Blogs: The Skeptics

Boltonism: A Terrible Negotiating Strategy toward North Korea

What George Washington Can Teach Donald Trump

The Real Problem with Gina Haspel's CIA Nomination

Why Trump Can't Trick Kim Jong Un into a Peace Deal

The Skeptics

The prospect of a summit between President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has discomfited analysts, pundits and lawmakers across the political spectrum. Hawkish neoconservatives and liberal internationalists alike bewail the possibility that negotiating the end of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs might require compromise.

However, it is not clear whether the president is aware that any agreement must satisfy Kim’s concern over regime security. If President Trump expects to pack the cargo hold of Air Force One with abandoned North Korean nukes, then he is bound to be disappointed. If he understands that won’t happen, then he might choose to stay home.

That, however, would be a lost opportunity. Despite the many challenges posed by the prospective meeting, it offers the best hope for peaceful denuclearization. The latter still seems unlikely, but a positive summit would increase the chance of such a result.

Despite comparisons with Richard Nixon’s trip to China and meeting with Mao Zedong, the similarity is limited. Then other officials laid the groundwork for the summit beforehand. In one famous episode National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger cancelled public events and feigned illness while visiting Pakistan and flew to the People’s Republic of China. Nixon and Mao’s chat was the culmination of a process, not the beginning.

Moreover, Washington did not ask the People’s Republic of China to give up anything valuable. China gained little, if anything, from its isolation. Afterwards the two governments still didn’t officially recognize each other: that had to wait several years for President Jimmy Carter. Beijing collected the security council seat from Taiwan, an important gain, yet the main benefit from Nixon’s maneuver was attitudinal. The two nations no longer viewed each other as enemies. The United States abandoned any thought of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists returning to China.

The situation with North Korea is very different. The meeting will effectively start rather than complete the negotiation. And the United States wants the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to do something that it believes to be against its interests, abandon a tool for regime survival. That will require Washington to offer something of even greater value.

These two factors should guide the respective governments in setting their objectives. First, in a sense the primary goal of the meeting is symbolic, not substantive. The two principals won’t be able to agree on anything other than the most general commitments. The two men need to establish a relationship, believe that continued contact between their governments is worthwhile, and inaugurate a process likely to yield one or more meaningful accords—hopefully culminating in denuclearization.

Then lower-ranking officials will need to do the hard work of turning broad principles into practical imperatives. That will take persistence and creativity. The president might not like the JCPOA with Iran—one suspects that he actually has no idea what it contains, only that it was negotiated by President Barack Obama, which is sufficient to excite his ire—but many hands were required to make it. To oversee the turnover of an existing nuclear arsenal and create a surveillance/inspection system to prevent its future recreation would be even more complicated. That kind of agreement won’t emerge from one meeting or even a series of contacts.

Moreover, any nuclear accord would have to be backed by security guarantees, political understandings and economic commitments. And that should involve North Korea’s neighbors. For instance, China could play a role in assuring the North against United States or South Korean military action. Japan could help integrate North Korea regionally through normalization of relations accompanied by economic assistance. South Korea could lead the reduction in the conventional confrontation on the peninsula. At the same time, Washington could back away from the region militarily, turning a major global crisis back into a modest regional issue.

Along the way the administration needs to augment its Asian diplomatic team. At the moment it is seriously understaffed. The United States needs an ambassador in Seoul, for instance. The broad outline of agreement might be simple, but not the details needed to bring such an accord to life.

Second, the administration must offer benefits which overcome past Washington policy and current administration shortcomings. Every U.S. president going back to Ronald Reagan engaged in at least one episode of regime change. President Bill Clinton started the trend in moralistic war-making and seriously considered taking military action against the North. President George W. Bush made humanitarian intervention the centerpiece of his foreign policy while labeling Pyongyang a member of the “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq, whose leader was deposed and executed.

President Barack Obama showed that the United States promises were of no value after he took advantage of Muammar el-Qaddafi weakness, created by the latter’s agreement with the Bush administration to abandon Libya’s nuclear and missile programs, to oust Qaddafi. The latter died a gruesome and well-published death. Obama also offered little military support to Ukraine in its battle against separatists backed by Moscow—even though Kiev had abandoned its nuclear weapons based in part on security assurances offered by Washington. President Trump dismissed the commitments of his predecessor, verbally repudiating the JCPOA with Iran and threatening to formally abandon it in May, despite continued backing in Europe.

