang was at the Hanoi summit at the end of February. Back then, Kim had traveled to the Vietnamese capital full of euphoria and ended up empty-handed. For North Korea, the termination of the Hanoi talks by the United States was an immense loss of face.
What is denuclearization?
Trump was calm despite the worsening conflict with Pyongyang. In his vacation home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, he told media representatives that Kim would stand by and disarm his word. The American president again alluded to the treaty text of the first meeting between the two heads of state in Singapore in June 2018 . At the time, Kim committed to denuclearization in the first sentence, Trump said.
Political scientist Vipin Narang, who teaches at the American Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said with triumphant sarcasm after Trump’s statement that Kim was actually a man who stood by his word. In other words, Narang expects North Korea to present a new strategic weapon rather than disarm.
Kim is indeed a man of his word and he just promised the world a new strategic weapons system and a “shocking actual action.” He doesn’t have a history of bluffing on things like this. https://t.co/hBMV8T6I3B
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) January 1, 2020
The spongy text from Singapore separates the two hostile states more than it unites them. Washington expects North Korea to disarm unilaterally. Pyongyang, on the other hand, speaks of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Kim also includes the dismantling of the American nuclear protection shield for the entire East Asian region. The contrasts between Pyongyang and Washington are so great that there is no hope for a solution to the conflict. After the meeting of the North Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee, it is only a matter of time before North Korea will present a new strategic weapon and challenge the United States.