The Foreign Service Journal, October 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2019 21 the United States seeks—or should seek—and what the North Koreans might be willing to give in return. Some administration advisers demand a complete end not only to the DPRK’s nuclear program but also to its chemical and biological weapons programs and its missile programs. Others add the need to see an end to North Korea’s dire human rights record, conventional threats to its neighbors and a range of illegal activity from smuggling to counterfeiting. Still others present a more targeted agenda of incrementally rolling back North Korea’s nuclear program first before turning to the fuller range of U.S. objectives. These debates center on foreign policy toward this difficult country on issues vital to U.S. national security rather than on Pyongyang’s own strate- gic ambitions and near-term goals. In this article I zero in on a basic ques- tion: What does North Korea want? In my recent book, North Korea: What Everyone Needs to Know , I tackle this question from a variety of viewpoints that explore the country’s history, society, politics, economics and regional relations. My purpose here, however, is more limited. I focus only on what North Korea wants from the United States in rela- tion to the diplomacy underway. It is easy to impute motives to the North Koreans. Few have direct interaction with DPRK leaders, leaving analysts free to speculate on what the Kim Jong Un government seeks. However, Kim has been fairly clear on both his strategic aims and near- term diplomatic asks as a matter of public record. By evaluating what the North Koreans have said repeatedly in public to both their domestic and international audiences, as well as public comments by American officials following the summits, one can identify two broad North Korean goals: national security and specific economic relief. The North Koreans have noted that security is the country’s larger concern, but its near-term demand relates to its economy. Immediately following the most recent U.S.-DPRK summit in Hanoi, President Donald Trump told reporters that Kim Jong Un “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety.” The president’s senior officials, most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo , clarified that Kim had wanted an end to those provisions of United Nations Security Council sanctions that applied to gen- eral economic activity. The administration decided in Hanoi that North Korea’s offer related to its Yongbyon nuclear complex was insufficient to merit this level of sanctions relief. The distinction between all sanctions and the specific sanc- tions relief Kim sought, as well as the value of nuclear conces- sions focused only on Yongbyon, require some explanation. Near-term Demand: Targeted Sanctions Relief The United States has imposed sanctions on North Korea unilaterally since the country’s inception, but the U.N. Security Council sanctions that Chairman Kim referenced are much more recent. His grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was instrumental in declaring the establishment of the DPRK in 1948. Two years later, he invaded U.S.-backed South Korea, initiating the Korean War. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government did not look fondly on American companies doing business with the enemy, and North Korea’s invasion triggered sanctions through the Trading with the Enemy Act. Cold War–era politics brought the addition of sanctions related to North Korea’s status as a communist and socialist state. Its egregious human rights record and its history of state- sanctioned drug smuggling and terrorism, counterfeiting of U.S. ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/FILO