The U.S. should increase sanctions on North Korea following the lack of agreement at the recent Hanoi summit, General Vincent Brooks, former commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said at a Stanford University event on Friday.
But while doing so, Washington should develop an international economic plan that goes well beyond the scope of only inter-Korean exchange, to show North Korea there’s “serious potential for them if they move towards denuclearization”.
“The cost of achieving economic development has to go up as a result of Hanoi,” Brooks said, having proposed that Kim Jong Un’s participation in the second U.S.-DPRK summit showed he may value “economic development more than nuclear weapons”.
While in 2016 it was clear that Kim would like “to have both” – referencing North Korea’s then dual-track plan to pursue the development of nuclear weapons and economy simultaneously – Brooks said the DPRK leader was now in the position of having to ask: “which one should I keep?”.
But Brooks said any increase in sanctions should occur simultaneous to an ongoing pursuit of engagement with the North, because the “potential for misunderstanding is so great.”
“The U.S. should recognize it has a strong position,” he said, but should “make clear that dialogue should continue”.
Providing an in-depth assessment on ongoing diplomacy between the two countries, Brooks provided multiple observations on his view of the failure of the Hanoi summit.
A lesson was that “Chairman Kim Jong Un is not agile under pressure,” Brooks said of his first impression from the manner that talks collapsed.
“He was perhaps surprised at the way things turned out during the summit, but he was unable to maneuver.”
And that’s something which may be a “disadvantage for him,” Brooks said, “but (could be) an opportunity for those around him.”
Brooks said the failure of Hanoi also showed a poor North Korean understanding of Trump’s position.
“It is my belief that Kim Jong Un underestimated President Trump and over-estimated what he perceived as Trump being in a desperate situation.”
As a result, the North Koreans “guessed wrong” – the U.S. was not in a desperate situation – which meant “Trump could walk away from the deal”.
Brooks also said that Kim Jong Un’s participation in Hanoi showed that Kim values “economic development” and “being the one to deliver it – more than nuclear weapons.”
And part of Kim’s interest in economic development was because the North Korean leader “does not want to rely on China for anything.”
“China already has control over 90% of North Korea’s economy (and) that’s not an impressive economy,” Brooks said.
DPRK dissatisfaction with its ongoing reliance on China may, therefore, have explained why Kim took the train to Hanoi, instead of by borrowing an Air China aircraft as during the Singapore summit.
“What kind of branding is it for Kim Jong Un to land in Asia and to step off a Chinese aircraft?” Brooks said. “This is an important takeaway”.
SOUTH KOREAN ROLE
In looking at the bigger picture, Brooks said that the past year had shown South Korea as having “demonstrated it knows how to lower tension with North Korea”.
That marked a change from past years.
“In 2016 it didn’t look like that…it looked like tensions were rising and it looked like South Korea would take some sort of pre-emptive action.”
But “South Korea under Moon Jae-in has found ways to lower tension and to create opportunities for dialogue and move things in a different direction towards diplomacy and away from military activity,” Brooks continued.
As a result, Washington would do well to “listen more to South Korea.”
Both the U.S. and ROK have “different perspectives to address a common problem and achieve a commonly accepted end.”
And in such a situation, “one of the other partners (can sometimes) be right.”
Consequently, the U.S. “should make sure it is open to the methods that South Korea has learned,” with Brooks suggesting that Washington’s global power and Seoul’s cultural understanding could make a strong combination vis-a-vis the North.
Looking forward, however, Brooks warned that Kim Jong Un “lost face during this most recent summit… (as) he didn’t come back with what he wanted (and) might even be embarrassed.”
As a result, there could soon be a “face-saving move by Kim Jong Un,” such as a missile test, “or something else, something strong or internal to North Korea.”
“He’ll do something to equalize what he perceives now as a positional disadvantage,” Brooks said.
And as a result, the U.S. should not be surprised if and when a response comes, which will happen “before there can be another step”.
Brooks provided his remarks at a public keynote speech on “Challenges and Opportunities in Korea” hosted by Stanford University’s Korea Program.
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