In North Korea’s past no indication, South Korea adviser; The Past is Prologue, I wrote, paraphrasing Shakespeare, “The past is prologue to the future.”
Nothing has transpired to change this. My estimate, which coincides with the CIA estimate, is given in the closing sentences of Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible.
I try to steer clear of domestic politics. But in predicting the outcome of a one-on-one between two negotiators, a characteristic of the current president is relevant. In his mind, achievements are fungible — “If we can’t do this, we’ll do that.” A fungible commodity is something that, lacking individual characteristics, is interchangeable. Pork bellies, or any other object of futures speculation, are fungible commodities. Money itself is fungible; a dollar is the same as any other dollar, provided it isn’t so ratty it’s rejected by the vending machine. Trump has other issues which are more important to him, which could serve as achievements fungible with Korea denuclearization.
Specialists will grade Trump on his accomplishments with North Korea. There are two methods; in comparison to his proclaimed goals, or in terms of what is actually possible. The game of politics will employ the first method. So I’ll use the second.
The pundits of open source can never be sure if there was a military option. Choke points continue to exist, notably described in Trump – Kim Summit; Tritium Choke Point. But since the first summit, Kim has dispersed his assets much in the way described by North Korea Buildout; Kim Defines the Game. Although a strike against tritium would have severe long-term effects, it would have no immediate effect on Kim’s now dispersed nuclear capability.
Trump came into office enthused about seemingly unlimited American power. Since then, he’s had an education. The calculation of nuclear terror implied by the above has had a tempering effect. A strike is unlikely unless Kim provides him with a pretext.
This is unlikely. It appears that Kim has had an education too, from his faceless Chinese mentors, who explained to him that the language of his father could, in fact, result in nuclear holocaust.
But Kim has not been educated in the way that the U.S. press, always interested in human interest stories, have suggested. During the last summit, we were inundated with handshake photos, supplied gratis to the news agencies by the event organizers. We were invited to kibitz on personal cues, body language, and moments between two individuals who seemingly bonded on some level. The euphoria, suited to a royal wedding, was just nonsensical bullshit.
It’s not the job of the press to interpret (Reuters) North Korea’s Kim: I don’t want my children to bear burden of nuclear arms – report. But the context is missing. Kim has ordered the execution of hundreds of people. Notably: (Telegraph) Kim Jong-un’s ex-lover ‘executed by firing squad’. (CNN) Kim Jong Un ‘ordered’ half brother’s killing, South Korean intelligence says. Isn’t this useful context for the reader, as he stares at handshake photos and buddy-buddy moments? The public memory is short; it’s part of the job of the press to supply the context, even to resist the euphoria of the moment.
Quoting (The Hill) Questions swirl around Trump’s North Korea summit,
“If what comes out of this meeting next week are underwhelming concessions by the North Koreans, essentially, incremental and underwhelming concessions that attempt to resell the horse that they sold three times before, you know, the operative question for the summit then becomes what is the United States going to give up in return for those underwhelming concessions,” Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told reporters.
Grading by the first method, in comparison with Trump’s original goals, Cha’s outcome would not fare well with the pundits. But if the North Korea nuke question is captive to the fates, does it matter if Trump tries to smooth over the inconvenient fact?
I take the liberty to suggest a way forward. The limits of the bilateral approach have become evident. The CIA estimate and my concurring opinion, that Kim is inseparable from his nukes, remain valid. But there may exist an alternative approach, which, if nothing else, assures that everything ethical has been done for the problem.
- Kim admits the IAEA into North Korea, with freedom to go anywhere, including the undeclared sites.
- Upon completion of the inventory, at our sole determination that the inventory is complete, very selective, term limited sanctions relief is provided and extended in return for compliance with a destruction schedule monitored by the IAEA.
- Simultaneous with completion of the inventory process, a non-aggression clause is added to the Korean Armistice Agreement, durable as long as the IAEA certifies progressive compliance with the destruction protocol. This clause converts automatically into a full peace treaty upon certification by the IAEA that the de-nuking process has completed.
Till now, this has been impossible for two reasons: our refusal to accept the odious nature of the North Korean regime, and the choices of the regime itself. The first reason is now void.
Do I believe this is possible? I am not optimistic. Nothing about the nature of the North Korean regime suggests that it would work. You could say it’s a trap, and it probably is.
You got another idea?