North Korea will not denuclearize within the near future, Georgetown University professor and former director of Asian Affairs for the National Security Council Victor Cha said at Jan. 23 event.

Both past administrations’ as well as President Donald Trump’s administration’s primary objective to erase nuclear capability is misguided, because North Korea has little intention to alter their nuclear program, according to Cha.

GEORGETOWN SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE | Georgetown professor and former director of Asian Affairs for the National Security Council Victor Cha spoke at a Jan. 23 book talk.

“What they did in the past and what they are doing now is negotiating the future of their programs and their past, but not the present,” Cha said. “I don’t see a scenario where the North Koreans really give up all their nuclear weapons.”

Cha spoke at a book talk at the Healey Family Student Center with David Kang, an international relations and business professor at University of Southern California. The event was moderated by former Ambassador-at-Large and Georgetown Professor Robert Gallucci.

Cha and Kang elaborated on arguments made in the recently released second edition of the book they co-authored in 2003, “Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies.”

Cha, a professor in the School of Foreign Service, was a candidate for the ambassador to South Korea under the Trump administration, but was dropped from consideration following his public criticism of Trump’s policy toward North Korea.

Kang serves as the Director of University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute. Kang has written extensively on the issue of Korean affairs, including an op-ed in The New York Times arguing the United States should not underestimate the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Even a nuclear North Korea is unlikely to present a real threat to the United States because the United States vastly outmatches the regime, Kang said.

“Almost for sure, the conclusion is if we attack, no matter what the response, the response will be the end of the regime,” Kang said of a hypothetical North Korea’s decision to strike the United States. “It is hard for me to imagine or that a North Korean could imagine that he could get away with it and survive. So I think deterrence is quite robust. It is not likely that North Korea says two to one chance and lets roll the dice on this.”

Tensions rose between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in fall 2017 as the totalitarian regime demonstrated its unprecedented capabilities through nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Trump met with Kim in June 2018, at which point Trump said he had reached an agreement with the leader that included removing all nuclear weapons from the peninsula.

“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a joint statement by Kim and Trump said.

“When Kim Jong Un said in Singapore that he was for denuclearization, it’s like the world saying that someday we want to go to zero nuclear weapons,” Cha said. “It would be nice, but it’s not going to happen.”

Kim and Trump are set to meet by the end of Feb. in a second summit, according to a White House statement Jan. 18. South Korean leader Moon Jae-in announced his support for a second meeting in a press conference in early January.

The United States has not learned from its failed strategy towards North Korea, and instead should approach the country through small steps engaging the country in discussions, Kang said.

“I have been amazed and appalled at the collective consensus in Washington that is skeptical toward the negotiations with North Korea,” Kang said. ”I’m proud of this book, but it’s also a tragedy it’s still relevant.”

Attempting to denuclearize through international conferences may bring about more instability in the region, Cha said.

“There’s a difference between living with the vulnerability as you continue to try to denuclearize versus living with the vulnerability as an accepted outcome of a series of summit meetings where we say this is the best we can do,” Cha said. “I think the latter case raises lots of questions about the form of deterrence, because in the former case, people are working to try to address the vulnerability.”

As for the future of the divided peninsula, Cha cast doubt on whether Korean unification between the current regime and the South may ever occur.

“Unification is certainly part of the aspirational move, but whether it’s a practical reality anymore that they actually can achieve, probably not,” Cha said.

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