As much as Trump has a strategy in North Korea — it appears to be some mercurial combinations of bluster, flattery, and indifference; one could be charitable and call it an unpredictable strategy based on, what former US Ambassador Hong Seok-Hyun labeled as, “peace through strength,” — we would say that what this administration has done so far in regards to North Korea is remarkably, demonstrably, effective.
President Trump has inherited a situation only one other president has, a nuclear North Korea. All due respect to him but President Obama’s efforts were ineffective at best as their nuclear capabilities continued to grow in both sophistication and quantity during his presidency. A new strategy is obviously called for, which may or may not be what the Trump administration is doing. We don’t know how much is deliberate and thought out or how much is shoot from the hip…cowboy diplomacy. The good news is that one could argue with honest philosophical consistency that a) Trump may not know what he is doing and b) what he’s doing appears to be working.
Yes, we’re giving Kim legitimacy. No, we haven’t made him own up to the horrific gulags and repressive human rights conditions in his country. It could even be argued that recognizing him as a head of state would embolden other rogue nations to pursue their own WMD program. However, such responses are ignorant of recent history and naive to a very dangerous reality. In the 1970s, when Nixon made his famous trip there, China had actively and recently fought against us in two theaters but Nixon’s realpolitik achieved the peace that posturing had not.
Just as with another pariah nation 90 miles south of Florida, it’s about time we recognize reality and treat the obvious leader of a foreign nation as exactly that. There’s every likelihood that stable relations between North Korea and, well, everybody else in the world, would lead to fewer North Koreans starving to death. We should stop pretending that the US can’t be friends with you unless you’re a free and fair state. Saudi Arabia alone puts the lie to that, not to mention other unsavory allies.
As for any fears about copycat commanders in chief chasing nuclear programs of their own we would merely say that the world already learned that lesson quite well. Saddam and Qaddafi both gave up their programs, the Iranians and North Koreans haven’t. Kims are still around while Iraq and Libya have descended into chaos. The lesson has been learned: give up your weapons programs and the US will either kill you or stand by while you get killed, doesn’t seem there are any other suckers out there. Everyone knows the rules are different in the nuclear club.
Kim has his nukes and there are three options.
- Business as usual: sanctions, lack of recognition, he builds more weapons, his people starve. Repeat.
- End the war, establish diplomatic ties, encourage liberalization of their markets, demand compliance with existing and applicable international standards for nuclear weapons testing.
- Do something else. Which, at this point, the only thing left to do is a military operation. How many American lives or bombs do you want to spend pissing off China and probably decimating South Korea in the process? Has regime change really been a winning strategy for the U.S. so far?
In this, credit where credit is due. Whatever President Trump’s strategy may be, there is more hope for the Korean peninsula now than there has been in many years.
For the first time, the Peace House at the Korean DMZ is hosting the North and South Koreans leaders to talk peace. The first time since the War that a North Korean leader will visit the South. Only the third time in history that the leaders of the respective nations will meet. Kim has promised to dismantle the North’s only known nuclear test site. There is talk of a peace treaty to officially end the last actual war from the Cold War.
Nobody is under the illusion that this is an easy process or that it has a strong likelihood of success. We would never suggest that Trump’s bombastic and often childish tweets to and about Kim were not dangerous. Insulting the manhood of another world leader (a nuclear power!), taunting him, was unprecedented in the modern era.
But it worked.
Not in isolation of course. Trump, his administration, and the USA in general are not solely responsible for bringing Kim Jong-Un to the table. This is an international issue and it has been an international effort with South Korea, Japan, Finland, and others setting the stage. However, for better or for worse the USA has a key part to play. And better to be seen as taking an active role and negotiating from strength.
Possibly the only undisputed outcome of a normalized relationship between the North and the world is a dramatically lessened chance of a nuclear confrontation. The president went out of his way to offend and agitate a nuclear power, possibly (hopefully) as part of a negotiating tactic, legitimizing their leader and bringing them to peace talks in the process. If this is what it takes, hey, anything’s possible and take the good where you can find it.
If pushing metaphorical buttons and hurting egos keeps everyone from pushing actual buttons and hurting real people then we guess good job President Trump.