TU’s Joseph Clark talks North Korea–US relations

By Megan Bradshaw on June 12, 2018

Assistant professor shares his thoughts on North Korea’s weapons capabilities, the probability of nuclear war

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un at the Singapore summit. (photo: Getty Images)

On Monday, June 11, just after 9 a.m. local time in Singapore, United States President Donald Trump shook hands with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un at an historic denuclearization summit.

It has been a widely anticipated affair, with pundits projecting outcomes and speculating on motivations.

Joseph Clark
Joseph Clark

Joseph Clark, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, sees the summit as a first step in a potential denuclearization scenario—one filled more with theater than substance. 

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“Both leaders are after legitimacy,” he said. “For both men it is more about domestic policy than international security. Trump gets to say he’s the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader. Kim Jong Un has now had photo ops with South Korea and a sitting U.S. president—both events help him continue to solidify his power and position domestically since taking over from his father.

“It’s not about the rest of the world,” Clark continued. “It’s about Kim Jong Un being able to say, ‘I did this and delivered on what my family could not.’” 

The summit comes almost a year after North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that flew 578 miles and alarmed the international community.

“Missile proliferation is always concerning,” Clark said. “But that launch had more of a psychological shock value than anything else. To be honest, the United States’ ICBMs only operate perfectly about 85 percent of the time. North Korea is at about three percent.” 

Clark does not believe the U.S. and North Korea are headed for nuclear war.

“First, North Korea’s ICBMs with nuclear payloads are liquid-fuel and require hours-long assembly processes that leave them exposed to surveillance. By then, the U.S. or its allies would have detected and destroyed them.

“There’s no utility in it either. Both sides know how it would end if North Korea managed to build and launch a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S. The damage in that locality would be devastating, but our response would obliterate all of North Korea.”