On Monday, new satellite images showed that North Korea has continued to upgrade its ballistic missile program at 16 secret facilities. As The Daily Beast reports, “The development suggests North Korea’s promise to shut down one major test site was an attempted deception.” The Center for Strategic and International Studies states, “North Korea’s decommissioning of the Sohae satellite launch facility, while gaining much media attention, obscures the military threat to U.S. forces and South Korea from this and other undeclared ballistic missile bases.”
In all likelihood, this finding relates to the United States’ recent decision to pull out of a high-level negotiation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol last week.
None of this is any shock, of course. North Korea has relied on deception with regard to the West for decades, lying to Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump about their intentions to disarm. But North Korea’s regime has no intentions of disarming. In fact, thanks to President Trump’s much-ballyhooed summit with Kim Jung Un, the North Koreans have an even larger stake in maintaining their nuclear and missile programs: they know that those programs are all that stand between them and the possibility of a coup attempt by allies of the West. It was North Korea’s nuclear program that earned them a seat at the big boy table with the United States in the first place.
This was always the danger of Trump’s strategy with regard to North Korea. As I stated at the time, making nice with the world’s worst dictator – praising him as a reformer, painting him as a moderate, talking about his strength – has serious consequences for forces inside and outside North Korea attempting to work against the regime. Trump legitimized the regime.
Now, Trump’s fans suggested that he had no other choice, and that he had lost nothing by playing kissy-face with the slavemaster of 25 million human beings. But that’s obviously untrue. He strengthened the perception within North Korea that the Kim regime will remain in power for the foreseeable future, while underscoring America’s positional weakness in the region. None of that was necessary.
It’s still too early to say, of course, that Trump’s North Korean gambit was a complete failure. Perhaps he has another trick up his sleeve. But the most likely scenario is that the United States was played again by the North Korean regime, which will remain in power and continue to develop its military capacity.