Diplomacy isn't Zero Sum

11 June 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Trump and Kim Can Both Win at Summit


Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are retiring shortly to their respective beds just a half mile apart in Singapore. In about 12 hours, they will meet, the first time an American president and the leader of North Korea have done so. It is diplomacy at the highest level. This meeting was decided only a few weeks ago, and none of the usual preparatory discussions have happened. Mr. Trump even canceled it for a week. It has all the hallmarks of a disaster. However, there is a path to success for both sides.

This journal wishes to make clear from the start that the Kim regime is an abomination. But it is also an abomination with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Might does not make right, but might does make wrong a serious player in global politics. The replacement of the Kim regime with one similar to South Korea's would be ideal, and someday, it might happen. Isolating North Korea has not changed the regime despite lasting longer than the failed Cuban Embargo, and it will not. It is time to try something else. However, immediately liberation of the North Korean people is not possible.

That said, North Korea wins the moment the cameras photograph the two men shaking hands. North Korea has always wanted to be treated as a legitimate nation, equal to the US. Under the principle of the sovereign equality of states, this is the case anyway. However, getting the US to admit that is a major coup for Pyongyang.

The second win for Mr. Kim is the discussion of his country's nuclear deterrent. The US will, by mentioning the nuclear weapons, engage North Korea as one of the few states that has nuclear bombs. It will be talking to the US as the USSR used to. The prestige at home will be enormous.

Finally, Mr. Kim is probably going to get some kind of sanctions relief out of Mr. Trump. It may be minor, and it may be subject to numerous conditions, but that is not the point. The Kim regime is short on cash, the money it uses to bribe its elite into loyalty. So long as presents come from the leader, the leader is safe. Once he can't deliver, instability follows. A hundred million dollars is a vast sum when it comes to bribery. As for the average North Korean, he or she will never see a penny of it.

Mr. Trump, having given Mr. Kim much of what he wants just by showing up, needs to get more out of the meeting that a sense of who Mr. Kim is. Despite being a "get-to-know-you" event (which under the circumstances is better than serious negotiations hurriedly done), something beyond warm fuzzy feelings are required. The bar for an American win is much higher than that for North Korea.

Some of the concessions the US could secure include a moratorium on North Korean nuclear tests, an end to missile launches (engine testing and such is almost impossible to monitor and so is best left alone), and the return of, or an accounting for, foreigners kidnapped by North Korea in the past. The US could also work on opening up North Korea with cultural exchanges; these sound ridiculous as means of ending the nuclear threat, but in fact, getting access to the hearts and minds of North Koreans is the first step in winning the same. America's greatest exports are films, TV and music, not in dollar value but in cultural power. During the height of the 1980s political tensions, the kids in the USSR wanted chewing gum, blue jeans and rock and roll music.

If Mr. Trump wants to roll the dice on his place in history, he could suggest negotiating a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. Lower level bureaucrats would hammer out the details, and at a future summit, a signing ceremony would follow. This would have to involve China and South Korea, who were also combatants, but that is more rather than less likely to make Mr. Trump look good. The risk, of course, is that the negotiations go nowhere.

Whatever happens, Mr. Trump will hail it as the greatest deal ever made. Whatever happens after the handshake is a bonus for Mr. Kim. The question that will linger is whether this meeting was good for anyone else.

copy; 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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