HUESSY: Intelligence Community’s Skepticism of Trump-Korea Summit Is Unwarranted

Peter Huessy | Mitchell Institute On Aerospace Studies

Last month, the intelligence community informed Washington of its conclusion that a denuclearization deal with North Korea (DPRK) is unlikely. That conclusion isn’t warranted by the facts. Such intelligence is not necessarily “objective” but actually relies on often unstated assumptions that in turn are themselves judgment-based.

On Jan. 31, the director of national intelligence told the Senate the DPRK would not give up its nuclear weapons in any deal, a statement made shortly before the president is set to sit down with the DPRK leader to propose the very denuclearization deal the intelligence chief said wouldn’t succeed.

Subsequently, most analysts harshly criticized the president for believing a deal with the DPRK was possible when supposedly the “objective intelligence” was clear no such deal was possible.

However, no intelligence leads automatically to such a determination, one way or the other. Any such conclusion is a judgment call based in part on available “intelligence tea leaves,” some of which is contradictory.

For example, no nuclear or missile tests have taken place by DPRK for an extended period of time. And the DPRK regime has pledged to denuclearize. On the other hand, no inventory declaration of North Korea’s nuclear systems has been forthcoming.

But importantly, is not a deal worth pursuing? After all, how are we meant to deal permanently with a “recognized” nuclear armed DPRK, if we drop any effort to seek the DPRK’s de-nuclearization?  

And what would such recognition do to our relationships with Japan and the ROK and the future outlook for the NPT? (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) If a member of the NPT can cheat and build a nuclear device, then abandon the treaty, build an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and then be internationally recognized as a nuclear power, what other rogue states (think Iran) might think, “Hey, I would like that deal as well.”

Most importantly, a new “intelligence dot subsequent to the DNI testimony were the remarks of Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for the DPRK, who on Jan. 31 said that the DPRK for the first time pledged to dismantle and destroy all “uranium and plutonium enrichment facilities.”

So what are we to believe?

First, intelligence analysts all have their own world view. But analysts should be upfront about what assumptions and biases they bring to the table.

The DPRK regime regularly asserts that its nuclear weapons are to defend itself against the United States and America’s “hostile policy.” This statement is usually taken at face value and repeated by analysts.

Does the DPRK really need nuclear weapons to defend against the United States? What if such a statement is a clever ruse?

Based on the history of U.S.-DPRK relations, one could understandably conclude there is no U.S. “hostile policy” but one of self-defense.

Since 1953, the DPRK has attacked the United States and its Pacific allies, Japan and the ROK — the hijacking of the USS Pueblo, the murder of American soldiers in the DMZ, the shelling of ROK villages, the unprovoked attacks on ROK Navy vessels, and the infamous murder of nearly the entire ROK cabinet in a terror attack in Rangoon, Burma.

After these attacks, the U.S. never retaliated with military force. In short, one could logically assert the “hostile policy” is on the part of the North against America and the ROK.  

More importantly, a contrary explanation for the DPRK’s nuclear program is plausible. Tom Reed, in his book “The Nuclear Express,” explains how China in 1981 decided to proliferate nuclear weapons technology to its allies. The Pakistani government was chosen for this task. And under a “Nukes ‘R Us” program, Pakistan supplied nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

China seeks the DPRK nukes as leverage with which to drive a wedge between the ROK and U.S. By asserting that a “hostile” U.S policy caused the DPRK to “acquire” nuclear weapons, the onus is placed on the United States for the “tensions” on the Korean peninsula. A solution? The withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the peninsula, a perennial demand of the DPRK and of China.

China assumed their nuclear diplomacy would work. What China did not count on was that an American president would use the nuclear program in the DPRK as leverage against China in seeking a markedly reformed relationship on trade, protection of intellectual property, currency manipulation, debt and China’s military aggression in the South China Sea.

In this context, the administration’s second summit with the DPRK comes into better focus, and is more reasonable than the intelligence community would have us believe.

Peter Huessy is the director for strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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