(National Sentinel) Progress: When POTUS Donald Trump sat down briefly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June to discuss denuclearizing his country amid other guarantees of security, the general consensus among the national security commentariat was that all was for naught.
After all, North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear weapons capability for decades, and by 2107 seemed on the cusp of a major breakthrough, having tested an ICBM that many experts said was capable of striking the continental United States.
Even Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress in May 2017 that Pyongyang had no intention to denuclearize.
“North Korea is poised to conduct its first ICBM flight test in 2017 based on public comments that preparations to do so are almost complete and would serve as a milestone toward a more reliable threat to the U.S. mainland,” said congressional testimony from Coats.
“Pyongyang’s enshrinement of the possession of nuclear weapons in its constitution, while repeatedly stating that nuclear weapons are the basis for its survival, suggests that Kim does not intend to negotiate them away at any price,” he continued.
Has that dynamic changed since the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore?
The head of Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who would be in charge of launching nuclear strikes on North Korea if it came to that, thinks it may have.
As Breaking Defense reports:
“From my perspective, the belief in a potential denuclearization of North Korea has changed,” Hyten told me at a press roundtable during Strategic Command’s annual deterrence conference. “The direction that things are moving in a positive direction. I don’t think anyone can deny that.”
One of the indicators is that Kim has not launched a ballistic missile test since November 17 last year. As Hyten noted, “2017 was a whole lot busier year than 2018.” The Air Force general had to abandon his July 4 holiday, for instance, when North Korea tested its first ICBM last year and declared it “a gift for the American bastards.”
However, Hyten was careful to balance his positive message with a clear strategic message for North Korea and its sponsors, Russia and China: “The force is fully ready fully postured to deal with any threat that comes from North Korea. The missile defense capabilities in Alaska are fully prepared, California is fully prepared. And our deterrent force is on alert and fully prepared right now.”
“When you don’t launch, you don’t learn,” Hyten said.
Did POTUS Trump manage to turn a corner with North Korea, something every president before him since the Korean War has failed to do?
At least one top U.S. commander believes so.