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On the Eve of the Summit

Tomorrow is the historic meeting between the President of the United States and the Leader of the Worker’s Party of North Korea. This is the first meeting of the heads of the two nations since the latter country was founded in 1948. Hopes are high and skepticism is rife.

Donald Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to offer to meet with the leader of North Korea. Barack Obama made the offer in a campaign speech in 2008 and repeated it in 2009, although the North Korean leader at the time was Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and Obama’s offer was more rhetoric than diplomacy and never led to even a proposed meeting. Kim Jong–un replaced his deceased father in 2012 and within five years of ascending to his country’s leadership, fast-tracked the North Korean nuclear program, achieving both successful nuclear detonations and an ICBM that could one day carry such a weapon.

Of course it is North Korea’s dangerousness that prompted Trump’s agreement to meet with him in a summit. While the proposal came from Kim, the U.S. president had expressed openness to such a meeting both before and after his election. The actual proposal was preceded by a number of friendly overtures from Kim toward his counterpart, newly elected Moon Jae-in in South Korea, including developing a unified Olympic team between the two countries and one-on-one meetings between the two Korean leaders.

Trump enters the meeting with Kim Jong-un, voicing high hopes, good will toward Kim, and a willingness to dissolve such a meeting if North Korea is simply hostile. He also has gone from demanding immediate and permanent denuclearization as a starting point for American concessions to a more modest goal of developing a “process” that can lead to denuclearization.

Trump’s current position appears to be more compatible with what North Korean experts say may work with Kim than the more stringent demands recommended by both his own advisor, John Bolton, and senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez. Kim has voiced a hope for a “synchronous” process, which most experts believe means graduated and incremental denuclearization on his part and graduated and incremental reduction in sanctions and military threat from the U.S. Again, according to most North Korea experts, Trump’s position is the more realistic one and the one most likely to have a chance for success.

There is a lot of nonsense being said about the summit and its goals and it's being said by people on both sides of the political aisle and in the partisan media. Besides the puffed up belligerence demanded by Bolton (who truly believes that the right way to approach almost all of our enemies is with militancy) and Senate Democrats (who appear to be trying to score political points), Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has called for an Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against North Korea if it fails to denuclearize. In his words, “There’s only two options: peace or war.” So far Senate Democrats and, indeed, most Republicans, have failed to support his request for an AUMF from the Senate. 

Trump’s current path is the rational one and we should hope that he sticks to it. North Korea has nuclear weapons and is developing the capability of delivering them as far away as the United States. No one outside of North Korea wants this to happen. But if he did not have such weapons, there would be no summit and he would have little chance of the rest of the world helping him to bring his country out of poverty (a situation he and his father and grandfather created). The truth is that North Korea having nuclear weapons, at least at the level they do now, is only a minor threat to the U.S. and its allies, as Kim would only use them if he were losing control of his country (e.g. if the U.S. directed a full-fledged attack against his country as Lindsay Graham has recommended). The greater fear is his selling nuclear material and technology to rogue factions or countries such as ISIS, and Syria.

China represents a model of rapid economic growth without its undemocratic government losing any of its power over its people. It’s a model China is exporting to a number of countries where dictators rule. It’s a model that is working in Communist Vietnam, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It's a model that has both promise and appeal for Kim Jong-un. China doesn’t want a nuclearized North Korea and if sanctions were relaxed, China would jump in to grow the North Korean economy, which could represent a strong market for Chinese goods as well as a source of resources. Immediate containment of the North Korean nuclear program with economic rewards and the guarantee of U.S. nonaggression and reduction of our military threat would begin a process that could lead to further denuclearization, verified control over North Korea’s nuclear material and technology, while the country emerged into the world of economic growth. Eventual complete denuclearization is still the goal, but its immediacy is not paramount. 

Let’s hope for success in Singapore and cut down on the nonsensical rhetoric that has no conceivable purpose other than to sabotage this chance for peace.


Reader Comments (3)

Some peeps are thinking we've been played - the escalation and then peace brokering a setup for someone to win a Nobel prize... Cynics, we've become. Sigh.

June 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPJ Colando

So...Little Rocket Man meets The Dotard. (Just kidding.) I agree with you, Casey. The whole world should hope for success.

June 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterC.W. Spooner

As the song goes (in Mel Brooks' wonderful film rendition of The Twelve Chairs), "Hope for the best, expect the worst."

June 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

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