CAN AMERICA KEEP TO “LIBYA MODEL” TO DENUCLEARIZE NORTH KOREA?
With the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore only three weeks or so away, the North Korean dictator is again conducting diplomacy utilizing threats and intimidation.
Should Trump fall for this strategy, which Pyongyang has in the past proven good at, he is bound to make the same mistakes as the Bush and Obama administrations.
At this juncture, two things are critical: 1) America must adhere to the “Libya model” to denuclearize the North as advocated by John Bolton, Trump’s newly appointed hawkish national security advisor; and 2) Trump should heed the warning from his close Pacific friend, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that should he misjudge when to lift the international economic sanctions, his summit with Kim will result in a devastating failure.
An intimidating message came from Pyongyang this week, apparently timed with the high-level trade consultations the US and China held twice this month—May 3-4 in Beijing and May 14-19 in Washington. On May 16, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan warned that North Korea would scrap the first US-North Korea summit if the US unilaterally keeps insisting that the North give up its nuclear program. Kim mentioned Bolton by name, saying: “We are familiar with Bolton and will not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him.” Bolton, who is pushing for the “Libya model” in achieving North Korean denuclearization, is positioned as the most hawkish of the hard-liners on North Korea within the Trump administration.
On the following day, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: “North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else as though nothing happened.”
“If the meeting happens, it happens,” Trump continued. “And if it doesn’t, we go on to the next step…We may have the meeting. We may not have the meeting. If we don’t have it, that will be very interesting. We’ll see what happens.” Reassuring Kim he would remain in power if he abandons his nuclear weapons program, Trump warned that North Korea could be “decimated” if no deal is made between Washington and Pyongyang.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders quoted Trump as stating that the US is “not pursuing the ‘Libya model’” in getting Kim to give up his nuclear weapons program. “This is the President Trump model,” Sanders stressed, adding: “He’s going to run this the way he sees fit.”
The critical point one should not overlook here is that Trump appears to be incapable of coming to grips with what exactly Bolton meant by the “Libya model.” Noting that the Libya model “isn’t a model that we have in mind at all when we’re thinking of North Korea,” Trump said:
“There was no deal to keep Gaddafi. The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong-un, something where he would be there, he’d be running his country, his country would be very rich. He will get protections that are very strong.”
Negative Impact on Future Japan-North Korea Talks
Trump also said “(the Libya model) was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him.” But the important thing to remember is that Gaddafi was not murdered because he had relinquished his nuclear program. On the contrary, giving up his nuclear weapons saved his neck—for eight years until 2011, when he was brutally killed by Libyans who joined the Arab Spring protests.
Here is another critical point. A lack of correct understanding of the Libyan model on the part of all parties concerned will negatively affect the US-North Korea summit, as well as the Japan-North Korea talks which are expected to take place eventually.
On December 3, 2003, US forces found deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain hiding in a hole under a farm house in Tikrit, northern Iraq. Footage of his capture horrified Gaddafi. Three days later, he informed Washington via London that he had decided to terminate his entire nuclear program.
The US and Britain immediately dispatched CIA and MI6 experts to Libya, and all of the country’s secret strongholds, including nuclear development facilities, were revealed. In January 2004, US Air Force aircraft flew to Tripoli to transfer enriched uranium and missile control units to the US. In March, the US Navy dispatched a fleet of warships to remove all of the remaining equipment used for Gaddafi’s nuclear development scheme, including centrifuges, to the US.
Only when the operation ended after three months did the US offer relief to Libya in return. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Tripoli were normalized in May 2006. Gaddafi was killed by angry Libyans eight years later, on October 2011, but his death had nothing to do with his denuclearization decision.
The direct reason for his squalid death was the demonstrations by angry citizens spurred by the “Arab Spring” democratization movement that raged across the Middle East starting in 2010. Libyans finally rose against decades of despotic rule by the Gaddafi family. One of the dictator’s sons was also murdered. This was in October 2011.
Some quarters in Japan believe Gaddafi’s death is closely linked with the “Libya model,” which Bolton advocates today for North Korea. In point of fact, they have nothing to do with each other.
Trump’s remarks introduced earlier show that he has failed to understand this crucial point.
As long as he fails to understand this, he will probably continue stating that the US is not after a “regime change” in the North and, therefore, will not resort to the “Libya model” in pursuing a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization. This inevitably will lead to a new model which entitles the North to a “phased denuclearization” with “commensurate economic assistance in stages.”
This is exactly the format North Korea and China have had in mind from the outset and will push the summit right back at the starting point. America’s likely failure in its first summit with North Korea would mean that the Japanese abductee issue, about which Trump has spoken compassionately on Japan’s behalf, would not be resolved. That is why it is vitally important at this juncture to have the two leaders—first Trump and then Kim—realize the absence of any direct relationship between the Libya model employed to disarm Libya in 2003 and the death of Gaddafi in 2011.
Differences between Bolton and Pompeo over North Korea
National security advisor Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are in charge of America’s North Korean policy. There are small but clearly discernible differences in their approaches towards the reclusive kingdom.
Pompeo, who flew back to Washington with three America hostages from his second visit to Pyongyang this year on May 29, said on Fox News three days later: “If Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people.” It is extremely premature for Pompeo to refer to a possible lifting of international sanctions against North Korea when it has yet to show any sign of concrete action.
On the same day, Bolton made remarks on CNN’s State of the Union program markedly contrasting Pompeo’s: “(The US is after) a full denuclearization—complete, verifiable, and irreversible…I think we need to look at their chemical and biological weapons programs as well…other issues, the Japanese abductees, South Korean citizens who were kidnapped…(must be resolved).”
From past experience, it is obvious that Pompeo’s policy likely will fail. Meanwhile, Bolton’s embraces the possibility of success of the Trump-Kim summit.
“A big change happened to North Korea after Kim’s second summit with Xi,” Trump was quoted as remarking. “It could very well be that he (Xi) is influencing Kim Jong-un.” Trump is quite right about that.
The sudden shift of Kim’s regime to a harsher tone this week overlapped the US-China trade consultations held twice earlier this month. Unquestionably, China must have tried to use North Korea as a bargaining chip. Against this backdrop, Trump allegedly boasted that no American president has put a stronger trade pressure on China than himself.
Trump apparently prides himself on forging ahead with the tough measures against China, demanding that the world’s second largest economy reduce its trade imbalance with America by US$200 billion within a year, warning that China will otherwise face a dramatic increase in punishing tariffs. Obviously, Trump is poised to counter pressure with pressure, power with power. Without these tough measures, he knows neither Beijing nor Pyongyang will budge. One can say for sure that Trump’s diplomacy has so far made headway because he has refused to waver.
However, his diplomacy embraces certain risks, as can be seen from his misunderstanding about the Libya model. In this regard, I feel prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ideally positioned to play a part in helping Trump juggle these risks as his trusted friend.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 804 in the March 31, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)