Negotiating from Strength

9 March 2018

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

US and North Korea Summit to Happen "by May"

Last evening, a flurry of news came out of Washington regarding relations with both Koreas. The South Korean government sent its national security adviser Chung Eui-yong to the White House to brief the Trump administration on his recent visit to Pyongyang. He delivered a letter from North Korean President Kim Jong-un to US President Donald Trump suggesting a summit between the two. Mr. Trump agreed, and Mr. Chung announced the acceptance of the suggestion outside the White House. South Korea now is the mediator between North Korea and the US, and Mr. Kim is about to discover that the "Art of the Deal" works to his benefit.

Mr. Chung stated that the time and place of the summit had yet to be decided, but he did say the meeting would be "by May." That doesn't give the diplomats much time to arrange things. Usually, a summit is the culmination of lots of negotiations that have been settled at lower levels. The heads of government are then guided by their "sherpas" through the meeting. One wonders just how the sherpas are going to get things arranged in time.

Mr. Kim put a lot on the table that may appeal to Seoul and Washington. In addition to a face-to-face meeting, he stated that North Korea favored denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Kim also undertook to halt all nuclear and missile tests during the negotiations, he said he would not object to the joint US-South Korean military drills that are scheduled for next month. He acknowledged that they "must continue."

Washington is spinning this as a tribute to Mr. Trump's toughness and is underlining the effectiveness of the economic sanctions. There is no doubt Mr. Trump has acted in an abrasive and abusive way, calling the leader of North Korea "Little Rocket Man." However, being called a "dotard" in return is hardly evidence that Mr. Kim feels intimidated. As for the sanctions, they do hurt, and North Korea would like to be rid of them. However, life for the elite in that nation goes on anyway. Economic sanctions alone do not work.

A better interpretation starts from the premise that the sanctions do hurt, but the North Koreans are not negotiating from weakness but rather from strength. They have tested their weapons and missiles, and they know they work. Freezing the tests now is cost-free. North Korea can hit the West Coast of the US, if not farther inland, with a nuclear weapon, so that mission is accomplished.

Having created a nuclear ballistic arsenal, Mr. Kim is secure on his throne. He need not fear regime change a la Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Moammar Khadafy in Libya. He can spend the next fifty years running a prison kingdom free from fear of attack by outsiders. Deterrence works.

His offer of denuclearization is almost certainly disingenuous. He has no intention of getting rid of his nukes, but he knows that's what the Americans want. By offering it, he gets them to the table, where he will be seen negotiating as an equal with Mr. Trump. If there is no agreement, Mr. Kim already will have won that point. Moreover, a complete end to nuclear weapons in both Koreas may not happen, but what could Mr. Kim get in exchange for freezing his arsenal at current levels?

Mr. Trump's modus operandi in business, and it seems in politics, is to get a deal regardless of the cost. Any deal at all will suffice. As Timothy L. O'Brien wrote in 2016 for Bloomberg, "Fueled by a slew of bank loans in the late 1980s, Trump absorbed an airline, a football team, a landmark hotel, a bunch of casinos, a yacht, and other nifty stuff -- almost all of which he eventually lost because he couldn't juggle the debt payments." Mr. Trump can make the deal, but he can't implement it.

The summit itself is a positive development, but Mr. Trump has it within his power to make a hash of it.

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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