Analysis 06-15-2018

Trump-Kim Meeting Provides
Cautious Optimism

President Donald Trump of the world’s mightiest country met with Leader Kim Jung Un, of one of the world’s most isolated regimes – but one with nuclear weapons.While the meeting resolved little in those few hours, it was a first step after about 70 years of hostility.

But, there are many questions remaining.Does North Korea really want to denuclearize?Can Kim withstand the internal opposition?Can Trump get an agreement through the Congress?Who are the winners and losers?

It’s also important to look at the analysis of the meeting through the political leanings of the analyst.Those opposed to Trump politically called the meeting a failure, while those who supported him were excited and called it historic.

How historic it will be depending on the future.Getting a nation to rid itself of nuclear weapons is difficult both politically and realistically.It was done with several nations that broke away from the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, but it took decades to rid those nations of WMD.

In other words, it may take decades to truly rid North Korea of its WMD, even if Kim Jung Un agrees to it.


The Agreement

The agreement that came out of the summit meeting was as ambiguous as other summit meeting communiqués.However, there were four components:

“The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.”

“The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”

“Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

“The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

Only the fourth point provides tangible results as the US and NK agreed to work together on identifying POW and MIA remains from the Korean War.The two nations had been working together until 2005, when NK broke off cooperation as they neared completion of a working nuclear bomb.

The other three points are the traditional diplomatic “happy talk,” although it does mention that both the US and NK will work for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.This implies that North Korea will eliminate its nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, while the US removes all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.

This denuclearization will be the difficult point, even if Kim is in favor of it.

The fact is that there are many in the North Korean elite whose power is based on the nation’s WMD institutions.Would a general, whose power and influence comes from control of North Korea’s nuclear weapons willingly give up that power?Wouldn’t he be more likely to join a cabal to overthrow Kim rather than denuclearize?

There are also the staffs of these WMD commands.What is going to happen to the NK rocket scientist or nuclear physicist? Do they become unemployed?Will they become a base of support for those who oppose Kim?

The reality is that there are thousands whose existence and privilege are based on North Korea’s WMD programs.Weaning them and the rest of the nation from WMD will be difficult.If Kim can do that, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

This brings us to the second point of the agreement, “The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”

The wording “stable peace regime” is interesting.It implies that the US wants to stabilize a peaceful NK regime – one undoubtedly with Kim in charge.

Given the likely opposition by segments of the NK regime to the denuclearization, this implies that the US may help Kim stay in power, possibly through intelligence sharing like NSA intercepts.For only through Kim is this denuclearization process likely to work.

This isn’t as unlikely as it seems.The protocol is for the psychologists of the CIA to prepare a psychological profile of a foreign leader before the American president meets them.This undoubtedly happened with Kim and they likely told Trump that Kim wants peace.

Unlike his father or grandfather, Kim Jung Un has been exposed to the West.He went to a private English-language International School in Gümligen Switzerland and later the Liebefeld Steinhölzli state school in Köniznear near Bern.He also had a fascination with the American National Basketball Association and Michael Jordan, which explains his friendship with former NBA player Dennis Rodman.

It is very likely that Kim has a more Western view than many in the NK elite, which may make him more vulnerable to a coup – which may explain his regular purges of the North Korean leadership.

But, his weakness for Western tastes may make him more willing to reform North Korea than others in the NK leadership.And, this was a point that was made by Trump during the talks.

Assuming Kim doesn’t backtrack, North Korea has taken a few solid steps to limiting its nuclear and ballistic missile capability.These include a moratorium on nuclear testing, destruction of the NK nuclear testing facility (although it was seriously damaged anyway), and a moratorium on ballistic missile testing.

Most important is the disposition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal.Where to they go for storage and eventual dismantlement?The US will veto Russia, China, or Pakistan.Maybe both can agree upon France or India.Will the transfer of all NK nuclear devices warrants a major loosening of economic sanctions?

There are other questions about the dismantlement of the nuclear devices.North Korea will want a substantial payment for giving up the devices.What will that be?The US will also want to observe the dismantlement in order to ascertain what technology sharing took place between NK and Iran.Then there are nuclear parts that haven’t been turned into a bomb.

