Don't Be Sold on Trump's Meeting With North Korea

By: Adrian Norman

Recently, the world was stunned when we saw an announcement from South Korea that the North was open to direct dialogue with the United States and that Kim Jong Un wanted to meet directly with President Trump to discuss the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

For years we have witnessed defiance from North Korea, as they have proceeded with aggressive development of their nuclear arms program. The Clinton administration provided them with much of the necessary technology. The Bush and Obama administrations did nothing to try and curb the ability of the North from advancing its nuclear aims under the questionable, but generally accepted doctrine of "strategic patience." This idea was nothing more than inaction, essentially running out the shot clock until the North found a way to successfully deliver a nuke anywhere in the world.

Then came President Donald Trump.

To describe the relationship between the United States and North Korea as tenuous, since the inauguration of President Trump, could easily be the understatement of the year. The two most senior leaders of these countries traded jabs on a global stage with threats to annihilate one another and postured in what many outside observers considered a dangerous game of nuclear chicken.

Some viewed the President's seemingly harsh approach as a detriment to future peace talks, while others believed that such sharp, direct messaging would be the only thing to which Kim Jong Un would respond. It seems that the tough talk (and an unprecedented three U.S. aircraft carriers sitting near the coast of North Korea) seemed to be the catalyst that helped break the stalemate.

But, while this is an exceptional development, it's still far too early to know if this is a true win for the Trump administration or if this is part of a North Korean plan to buy more time.

In the book An American Spy Inside North Korea: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Operations Above the 38th Parallel, author and American spy Theodore Schweitzer writes about his experiences as the only real American spy that successfully penetrated the DPRK. He made it into the country 12 separate times and gained access to North Korean military officials.

He writes that the mindset of people residing on the Korean Peninsula and in Asia are different from the mindsets of Americans, in that they plan much further out in calculations for achieving objectives. In one example, he states that their thinking is "50 to 100 years for short-term, 200 to 400 years for mid-term, and up to 1000 years for long-term planning."

By contrast, in the U.S., it often feels like our leaders can barely think through the span of just a single administration, when imagining consequences of foreign intervention.

Within this framework, it is easy to imagine a scenario whereby North Korea simply has to appear to freeze it's nuclear program for the remaining 3-7 years of Trump's presidency. Many observers in the West see this talk of a face-to-face meeting as a major concession, but if the North Koreans are even thinking just within their own definition of short-term (50 - 100 years) a time-frame of 3-7 years is barely a blip on the radar.

A meeting between the two leaders is a favorable solution, because everyone gets what they want -- the world doesn't get nuked, Trump gets credit for halting the North's nuclear program, as well as a possible Nobel Peace Prize and Kim Jong Un gets to brag to his people that he got the US to enter into direct talks with their nation, legitimizing their nation on the global stage.

But, for the North Korean officials, the meeting could simply be a small modification to long-term strategic planning objectives.

North Korea has been in a perpetual state of war planning for decades. To get an idea of how advanced North Korean preparations for war are, consider the following alarming facts from Schweitzer's book:

  • The KPA intends to totally and completely destroy Seoul and everything therein and they simply don't believe that any U.S. President will order a nuclear attack designed to kill five to ten million North Korean soldiers already in the South.
  • If the U.S. does try to use nuclear weapons in Korea to stop the invasion, the DPRK will have provocation to counter-attack the U.S. Mainland with a nuclear strike of their own. The U.S. will have fallen into the DPRK trap of getting the U.S. to use nuclear weapons first on the Korean Fatherland, and then the world, especially the Third World Alliance, will support the DPRK for its counterstrike on the U.S. Mainland.
  • Everyone in Pyongyang has been required to have an Emergency Kit in his or her home and maintain it constantly.
  • It is estimated that more than five million men and women are available to fight with another five million men and women in uniform as support troops.
  • The KPA has orders to destroy every building in Seoul, kill every man in Seoul and rape every woman in Seoul.

Long-term planning by North Korea strongly suggests elaborate plans to re-unify North and South Korea by attacking Seoul and forcing the South to surrender to the North. So, would the North completely abandon such an elaborate program they have had in the works for decades, simply because of a few tweets?

Threatening behavior from the North toward the South and toward the U.S. stems from the fact that they have a countdown to a day where they will finally (and credibly) threaten the U.S. with nuclear attack. According to Schweitzer, the messaging and belligerence we see from North Korea is very much calculated and the world should be on the lookout for when their threats and statements "take on a much more specific nature." It will be at this point that their nuclear warheads are successfully miniaturized and their ICBMs fully operational.

