Thursday, May 3, 2018

On Negotiations In Korea

Let me say that if Donald Trump is able to finalize a serious agreement in Korea that brings an official end to the war there as well as establishing some kind of peaceful settlement in general that leads to some sort of mutually acceptable arrangement between the two Koreas that maintains a peaceful situation for some reasonably lengthy time into the future, pretty much irrespective of the exact details, I shall applaud.  I shall not even hold my nose if somehow he gets the Nobel Peace Prize for it, as advocated by ROK president Moon Jae-in, although it is the latter who is the far more deserving recipient.  But maybe such an award would have several recipients for it, if it happens.  A few observations in any case.

I suspect that the importance of Trump's loud sabre-rattling has been exaggerated, certainly in the US media, but I shall not say it has played no part.  But certainly important has been the substantial heightening of economic sanctions that came in over the past year as DPRK president Kim Jong-un carried out a series of major nuclear weapons and missile tests, culminating with a claim of testing an H-bomb and obtaining a sufficient nuclear weapons stache for deterrent purposes.  Most important in this was China finally enforcing much stricter economic sanctions on the DPRK, either out of trying to please Trump, or out of increasing annoyance with Kim, or more likely a combination of both.  As it is, Kim visited Beijing (by train) just before announcing his willingness to visit the ROK, and in fact China has been easing the economic sanctions since then.  Without doubt this played a huge role, if not all that widely acknowledged, and even as all along pretty much everybody said that DPRK would not act until China put the economic squeeze on, and it finally did.

The other major player, probably the most important one, has been ROK president Moon Jae-in, who has managed cleverly to keep not only Trump but most US commentators and media from realizing that he has successfully manipulated Trump into supporting his diplomatic opening.  It must be remembered that last year when Moon first came to office (and he would have come to office if Hillary was prez), he proposed and advocated a diplomatic opening. This was largely sneered at by Trump and those around him, with Abe of Japan and Xi of China receiving praise from Trump, who rather grudgingly acknowledged Moon as an "ally."  It was Moon who pulled off getting Kim to attend the Winter Olympics in ROK, even though he allowed Trump to take credit for it.  He has been repeatedly giving credit to Trump for everything since, even though most of it has been his own doing.  But he has managed to get Trump on board, and indeed he needs Trump to finalize parts of this, including especially formally ending the Korean War from two thirds of a century ago.

I hope it all turns out well (and I remind any who do not remember, that I have posted here previously on how the hawkish policy by W. Bush after he came into office in 2001 pushed the DPRK to leave the NNPT and acquire the nuclear weapons it has, something not irrelevant to Trump's current approach to the Iranian nuclear deal).

Barkley Rosser


Bruce Wilder said...

I understand why people set up a framework where they try to assess whether Trump has "persuaded" Xi or Kim or some other foreign leader, but I think this misplaces Trump's political acumen, such as it is. Trump is a guy who watches a lot of cable news and yells at his teevee; he doesn't know much of anything about the world at large, because what does anyone learn from watching teevee? But, he does have a cunning street smart sense of how the media (in the U.S.) itself works, from watching obsessively and participating for many years as a celebrity. This is his point of leverage.
If we want to look for Trump's "intervention", we should look there to domestic (U.S.) popular opinion as amplified by political news media and shaped or manipulated by the media and foreign policy establishment.
I think your analysis regarding Moon is correct, but I would shift the analysis ever so slightly to better understand Trump's role. In a few cases where there have been disclosures of confidential exchanges, we have seen Trump tell foreign leaders what he needs for domestic consumption. Moon, as you write, seems more than willing to give Trump credit, which is smart. What we need to ask is what is Trump able to deliver in return.
I hesitate to give Trump credit for anything intentional really, but it does seem to me that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is pathological. From an American perspective, Korea is not that tough a problem -- it is a small and very poor country surrounded by four other Great Powers, none of whom value it highly as a (potential or continuing) client, not even its compatriot to the South. Korea presents an intractable problem from an American perspective only because the interests bound together in the Foreign Policy Establishment cannot permit any sensible course from being pursued and some ad hoc subset of those interests can manipulate the U.S. media propaganda machine to undo any commitment the official U.S. makes. This is an almost universal circumstance in U.S. foreign policy and bedevils U.S. policy in other regions and arenas.
Trump, by giving earnest leaders in other countries a friendly lever on U.S. foreign policy, may perversely permit others to do a lot of good in the world.
We can hope anyway. And, in the meantime, we might remind ourselves that Trump is not the sum nor source of American problems in mobilizing the political will to do sensible things. said...


Mostly agree, but while DPRK has a barely there economy, China values it as a flunky ally, Russia values it as an outlet for Vladivostok and some of its far eastern economic activities (not all legal), and both South Korea and Japan fear its pretty formidable military, quite aside from its nukes. Its equipment is outdated and its personnel not too well fed, but in sheer scale of equipment and personnel, it is the top five or six in the world. if it were to invade either of those nations, they would seriously need the US to help them defend themselves, and it would only be successful after massive death and carnage.

It is only the US for which your statement holds, and given its apparent possible capability of nuking the US mainland, even for us it is not all that trivial. said...

Oh, and the border between the two Koreas has for decades been by far the most heavily armed spot on earth, not to mention that there are about 30,000 US troops as part of that. No, North Korea is important, despite its pathetic economy.