North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden; The End of a Road

(Reuters) North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden. Quoting,

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

This walk-out on working level talks should put the nail in the coffin of wishful thinking, heavily promoted early on by 38North, and some academicians in South Korea. In June 2018, at a  Tokyo panel discussion on North Korea, South Korea’s National Security Advisor, Moon Jae-in, said,

“Now is the time to set aside all those things. Let us see whether North Korea can deliver what the U.S. wants and the entire world wants,” Moon said….“Therefore past behavior should not be the yardstick to judge current or future behavior of North Korea.”

Bad advice, which I rebuked in North Korea’s past no indication, South Korea adviser; The Past is Prologue. These “respected authorities”, and others, failed to deliver the goods when tasked with going beyond academic compilation to the dynamic of prediction.

The media covered the summit circus with handshake photos, floral arrangements, the back seat of Trump’s limo., and a focus that made it look like a PR game. Was this a harmless diversion, or a misdirection of the public’s limited attention? Perhaps it was harmless, but one message was missing: This doesn’t mean anything.

The floral arrangements  have decayed to dust. The shallow scoring of the pundits-of-the-day, about who had better moves on the dance floor, had no relevance beyond a month of collective euphoria. We are back to vile, poisonous, hollow plutonium spheres in the hands of a man who murdered his brother. Even 38North has gone back to chronicling North Korea’s march to become a strategic nuclear power.

I would have none of it. I gave my estimate in Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible. It is identical with the CIA estimate. Quoting,

The bullet list has tight linkages, implying that the object of regime change is identical as a goal with nuclear disarmament of North Korea.

From the above, you might think I’m a hawk. Wrong! It’s a common mental error to conflate intelligence with strategy. Let’s keep them separate here.  The fact that North Korea is a threat does not imply a military solution. The problem of North Korea is  no more or less solvable than the problem of Iran.

In the next two paragraphs, I’ll lay out why betting on horses is a surer enterprise than wars of prevention.

World War I was the “war to end wars.”  The end to war didn’t happen, so the next time war threatened, in 1938, then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to buy peace with Hitler at the expense of Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement. That didn’t work either. While  the Korean War was forced upon us, the Domino Theory from the 50’s on fostered another preventive war, in Vietnam.

The Gulf War of 1991, an unqualified military victory, was questioned as a success, since it left in power a ruthless dictator. The follow-up corrective, the 2003 Iraq Invasion, may have been justified. But  the civil decisions that ensued are the direct cause of an Iraq which cannot resist Iran’s expansionism. Viewed as one conflict, these military actions failed the geopolitical goals.

So up to the present, with all the supposed wisdom immanent the think tanks and NSC, one thing is elusive. Paraphrasing Liddell Hart, how can war create a better peace?

If I were to pick the brain of General Mattis, he might be thinking: Instead of looking for the next war, let it find you. So where does this leave the Trump Administration?

  • John Bolton’s opinion, in common with the CIA, and my opinion, is that Kim will never give up nuclear weapons. But because his office was in the White House, and understood by outsiders to be intimately connected with the Presidency, he should have been discrete with that opinion. And Bolton does not seem to have internalized the history of wars of prevention.
  • Trump, in common with FDR’s approach to Joseph Stalin at Yalta,  attempted to establish a personal relationship with Kim. This doesn’t work, because Stalin and Kim were/are not regular guys. They’re out for themselves. Since we cut FDR some slack, we could do the same for Trump.
  • So in view of the difficult alternatives, do I blame Trump for cozying up to Kim? It depends, not upon his public attitude, but what he really believes.  Schmoozing is what you do with someone you need to work with but don’t really like.
  • The CIA got this right from the get-go. Nevertheless, our culture makes negotiation obligatory before conflict.

Schmoozing is OK. Believing is not.

 

 

 

 

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