Don't Act Surprised

16 May 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

North Korea Backs Out of Talks with South, US Summit at Risk

North Korea abruptly canceled talks with South Korea yesterday after the US and the South went ahead with military exercises. The fact that Pyongyang had already said it was OK with the exercises seems to have slipped the minds of the people running the prison country. Western analysts and the White House were aghast at the change in tone. Gone was the warm fuzzy North Korea that hands back hostages. Back was the spiky mean North Korea that causes no end of trouble. Anyone with a sense of history and of North Korea's worldview saw this coming.

North Korea wants a few things. First, the Kim family wants to stay in power. Second, the nuclear deterrent guarantees the survival of the regime, so the deterrent isn't going away. Third, it wants as much economic aid and other forms of help as it can get without actually sacrificing the first two goals. Fourth, it wants to be seen on the world stage as a nuclear power enjoying equal standing with the US.

The American goal of denuclearizing the peninsula means two different things in two different capitol cities. In Washington, it means an end to the nuclear arsenal that North Korea has assembled and an end to the threat it poses to the US. In Pyongyang, denuclearization goes much farther. Evans J.R. Revere, who directed Korean policy at the State Department while Bush the Elder was president, told the Washington Post, "The goal is to change the subject from what the U.S. wants to talk about -- denuclearization -- to Pyongyang's preferred focus: U.S. military exercises, the U.S. 'threat' and by extension the U.S.-South Korea alliance." The US leaving Korea is part of their version of denuclearization.

The move has wrong-footed the White House, which has over-sold the coming summit with Mr. Kim in Singapore. Mr. Trump now looks weak if he attends because he will have to address these concerns publicly before the summit or as part of the summit agenda. If he doesn't do that, he probably doesn't get an agreement at the summit on anything at all.

Alternatively, he can bow out, and that undermines his whole argument that he could get a deal thanks to his "maximum pressure" approach to North Korea. Mr. Kim has effectively told the world that maximum pressure doesn't bother him in the least. Mr. Trump may feel he needs a deal soon, but Mr. Kim figures on being dictator for another 50 years and doesn't need to hurry.

The worst outcome for the Trump administration is if Mr. Kim decides to cancel the summit unilaterally. Having accepted the offer of a summit, the US will look like the bride stood up at the altar if the meeting doesn't occur. Again, Mr. Kim doesn't need a deal.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has said "Nuclear weapons don't make North Korea safer, they don't make it more prosperous. Anybody who has any doubt about what North Korea's like, take a look at the famous pictures of the Korean Peninsula at night. The south is lit up, you can -- you can almost draw the lines of the coast line. North Korea, you can't tell the difference between North Korea and the Yellow Sea."

What he fails to understand is that Mr. Kim is just fine with that. He is one of those people who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. Or more accurately, he prefers ruling over poor people while possessing nuclear weapons to winding up dead in a ditch like Muammar Khadafy. If he can negotiate a way to enrich his people a bit, he will. But he far prefers an arrangement where he can enrich uranium and plutonium and stay in power. North Korea may not be safer as a nuclear power, but Mr. Kim and his regime are much safer if it is.

© 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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