Introduction: In 2009, government officials in the United States and South Korea took a step closer to publicly acknowledging the intransigent nature of the Kim family regime that rules the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea). The regime alternates between a hard line, which is conducted by canceling agreements, issuing threats, and withdrawing from dialogue, and a softer line in which officials agree to resume dialogue—at the price of requiring their interlocutors to modify previous demands and offer additional rewards. By using this elementary negotiating strategy and playing upon the exaggerated hopes and fears of the international community, North Korea is able to control the direction and pace of negotiations. The abstracts for the past two North Korea year-end articles in this journal illustrate this strategy. In 2007, the opening words were, “The year 2007 witnessed a gradual rapprochement between North Korea and the world” and for the following year, “In 2008, North-South relations worsened.”
In the first seven months of 2009, North Korea continued to take a hard line with South Korea and adopted a hard line toward the rest of the international community as well. Then in the latter part of the year, the North Koreans embarked on a charm offensive. Members of the news media with an optimistic nature and a short memory hailed this warming trend; however, political realists were not fooled, and diplomats in South Korea and the U.S. vowed they would not be taken in again by this strategy. South Korea’s unification minister, Hyun In-taek, said, “I don’t see the North’s moves as a sign they have altered their stance.” The U.S. point person on North Korean affairs, Stephen Bosworth, agreed, saying, “I don’t think there’s been any fundamental change.” Indeed, North Korea’s song remains the same, and everyone is finally learning the tune.
I think probably that the lesson that [Kim Jong Un is] learning is that he doesn’t have to give up anything and yet people will be scrambling for summits with him. ... The longer we have these drawn-out talks, these summits, bilaterals, trilaterals, quadrilaterals, the more it buys time for them to reinforce their claimed status [as a nuclear power] but also to continue with their R&D. But I do think that there is an element of trying to mitigate the sanctions, and also Kim took all those discussions about military strikes seriously enough to try and take the wind out of the sails. ... I find it difficult to envision how or why he would give up his nuclear weapons, which have pretty much given him what he’s wanted: which is the strategic relevance, the international prestige, and deterrence.
[Regarding President Trump's shift from enthusiasm to uncertainty over the U.S.-North Korea summit] In effect, President Trump is getting a mini-lesson in talking to the North Koreans even before he talks to the North Koreans.
[Kim Jong Un] did not engage diplomatically at all in those first seven years [as the leader of North Korea], probably because he didn’t want to hear the Chinese nagging him about advancing these weapons. And also he wasn’t going to start bargaining or negotiating them away. ... Kim has done a pivot where he’s doing a maximum engagement.