Good morning. Here’s your Early Warning for Wednesday, 07 March 2018.
Yesterday, media outlets reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is willing to suspend nuclear weapons tests if the U.S. and South Korea can ensure the survival of his regime. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats reported his cautiousness, saying he remained “skeptical” about the news. [source] In a Congressional hearing yesterday, Coats said that he “seriously doubted” that this was going to be a “major breakthrough” in negotiations with North Korea, but that “hope springs eternal”. [source] Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that “All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization”.
Analyst Comment: In a best case scenario, involvement in the Winter Olympics and exposure to the outside world may have done wonders for North Korea’s disposition. In a more likely scenario — if history is any indication — North Korea may be vying for concessions like humanitarian aid, sanctions relief, and other benefits by offering to come to the table. North Korea has a history of ramping up tensions and then striking deals in return for backing off nuclear development. It doesn’t sound like U.S. negotiators will allow that to happen again, although the pressure to treat Kim Jong-un, an adult dictator, with kid gloves will certainly be present. South Korea has long held that their “sunshine strategy” will work, given enough time. That strategy is a throwback to one of Aesop’s Fables, in which the Sun and the Wind are competing to see if they can make a man take off his jacket. The Wind blows, trying to rip and tear the jacket off the man, but is unsuccessful. Then the Sun comes out and shines so brightly that the man gets hot and finally takes his jacket off. The White House is taking credit, and reasonably so, for forcing North Korea to the table. In previous weeks, our Strategic Threats Analyst Jon Dougherty has reported that Kim Jong-un believes the Trump administration will go to war with North Korea, and so the threat of force — which means certain destruction of the regime — is less preferable than negotiating, especially in the light of the South Korea’s warm sun. We’ll keep an eye on the development and breathe a sigh of relief if the risk of war decreases due to successful negotiations… but we’re not holding our breath.