So, does he really mean it?  Or is North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un blowing smoke from his rockets in the eyes of the world?

Almost everyone’s guessing, the only people who know are Kim and a very small group of senior officials around him.  And even if he really does mean to usher in a new era of peaceful co-existence with his neighbours and the Americans, it still doesn’t mean he’ll be able to make the compromises necessary to get there.

My guess?  He means it, and there’s a chance of success. However, that has to be caveated with the problem that what he means by compromise may not be shared by others.

In 2013 the North Koreans set out on the ‘Byungjin’ (parallel development) policy under which it intended to make rapid progress on both the economic and nuclear weapons fronts. On the former, it remains a basket case, on the latter they have made so much progress they have almost brought the Americans to the negotiating table. Nevertheless, although economically the North has not advanced, Kim is thought to have maneuvered the higher echelons of his dictatorship into a position whereby economic reforms are possible.  This was followed by hints at detente in his New Year’s address, followed by participation in the South Korean Winter Olympics.

But here’s the but…  but for economic progress to happen he needs investment, and for that to happen he needs to denuclearize. This brings us to today’s meeting. Progress between the two Koreas should lead to a meeting with the Americans, which is what this is all about. There’s a strong case to be made that we have only got this far due to the punitive U.S. sanctions under President Trump, his ‘mad man’ tweeting, and actual movement of military assets into agressive positions. Nothing Presidents Clinton, Bush or Obama did came this close to what might be a breakthough.

So, what does progress look like? Kim has already halted nuclear and missile testing. We need to see the opening vague sketches of what a final deal may look like. So, words are important.

If the North can strongly suggest that the testing freeze could be permanent then that will be progress. If it goes even further and hints at disarming as a nuclear power, that might be enough to seal the meeting with President Trump.  In return, the South can use language suggesting a genuine peace treaty (the Korean War has not officially ended) and could offer a mutual ‘no first strike’ agreement. Oh, and paying North Korea several hundred million dollars in hard cash would help as well, as it was before a Korean summit in 2000.

If the ‘mood music’ is right, and that is mostly what we can hope for this week – then it could be on to the real deal – the North Korea/USA summit later this year. At this point, things get even more difficult.

An American commitment to potentially lift economic sanctions in stages would be a start. A binding re-iteration of no first strike’ agreement is relatively easy, but what if then the Americans insist that disarmament means allowing in UN weapons inspectors and a complete dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme within 2 years – but the North envisages a 20-year time frame? A temporary halt in the annual joint U.S./S Korea military exercises could be looked at, but what if the North insists all American military bases in South Korea must be closed within 5 years etc etc?  The North would love to be in a position to dominate the peninsula militarily.

But that is for the summer. First, in the spring, we need to see the flowering of détente between Pyongyang and Seoul.

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3 Comments on "The What And The Why of The Korean Summit."

  1. You are right, and guessing is all we can do. Especially ignorant idiots like me!

    However, if I was to add a series of guesses here, I think I would look closely at the man himself and those around him.

    It is very easy to put him down as a buffoon, a “king’s new clothes” type of character that has no concept of reality outside his own vanity. But watching just a couple of seconds of footage today makes me rethink that.

    In his career to date, he has spent a huge amount of money on nuclear posturing, he has disposed of several potential enemies within his own circle and possibly family, and he has been working at an international volume that probably surpasses his father and grandfather.

    But in doing this, his inner and outer circle MUST be now very nervous. He cannot have failed to miss that.

    This is the real world, and real people, even plutonium-pot dictators, are not blind to those standing next to them. If he drives people away, he will start to feel lonely. At some point, he will listen to them, even if he doesn’t admit it.

    And then there is his sister. A sharp-eyed operator who, I suspect, is close to her brother and may well have a lot of influence there.

    It is possible that enough people in his sphere are fed up with him, and via his sister and other confidants, are putting on the pressure.

    “We are broke, mate,” they are saying to him. “If we carry on like this, one day our people will break and we are dead meat. About turn or we’re all buggered.”

    (remember this is total guesswork.)

    Then his sister says, “Bruv, listen to them.”
    “Yeah, but sis, I have made all these threats! How do I change my mind?”
    “Easy, bruv. You change your mind before jerks like Trump change it for you. Then you get to claim the victory and say what a great bloke you are. But hurry up, the pubs are gonna close soon, and you will miss your chance.”

    (Oh I wish they sounded like East Enders)

    So, very silly, yeah?

    Well, I’m not so sure. In the coverage of North meets South today, a lot of people focused on the impromptu Pythonesque crossing back and forth over the borderline. But for me, it was one tiny shot during the private conversation between the two leaders. For just a second, Kim Jong-un chuckled and nodded in exactly the same way as anyone sitting in a pub chatting. For a moment, he was just that ordinary bruv.

    Now, I still think he is a murderous dictator, but that is not all he is. He might really see that he has no choice. If he really wants to continue to run a country, then he has to have a country to run. Making peace might be the only way North Korea can survive, and those around him, including his sister, may just have convinced him of that.

    It doesn’t mean I think democracy is going to suddenly break out (or ever), but it may mean that this small move might be genuine and not a play.

  2. Tim Marshall | 1st May 2018 at 5:58 pm | Reply

    Indeed Mr CC – he’s giving all the signs of meaning business – now for the ‘art of the deal’.

  3. Peter Atkinson | 12th May 2018 at 3:46 pm | Reply

    Having come across your extremely interesting book ‘Prisoners of Geography’, I have since followed up on your website/blog. ..Since the books publication, Donald Trump is getting into his stride, for better or worse along with Brexit.
    The analysis that you have given in the book has in a sense given me some comfort regarding Russia and China…but the wild card now is Trump, Israel and Iran. The EU including the UK now have to go along with sanctions, very unwillingly, especially France.. I think a follow-up to the book or your comments on the latest issues in the current cycle of events would be extemely interesting.

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