According to CNN, Trump has told his advisers that he doesn’t want to see Kim anymore, no matter how beautiful past letters may have been. That seems to suit Kim very well: For months now, the only messages he’s been directing toward Trump have been those calling him a dotard, or have been in the form of missiles, and more missiles, and also missiles.
For over a year, as North Korea simply returned to full-time work on its ballistic missile program, Trump has been making up excuses for why the latest launch out of Kim’s private kingdom wasn’t a violation of the supposed agreement with the United States. And Trump has had to wave these events away a lot. In 2019 alone, North Korean conducted at least 10 missile launches, many of them involving the firing of multiple devices. That included a submarine-launched ballistic missile that landed near Japan, missiles capable of changing course in flight, and a new class of medium-range ballistic missiles. The tests continued through the fall, even as North Korea was simultaneously saying that it wanted to resume nuclear talks and issuing fresh threats.
But of course, the truth is that there never was an agreement between North Korea and the United States for anything more than some publicity events. The so-called treaties that Trump touted were little more than agreements that it sure was good to get together, and no matter how many times Trump said that North Korea had agreed to denuclearization, Kim never agreed to any such thing.
There was never an agreement on inspections. Never an agreement on limitations. Certainly not an agreement to remove even one weapon from North Korea’s growing arsenal.
All through the period in which Trump and Kim were talking, and coins were getting stamped out for folks who felt a red hat wasn’t enough to demonstrate their loyalty, North Korea continued to design new weapons and add to its collection of nuclear weapons. In fact, starting with what was likely a single-digit number of bombs when Kim and Trump first met, it’s now estimated that North Korea has at least 25-30 warheads, and quite possibly more.
What Trump has accomplished, in both his meetings and his praise for Kim, has been to make what had been an isolated, shunned regime seem more mainstream and approachable. It’s no coincidence that Trump’s first visit with Kim was followed by meetings for Kim in China and Russia. There has been renewed interest in North Korea on an economic front—and not just from Trump speculating on beachfront property—which has made it much more difficult to maintain economic sanctions against the dictatorship.
As CBS News notes, the latest report from the United Nations makes it clear that North Korea is simply winning against those who are attempting to isolate its economy or defang its military. Improved missiles, more warheads, and greater evasion of sanctions are all there. And all owe a debt to Trump’s series of summits with and frequent praise for a murderous authoritarian ruler.
With the breach between Trump and Kim becoming more official, North Korea can be expected to return to a posture of threat, launching a new generation of longer-range, more accurate missiles to demonstrate its ability to deliver one of its nuclear weapons not just to Seoul, but to targets that Americans hold at higher value. Such as, for example, America.
Trump has continued to point to a halt in North Korean nuclear tests as a sign that his policies toward Kim have had positive results. However, there are two much better reasons that Pyongyang stopped giving the world an occasional shake. First, there was an incident in September 2017 in which much of the underground testing facility was either destroyed or made unusable. Second … Kim knows his bombs work. Starting with what may well have been a “squib” (a near failure) producing an approximately 1 kiloton explosion in 2006, North Korea has conducted six tests. The last of these produced something over 80 kilotons—about four times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—from what Kim claimed was a fusion device. He was almost certainly lying about the nature of the device. But the power was real.
As for Trump, he seems to have run out of steam in pursuing a deal with Kim and sees his time between now and the 2020 election as too precious to waste on something like nuclear security. After all, he can always make false claims about Iran if he wants to pretend he’s made progress. Kim is having such an easy time getting around sanctions that unless Trump offers a deal that’s incredibly favorable to North Korea, he doesn’t see why he should give up anything.
So North Korea will go forward with more warheads, more missiles, better versions of both, and improved access to world markets. But hang on to those coins. They’re sure to be a curiosity one of these days.