He was told by a North Korean official, "once the mobile ICBMs are fully operational Korea will issue a statement along the following lines:"

       "The continued illegal, aggressive and hostile occupation of the Korean Peninsula by the Imperialist military forces of the United States can no longer be tolerated by the peace-loving people of Korea.
        To this end, the DPRK is hereby notifying the United States that it has thirty (30) days from the date of this notice to withdraw all military forces from the Korean Peninsula and remove all it's naval vessels from Korean territorial waters.
        If the United States fails to abide by the above orders and continues to violate the sovereignty of the Korean Peninsula, nuclear destruction will rain down upon Washington DC beginning on April 1, 2019. Continued belligerence by the Imperialist government of the United States will bring additional daily nuclear attacks, first on New York City, the Omaha, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Charlotte, Detroit, Boston, Seattle, Denver and Honolulu. The nuclear destruction will not stop until the United States makes a complete and an unconditional surrender to the DPRK."

There are several concerning things about this plan.

First, North Korea has set the date of April 2019 as the time when their nuclear program would be complete and they would activate their military to go live with nuclear attacks against the U.S.  That date is only one year away. And although it would normally be funny to point out that they chose April Fools Day as the day to threaten us with a nuclear holocaust, when examining their nuclear assets in more detail, this scenario actually becomes nightmarish.

Schweitzer says,
        "When North Korea issues the above ultimatum, its civilian population will already have been moved to the mountainous hideouts in Jagang Province and the 10,000 to 100,000 top government and military leaders will be safe in the underground military headquarters miles deep below Mt. Myohyang and far out of range of U.S. nuclear weapons. As the launch orders are given, the mobile ICBMs hidden deep in caves around Mr. [sic] Myohyang and throughout Jagang Province will be driven out, one by one, day by day, to endlessly launch their nuclear missiles at the U.S. and Japan and then return miles deep inside their impenetrable caves."
For decades the North Koreans have been creating deep, underground military facilities that cannot be hit with any known weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Additionally, at the time of his book publication, we had no way of tracking mobile missile launchers that were stored underground. So, a preemptive strike by the U.S. would not be possible.

How would the U.S. retaliate in such a scenario, where we couldn't identify any of their nukes ahead of launch and where their human, military and technological assets are already deeply buried? 

Schweitzer's intelligence reports made it all the way to the White House and were included in the daily briefings of then-President Obama (which makes it all the more shocking the policy of strategic patience was continued).  So, it is a reasonable assumption that President Trump has been privvy to such information.

But, in light of what seems like a solid plan to deliver on their threats, why would the U.S. escalate tensions and basically force the hand of the North Korean government?  What changed?

One factor is that there have been several North Korean defectors who made it alive into South Korea. It is likely that the defectors shared updated military plans with the South, who would (of course) make sure the U.S. was fully briefed.  Such disclosures would provide very specific intelligence on locations of mobile sites, locations of tunnels going into the South, locations of tunnels for mobile ICBM launchers, details of underground bunkers for leadership, timetables, actual capabilities and beyond. No doubt the DOD has this information now.

Another factor is that the U.S. has and appears more willing to use highly classified technology, if needed in this conflict. That is the true interpretation of President Trump's remarks warning of "fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen." To the informed observer, in that one statement, the President put North Korea (and the world) on notice that under his administration the U.S. would have no problem with unleashing weapons that have never been used before in the theater of war (the first preview of that being the dropping of the MOAB bomb in Afghanistan in 2017, a first of it's kind).

Finally, President Trump has introduced crippling sanctions against North Korea, which are applying an extreme amount of pressure on North Korea, forcing them to the negotiating table.

I fully support a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un (there are rumors and the President has hinted that this meeting has already taken place). Dialogue between world leaders with the goal of peace should always be considered a positive development. But, when this situation is viewed from the perspective of the North, in consideration of the personality of their leader, their penchant for strategic thinking that goes into the hundreds of years and their stadfast belief that only nuclear weapons will guarantee their survival, one must consider whether the North is actually serious about de-nuclearizing or if this is simply a slight deviation in a much larger plan.

However, if this deal works out and North Korea does verifiably end it's nuclear program, then President Donald Trump will have accomplished the impossible.

Time will tell.


  1. Very informative... makes me think they are still just playing the cat and mouse game until they perfect the technology.


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