As if it wasn’t crystal-clear, satellite images emanating from North Korea prove once again what most Asia hands feared: Chairman Kim Jong Un has no intention of giving up his nuclear program or “denuclearizing” any time soon – and likely played President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem Senator: Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee would overturn Roe v. Wade Trump: My supporters should be called the ‘super elite’ Trump: Heitkamp will be ‘told’ to vote against any nominee to replace Kennedy MORE in Singapore.
While the pictures don’t show ICBMs flying high in the sky over Japan or depict an atomic explosion, they do show that Pyongyang is continuing to improve its nuclear infrastructure.
According to images taken on behalf of 38 North, one of the world’s leading North Korea information hubs, now led by the Washington-based Simpson Center, they indicate that “improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace.”
The images also show “modifications to the 5 MWe plutonium production reactor’s cooling system appear complete” and that “construction continues on support facilities throughout other operational areas of Yongbyon, especially at the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR).”
While the language is wonky, to say the least, it demonstrates the clearest evidence yet that the Kim regime has no intention – at least not as of now – in making tough choices to slow down its nuclear program.
Some might disagree with that statement. Many would point to Kim’s decision to suspend ICBM testing – the very weapon that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. homeland – as surely a clear sign that the North is being sincere in its promises to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.
Sadly, Kim gave up nothing in such an action, as he can continue to test many aspects of his long-range missile technology in the lab and already has been shown to have the range needed to hit America – and might even have the reentry technology for his warheads.
But, then you ask, what about Kim destroying his nuclear testing site? First, having already detonated six nuclear devices, North Korea might not need to test anymore, as several other nuclear powers tested a similar number and were able to stop there, having proved their technology could easily kill millions.
As for the supposed “demolition” of Pyongyang’s nuclear proving grounds, it seems to have been a show for the cameras, and nothing more. With no experts on hand to verify any of North Korea’s claims, as well as strong evidence that suggests that the explosive devices used were not strong enough to collapse the testing tunnels, it seems we have been had.
So where does this all leave us? At a fork in the road, as we have been many times before, when it comes to dealing with the so-called Hermit Kingdom.
The Trump administration took a gamble in meeting with Kim, knowing that the second President Trump shook Chairman Kim’s hand, many would see such an action as a legitimizing moment. And it appears what brought Kim to the table – the “maximum pressure” campaign that may have ended up bankrupting the regime – might be in serious trouble, on land and on the high seas.
Now is the time for Team Trump to push North Korea for concrete actions on its nuclear program, to ensure they will keep the promises they made in Singapore – or to determine if they lied to us from the start.
First, the administration must demand from the regime a declaration that details the size, scope and true abilities of Pyongyang’s civilian as well as military nuclear programs. This is a key point, as one cannot craft a plan to denuclearize the north unless we know how big the program is.
Next – if we even get that far – we would need to insist that North Korea work with U.S. negotiators to develop a realistic timetable to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and remove all nuclear warheads from the country. Thousands of international inspectors would be needed to catalog the program and safely remove what is likely a large amount of nuclear material.
Most important of all, such inspection and removal teams would need access to any part of Kim’s kingdom, to inspect and remove any atomic material at any time and go anywhere. Good luck trying to get one of the most closed-off societies ever agreeing to such a demand.
Unfortunately, Washington faces no good choices or policy options when it comes to North Korea. And with the administration now saying that there is no true timetable on North Korea’s denuclearization, the North will do what it always does: Stall – and build more nuclear weapons and missiles – while America sits idle. A pity.
But the question we need to ask seems clear: What happens when Trump discovers he was played by his supposed friend Kim? Your guess is as good as mine.
Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula ) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest , founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley’s defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill’s Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates Cruz: Mike Lee best choice to fill Supreme Court vacancy MORE presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies . The views voiced in this article are his own.