Another challenge to rapid denuclearization is the task of dismantling or removing North Korea’s nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities. While removal of nuclear weapons and fissile materials from North Korea for subsequent dismantling of the weapons and disposition of the fissile materials could be accomplished relatively quickly, the disablement, dismantlement, or conversion of nuclear weapons-related facilities to peaceful uses would take much longer. A recent report published by Stanford University estimates that complete denuclearization could take 10-15 years to accomplish.
But the inability to do the job in a couple of years is not the only obstacle to rapid denuclearization. More fundamentally, North Korea has made clear that it is firmly opposed to the Libya model—and not just to what happened to Gadhafi, but also to the idea of eliminating its nuclear program quickly.
In a May 16 statement, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan ridiculed the idea of applying the Libya model to his country. He said, “It is absolutely absurd to dare to compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial state of nuclear development,” and he denounced the “formula of ‘abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterwards.’”
At this point, the administration’s allegiance to rapid denuclearization along the lines of the Libya model is uncertain. Asked at a May 22 meeting with President Moon whether denuclearization should be all-in-one or incremental with incentives along the way, Trump replied that, while it would be better if it were all-in-one, there are “some physical reasons” why North Korea “may not be able to do exactly that.”
A PHASED APPROACH TO COMPLETE DENUCLEARIZATION
An alternative to rapid and complete denuclearization is phased and complete denuclearization—that is, achieving complete denuclearization but on a more prolonged, step-by-step basis, with compensation to North Korea at each step along the way. A phased approach could, for example:
● start with measures that would be easiest for Pyongyang to accept and relatively easy to verify (e.g., ban on testing nuclear weapons and flight-testing long-range missiles, suspension and monitoring of nuclear activities at the known Yongbyon nuclear complex, ban on exports of nuclear and missile technology);
● proceed to more comprehensive, strategically meaningful, and harder-to-verify measures(e.g., declaration of all activities and facilities anywhere in the DPRK associated with the production of fissile materials and accountable missiles, verification of that declaration; termination of those activities, disablement/decommissioning of those facilities);