North Korea has pulled out of talks with Seoul and are threatening to cancel a summit meeting with the USA unless Trump stops talking about total unilateral nuclear disarmament. Which obviously has not gone down too well.
Thing is, the North Koreans do have a valid point. The USA and its allies have to remember: it doesn’t matter that they think they have right on their side, when you enter into negotiations with someone you need to bear in mind that they think their side is righteous. You can’t just expect North Korea to give up nuclear weapons because it’s “the right thing to do.”
Trump says that he will enter negotiations with one big precondition: the North Koreans have to agree to disarm. That is a big ask: as far as Pyongyang is concerned, the nukes are the only reason why the Americans haven’t already nuked them.
The North Koreans believe their nukes give them a place at the big table, so they expect something big in return for any disarmament. There are lots of carrots the USA could offer: note that cancellation of the talks with Seoul and the statement followed the start of USA-South Korean military exercises. These exercises involve 100 US and South Korean warplanes including F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers. Of course the South Koreans say these exercises are purely defensive in nature – Moscow always says the same thing when the US and its European allies complain about Russian exercises.
So cancellation of US military maneuvers would go down well. And, considering just how much the USA is asking of North Koreans, how about promising something just as huge: like a commitment to the end of American military presence in the Korean peninsula?
Trump would doubtless say that’s impossible, that the USA can’t abandon its ally in the south. But considering how naked and defenseless Pyongyang will feel after giving up its nukes, maybe that isn’t too much to ask. Gaddafi got some good stuff in the Libya denuclearisation deal, and he had a much smaller arsenal.
And we have to remember what Trump did to Iran just a few days ago. Iran made a deal with the USA and friends to stop trying to enrich Uranium to weapons grade and abandon its efforts to create its own nuclear deterrent (the polite way of describing one’s weapons of mass destruction in atomic hell). But Trump has unilaterally cancelled that deal in what some see as a move towards military conflict Kim Jong-un must have been watching these events unfold on TV with a WTF expression on his face. He is seeing the lesson writ large, that America makes these deals and breaks these deals – Trump might promise all kinds of stuff, then once the Korean nukes are dismantled and production facilities demolished the USA say “We’e changed our minds” and come bomb Pyongyang.
I’m not actually saying that the USA enters into these deals in bad faith. But I am definitely implying it.
Kim Jong-un has pledged to close down its nuclear test facility in the presence of international observers, which is a major concession for them to make before talks, but America wants more. But if they want the negotiations to even happen they’re going to have to make similar promises. Or fiery nuclear hell might be in everyone’s near future in the region.