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John Bolton Is Back. And So Are His Dangerous Ideas.

The Skeptics

The prospect of a summit between President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has discomfited analysts, pundits and lawmakers across the political spectrum. Hawkish neoconservatives and liberal internationalists alike bewail the possibility that negotiating the end of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs might require compromise.

However, it is not clear whether the president is aware that any agreement must satisfy Kim’s concern over regime security. If President Trump expects to pack the cargo hold of Air Force One with abandoned North Korean nukes, then he is bound to be disappointed. If he understands that won’t happen, then he might choose to stay home.

That, however, would be a lost opportunity. Despite the many challenges posed by the prospective meeting, it offers the best hope for peaceful denuclearization. The latter still seems unlikely, but a positive summit would increase the chance of such a result.

Despite comparisons with Richard Nixon’s trip to China and meeting with Mao Zedong, the similarity is limited. Then other officials laid the groundwork for the summit beforehand. In one famous episode National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger cancelled public events and feigned illness while visiting Pakistan and flew to the People’s Republic of China. Nixon and Mao’s chat was the culmination of a process, not the beginning.

Moreover, Washington did not ask the People’s Republic of China to give up anything valuable. China gained little, if anything, from its isolation. Afterwards the two governments still didn’t officially recognize each other: that had to wait several years for President Jimmy Carter. Beijing collected the security council seat from Taiwan, an important gain, yet the main benefit from Nixon’s maneuver was attitudinal. The two nations no longer viewed each other as enemies. The United States abandoned any thought of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists returning to China.

The situation with North Korea is very different. The meeting will effectively start rather than complete the negotiation. And the United States wants the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to do something that it believes to be against its interests, abandon a tool for regime survival. That will require Washington to offer something of even greater value.

These two factors should guide the respective governments in setting their objectives. First, in a sense the primary goal of the meeting is symbolic, not substantive. The two principals won’t be able to agree on anything other than the most general commitments. The two men need to establish a relationship, believe that continued contact between their governments is worthwhile, and inaugurate a process likely to yield one or more meaningful accords—hopefully culminating in denuclearization.

Then lower-ranking officials will need to do the hard work of turning broad principles into practical imperatives. That will take persistence and creativity. The president might not like the JCPOA with Iran—one suspects that he actually has no idea what it contains, only that it was negotiated by President Barack Obama, which is sufficient to excite his ire—but many hands were required to make it. To oversee the turnover of an existing nuclear arsenal and create a surveillance/inspection system to prevent its future recreation would be even more complicated. That kind of agreement won’t emerge from one meeting or even a series of contacts.

Moreover, any nuclear accord would have to be backed by security guarantees, political understandings and economic commitments. And that should involve North Korea’s neighbors. For instance, China could play a role in assuring the North against United States or South Korean military action. Japan could help integrate North Korea regionally through normalization of relations accompanied by economic assistance. South Korea could lead the reduction in the conventional confrontation on the peninsula. At the same time, Washington could back away from the region militarily, turning a major global crisis back into a modest regional issue.

Along the way the administration needs to augment its Asian diplomatic team. At the moment it is seriously understaffed. The United States needs an ambassador in Seoul, for instance. The broad outline of agreement might be simple, but not the details needed to bring such an accord to life.

Second, the administration must offer benefits which overcome past Washington policy and current administration shortcomings. Every U.S. president going back to Ronald Reagan engaged in at least one episode of regime change. President Bill Clinton started the trend in moralistic war-making and seriously considered taking military action against the North. President George W. Bush made humanitarian intervention the centerpiece of his foreign policy while labeling Pyongyang a member of the “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq, whose leader was deposed and executed.

President Barack Obama showed that the United States promises were of no value after he took advantage of Muammar el-Qaddafi weakness, created by the latter’s agreement with the Bush administration to abandon Libya’s nuclear and missile programs, to oust Qaddafi. The latter died a gruesome and well-published death. Obama also offered little military support to Ukraine in its battle against separatists backed by Moscow—even though Kiev had abandoned its nuclear weapons based in part on security assurances offered by Washington. President Trump dismissed the commitments of his predecessor, verbally repudiating the JCPOA with Iran and threatening to formally abandon it in May, despite continued backing in Europe.

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