16 May 2018 — Moon of Alabama
The Trump administration thought it was an easy path in its negotiations with North Korea. Trump was euphoric when North Korea released three U.S. prisoners and proudly announced the June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore where North Korea would agree to give up all its nuclear weapons and nuclear development programs. Trump would get a Nobel peace prize and all would be well.
This was a serious miscalculation based on a lack of understanding. It misread each and every statement North Korea made. The Trump administration has no ambassador in South Korea, the most experienced North Korea expert at the State Department left in disgust. The National Security Council is run by a maniac who had sabotaged earlier agreements with North Korea and wants to do it again.
North Korea’s overarching aim is to gain enough security to cut its military expenses and to then use its resources for economic development. The method to achieve peace with the U.S. was progress in its nuclear weapons program. Each time a milestone was reached in the nuclear field North Korea sought talks with South Korea and the United States. It offered some concessions – to stop or slow its progress in its development of nuclear warheads and missile – in exchange for a peace agreement and economic support. Each time a deal was made the U.S. did not stick to its commitment. The promised oil supplies were not delivered, the civilian nuclear reactors the U.S. promised were not build. Each time an agreement failed North Korea started the next phase of its nuclear weapons program up to the next milestone.
Last year it finally reached the apex. It tested a thermonuclear device, the ultimate destructive weapon. It launched an intercontinental missile that can carry such a bomb to the continental United States. North Korea is now a full fledged nuclear state. After this achievement North Korea was again ready to negotiate.
When Donald Trump came into office promising that he would not condone a nuclear weapon capable North Korea that could threaten the United States. He launched a “maximum pressure” campaign to take away North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The UN security council put strong sanctions on North Korea.
North Korea was already ready to negotiate. It were not the sanctions that brought it to the table. It was its new status as a nuclear power. The Trump administration never understood that. It believed that its “maximum pressure” campaign brought North Korea to offer “complete denuclearization”. North Korea used that wording but it was meant as an aspirational aim for the whole world, not a unilateral disarmament of its new capabilities.
The Trump administration did not get it – or did not want to get it. This was partly out of stupidity and lack of knowledge, it was partly mischievous:
Trump and others are presenting this process as a route that leads to North Korea’s disarmament — even though Kim has said nothing that deviates from statements that every North Korean leader has made. And in our collective self-delusion, we have a surprising cheerleader: national security advisor John Bolton.
It is worth asking why Bolton is busy giving interviews in which he raises hopes for a complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons that can occur in a matter of months. He has repeatedly called for a “Libya style” deal — one in which the United States simply shows up and collects the weapons and supporting infrastructure.
This is madness. There is no reason to think that Kim has any intention of agreeing to such a thing.
Bolton isn’t suddenly naive. He’s working an angle. And that angle is almost certainly misaligning the president’s expectations. Bolton won’t try to kill diplomacy by opposing it. Rather he’ll kill it by making the perfect the enemy of the good. By raising the prospects of a Libya-style surrender, the much more modest settlement offered by Kim looks sad by comparison.
This is a very cynical — and dangerous — game that Bolton and others are playing.
A side effect of the false believe that “maximum pressure” worked against North Korea is the Trump administration’s believe that the same will work against Iran. It is why it aborted the nuclear agreement with Iran:
The Trump administration is convinced it has an opening for a nuclear deal with North Korea because of its maximum pressure campaign. “They call it the North Korea scenario,” the European official said. “Squeeze the North Koreans. Squeeze the Iranians … and they will do the same thing as Kim Jong-un … surrender.”
When the CIA chief, now Secretary of State, Pompeo came to North Korea on May 10 to prepare further negotiations, the North Korean side warned that Washington was wrong in its thinking:
Once they arrived, Pompeo met for about an hour with Kim Yong Chol, discussing the Trump-Kim summit and Pompeo’s schedule, before Kim hosted a luncheon on the hotel’s 39th floor, where he formally welcomed the Americans.
Kim then told the Americans that “we have perfected our nuclear capability,” adding that “this [meeting] is not the result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside.”
One condition North Korea had asked for at the beginning of the negotiation cycle was a freeze of ‘strategic’ military exercises by South Korea and the U.S. in exchange for a freeze of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea. This was understood by both sides. The condition had held for a while but a few days ago the U.S. and South Korea announced a new exercise:
SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States will begin massive combined air force drills this week, officials here said Thursday, in an apparent move to strengthen their hand ahead of denuclearization talkswith North Korea.
The two-week Max Thunder exercise will begin on Friday, involving some 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighters as well as an unspecified number of B-52 bombers and F-15K jets, the officials said.
It is the first time that the allies have decided to deploy eight F-22 jets to a combined exercise. Observers said the planned show of formidable air power appears aimed at further pressuring the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
F-22 stealth fighter and B-52 are nuclear capable and thus strategic assets. Incorporating them in an exercise breaks the previous understanding. In response to the exercise North Korea canceled high level talks with South Korea:
The North’s Korean Central News Agency said the Max Thunder drills between the South Korean and U.S. air forces are a rehearsal for invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties.
“This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” the KCNA report said. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.”
North Korea feels cheated. It has stopped its missile and nuclear tests. It is dismantling its “northern test site” for nuclear weapons. It pardoned three prisoners and let them leave to the States. It held several rounds of hopeful talks with South Korea and the United States. Why does it now have to endure more pressure? Why should it allow the U.S. and South Korea to breach the agreement of test freeze in exchange for exercise freeze?
Trump thought he had already won. Finally North Korea is setting him straight. It will not give up its weapons under thread only to get smashed like other countries which made such mistakes:
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan made clear that the communist regime is not interested in any nuclear talks in which it is coerced into giving up its nuclear arsenal, according to Pyongyang’s state news agency KCNA.
Kim expressed displeasure with the U.S. bringing up previous denuclearization methods, including the one used for Libya.
The full statement singled out the ‘repugnant’ John Bolton:
High-ranking officials of the White House and the Department of State including Bolton, White House national security adviser, are letting loose the assertions of so-called Libya mode of nuclear abandonment, “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization”, “total decommissioning of nuclear weapons, missiles, biochemical weapons”. etc, while talking about formula of “abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterwards”.
This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue.
It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.
We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him.
If the Trump administration fails to recall the lessons learned from the past when the DPRK-U.S. talks had to undergo twists and setbacks owing to the likes of Bolton and turns its ear to the advice of quasi-“patriots” who insist on Libya mode and the like, prospects of upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit and overall DPRK-U.S. relations will be crystal clear.
We have already stated our intention for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States.
Trump’s Noble peace prize is drifting away …
If Trump really wants the June 12 meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore and an agreement he will have to stop Bolton from making overarching demands. Secretary of State Pompeo will have to issue some conciliatory statements. The Pentagon, which dislikes peace talks that may diminish its position in South Korea, will have to end its provocative “strategic” maneuvers.
There is no military alternative to further talks. The nuclear armed North Korea is allied with the nuclear armed China. Any attack on North Korea might cause a mushroom cloud raising over Washington DC. Risking that is irresponsible.