There will also be issues regarding ballistic missiles.What can be kept for legitimate scientific study?Is fueled missiles be destroyed?How and where will the other missiles be stored or disabled?Will the US be allowed to study them to learn what technology was sent to other countries including Iran?

Further steps like destroying nuclear material facilities andthe final status of missile production facilities will require more negotiations.Dismantling these facilities will require money that NK will insist that the US provides.NK will also want some reward for taking this step like a lessening of economic sanctions.These are issues that US and NK negotiators will start working on immediately and will take time to reach agreement.

There is also congressional approval.Although polls show that over 70% of Americans approve of Trump’s summit and agreement (although Americans are wary that North Korea may try to cheat), Congress will need to be brought in for any funding of North Korea or formalizing a legally binding agreement.Since Trump denounced Obama for signing the Iranian nuclear agreement without congressional approval, he would be hard pressed to ignore Congress himself.

In the end, this will be a long process.Although the US Secretary of State insisted that this could be accomplished during Trump’s administration that will prove very difficult.Not only is the dismantling of WMD infrastructures difficult in terms of cost, logistics, and finding new employment for highly skilled engineers and scientists, much still relies on Kim Jung Un.If he is assassinated or is deposed, the whole deal could fall apart.


Winners and Losers

At this time both North Korea and the US are winners.North Korea and Kim have gained higher status by meeting with the world’s superpower.Kim will have additional status inside North Korea and China as he now has a direct contact with the White House rather than going through China.

Trump has scored political leverage by showing his detractors that he can make international deals and not only breaking away from them.

It’s important to remember that much of the American denunciation of Trump and the Summit comes from his implacable opponents – the same ones who castigated him for not negotiating with North Korea a few months ago.The fact that Trump has a 70% approval for meeting with Kim shows that the US population is behind Trump, not his critics.

One potential loser is Iran, who has worked closely with NK on both nuclear and missile development.In fact, Iran was the only country to criticize NK for meeting with the US

Without North Korea, Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear development might suffer a bit, providing NK actually does abide with agreement.

Since North Korean and Iranian scientists and engineers worked closely, the US will seek to make an intelligence arrangement that gives US intelligence additional insight into Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile development.

Another potential loser is China, who has been the gatekeeper of relations between the US and NK for decades.Thanks to the summit, the traditional diplomatic route of communication between NK and the US going through China is obsolete.One immediate result is that America doesn’t have to offer special economic concessions to China in return for acting as a diplomatic intermediary.

Trump’s announcement that large scale military exercises in and around the Korean Peninsula will be cut back is also allows the US Navy to move naval assets away from Korea to the South China Sea.

The South China Sea is about 2,000 miles away from North Korea.That means it takes the good part of a week to move an American naval vessel from the Korean Peninsula to the disputed South China Sea area.That’s a long time in a crisis.

The lessening of tensions between the US and NK means that the heavily tasked American 7th Fleet can increase its presence in the South China Sea.That not only means surface vessels, submarines, and aircraft carriers, it means amphibious forces that could actually land on the Chinese islands.

China will have less incentives toincrease tensions in the South China Sea.



The Trump – Kim summit is only the beginning and we don’t know where it will lead.

In many ways, it is the same as President Nixon’s trip to China.It was only the beginning of a relationship and no one knew what would result.Few would have believed that 40 years later, China would be a world economic power with close trading relations with the US.

The same is true with North Korea.It seems to have passed through its revolutionary phase and seems ready and eager to move away from isolation.This summit is the opening of that process.

But, there are many bumps along the road.Kim’s survival is important to any success.And, it will take many years to rid North Korea of WMD, even if they are willing partners.

North Korea must also reach out to its neighbors.Although the North and South Korean leadership appear to be willing for a peaceful future, Japan is still a sticking point.While Japan wants to know about Japanese citizens kidnapped and sent to NK, Korea also wants to clear the air about Japanese atrocities during World War Two.

The best description of the Trump-Kim summit comes from Winston Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”