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Negotiation with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes is a hoary story, illustrative of a classic diplomatic trap. Governments subject to public opinion that bring any degree of optimism to negotiation with an authoritarian one thereby certify the authoritarian’s legitimacy and intentions, acquiring an interest in protecting their own judgment about them. Hence, they become vulnerable to the other’s pressure to make concessions to keep the negotiations going, lest the negotiations’ failure impeach that judgment and those who made it. Thus do democratic governments become complicit in deluding their publics.

In 1985 North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, started the process by offering to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — but then declaring that he would submit to its obligations only in proportion to America’s withdrawal of nuclear weapons from South Korea. This has been the template that his son and grandson have followed for more than 30 years: make abstract promises, and translate them into concrete demands. Thereby, again and again, they have played American statesmen into relieving pressures on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and into delivering fungible aid.

The list of this process’s iterations is too long and well-known to be recounted here. Suffice it to note that no US nuclear weapons have been in South Korea since 1991; that two years later North Korea had amassed enough plutonium for two bombs, that in 1994 it extracted aid in exchange for a promise to stop; that by 2000, having amassed even more and acquired some ballistic missile capabilities, it extracted even more aid in exchange for another promise to de-nuclearise: that in 2003 it announced (falsely) that it already had nuclear weapons in order to start a new round of negotiations for international aid; that in 2006 North Korea, upon becoming a nuclear power in its own right, declared its intention to “denuclearise the peninsula through dialogue and negotiations”, and entered into negotiations as a result of which the Bush I administration delivered a million tons of fuel oil. By 2009, however, it suspended the negotiations and tested the prototype of the Hwasong-5 ICBM; and that in 2012 the Obama administration fell for the same ploy and delivered 240,000 tons of food.

There is no objective reason to believe that, in 2018, having achieved the military means of commanding respect, North Korea would give them up. In exchange for what? Relief from economic pressure? In 2017 Trump had threatened “maximum pressure on North Korea, and had expressed the conviction that China would join it. But it did not take long to realise the enduring reality: Pyongyang is prosperous because China continues as North Korea’s lifeline. Indeed, Kim Jong-un flew to his June 12 summit with Trump in a China Airlines plane.

 North Korea is what it is and does what it does because China makes it possible. China has gained, is gaining, and expects to gain more from what North Korea has done and is doing. North Korea’s missiles and nukes make it possible for China to present itself to South Korea and Japan as the only party capable of protecting them and to present itself to South Koreans as the only force capable of realising their fondest hopes for “sunshine”, peace, and reunification, and that all this is essential to China’s prime geopolitical objective — pushing America out of the Western Pacific. Why should China switch sides?
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An Gíogóir
August 29th, 2018
9:08 AM
I'm not sure what this article is trying to say. Should Trump go with the foreign policy establishment view or not?

Lawrence James
July 2nd, 2018
9:07 AM
Americans have always desired 'to live peacefully' with their neighbours. If this urge ever existed, why did it express itself in the invasion of Mexico and the subsequent annexations. Was the war against Spain in 1898 another manifestation of this same wish for harmony with its neighbours ? And there were the wars against the native Americans and, more pertinently, the little wars waged by General Smedley Butler in various parts of the Caribbean between the wars. Aggression which he rightly denounced as undertaken in the interests of the big corporations.The Cold War and its aftermath have seen a cluster of similar coercive wars. Such selective omissions suggest that this just another Trump propaganda excercise. Fair enough but next time find someone with some knowledge of history.

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