Heavens to Betsy! Land o’ Goshen! Can it be? Could Trump BFF and international bon vivant Kim Jong Un, having smiled and nodded throughout the Singapore Suckfest, now be accelerating the production of nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles to deliver them? What? But – but – he said. He did. He and Donald shook on it! Promises were made!
Well, hold up, there’s the problem right there. No, they weren’t. Nobody on Kim’s side of the table promised anything – except to “ work towards denuclearization”, a non-commitment without a timetable or even an agreed-upon definition. To Donald, “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” seems pretty clear: Kim gives up his nuclear stockpile and delivery systems, and all the infrastructure that supports them, and in return he gets a bunch of Trump-branded resorts and condos and shit, plus maybe a golf course. Kim, however, is on the record that to him, the term means complete denuclearization, which entails the removal of America’s nuclear umbrella over South Korea, that is, the elimination of any possibility that the US could come to the South’s rescue with nuclear weapons if necessary. It’s not immediately obvious what America would be able to do, short of total disarmament, that could actually meet this demand. Thus as long as the US is a nuclear power, and the guarantor of South Korean security, Kim’s version of peninsular denuclearization just isn’t possible. I suspect the reader will already understand that the United States will always be a nuclear power (and I’m going to be optimistic for now and assume Trump wont be able to get America to wash its hands of all its regional security commitments in Asia, though at this point all bets are probably off).
Just as an aside, you can see why the Americans begin these negotiations from an unpromising spot right behind the diplomatic 8 ball. Even when you’re dealing with regimes more amenable to meeting you half way than the dynasty that rules the Hermit Kingdom, it can be tricky preaching non-proliferation when your pitch is “you give up yours immediately, and I’m keeping mine forever”. For this and many other reasons the Iran deal was damn near a miracle. Pity.
Anyway, the way Kim sees it, what he signed in Singapore was something along the lines of a non-binding suggestion that he might be persuaded to push his nuclear program off the end of a wharf, the day after America does likewise.
As long as we’re being all hard-boiled and talking realpolitik, let’s just admit that even if America could somehow satisfy Kim that US nukes would never be used against him, the little tyrant would still be nuts to ditch his own. North Korea isn’t actually very powerful. Yeah, it has lots and lots of artillery dug in behind the DMZ, and lord knows what share of his GDP goes to the military, but Kim’s machine looks rather sad and tatty next to the very professional and extremely well equipped South Korean armed forces. They’ve spared no expense. They’ve got American-made kit that makes the Joint Chiefs jealous. Throw in what the Americans have in theatre, and Kim wouldn’t stand a chance in a conventional conflict, and he knows it. The nukes are his only guarantee. The nukes soothe his nerves when he thinks about ending up at the end of a rope like Saddam, or being butchered like a squealing hog in a ditch the way Muammar was. There’s no way he’d ever consider giving them up. Even if he enters into a real treaty, like his father did, he’ll still keep the nukes – like his father did. Count on it.
We all get a kick out of portraying Kim as a roly-poly pajama-clad kook, but think about it. Remaining a nuclear power is the single most rational and thoroughly comprehensible thing he will ever do.
At this point, maybe it’s a good thing, for once, that Trump is such a stumbling, bumbling dupe. As long as believes that his intelligence agencies are wrong, and Kim really is going to disarm, we can avoid an ill-considered, and I think almost certainly disastrous, military intervention. Living with a nuclear North Korea is just something to which we’re going to have to reconcile ourselves. The ship has sailed. Fine. But I’m delighted if Trump doesn’t know it. If Mike Pompeo comes back from Pyongyang in a couple of weeks touting a deal, I don’t care that he’s being played. We’ve been played before by this crew. We’ll survive. The real danger will arise if Trump and his minions give up on magical thinking, begin to feel humiliated, and lash out. Revenge is Trump’s religion. There could still be a war. We’ll be OK, though, as long as it stokes Donald’s ego to imagine himself the only one capable of making breakthroughs like the one he believes he achieved in Singapore. He probably still thinks he’s a shoo-in for the Nobel. Good. Dream your dreamy dreams, Donny-boy. Truly, the more painfully idiotic tweets like this, the better: