Upcoming South-North summit and its true potential.
Yet, although the television and newspapers feature rather predictable stories that suggest that the world is basically the way it has always been, some of the more experienced Koreans in diplomacy and security, and in industry, are starting to sense that something is profoundly wrong in the relationship with Washington D.C., and with Tokyo.
These Koreans sense, and that if Korea does not take the initiative it could end up facing some sort of military conflict with North Korea in the next few months, or risk being dragged into a military confrontation (that could become a war) with China. That is how dangerous the right wing in Washington and Tokyo has become.
We mere mortals do not know what meetings and negotiations have been going on behind the scenes as part of preparations for North Korean leader Kim Jung-un's informal visit to Beijing to meet President Xi Jinping, or the recent dispatch of Xi Jinping's special envoy to Seoul to meet South Korea's President Moon Jae-in.
But it would be a good guess that the number of meetings in rapid succession suggests that South Koreans are not only excited about the summit, but also nervous, and a bit scared.
The Trump administration thinks nothing of threatening nuclear war against North Korea and recently Trump has combined forces with what was once known as the Democratic Party of the United States to launch a campaign to expel Russian diplomats and launch further political actions against Russia regarding a rather suspicious fairy tale about a diplomat who was poisoned.
The tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats looks frighteningly similar to the actions taken by Germany (and also England) in the lead-up to World War I.
Some South Koreans are waking up out of the dreamy state induced by the bombardment in the media of positive images of how President Moon will visit North Korea to resolve the crisis and then how President Trump will meet Kim Jung-un, and then everyone would live happily ever after.
Actually, the Trump administration has shown nothing but complete contempt for diplomacy, for international law, for the Non-proliferation Treaty and for government itself. Even if Trump was able to visit successfully and to sign a remarkable agreement, no one trusts him to implement anything and we know he is entirely capable of turning around and threatening war.
Among Koreans experts, I have met several who doubt just about everything that the Trump administration says, even if they are hesitant to say so in person. This "Twitter as policy" president has no authority in his own country, or the world, and increasingly the decisions that he reads off are made by shadowy figures in the military industrial complex.
And now, with the promotion of John Bolton as national security adviser to Donald Trump, we can see without any doubt that this group of extremists is perfectly willing to risk world war, nuclear war, or both, to maintain its ruthless grip on power.
Thus South Koreans as a whole see the North-South summit as a critical opportunity to turn things around, and they feel increasingly that they must take the initiative because the U.S. as a whole, and the Trump administration in specific, is unwilling, or incapable, of playing a positive role.
As the old joke goes, "There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who let things happen and those who say, 'What happened?'" Korea, and China as well, are increasingly in the position to make things happen. The U.S. under Trump, stripped of all its qualified diplomats and generals, and run by a pack of right-wing extremists and fascists, is increasingly either letting things happen, or just asking, "What happened?"
We only need to look at the case of the Iran nuclear deal framework, to see how trustworthy the Trump administration is. The U.S. has put together a complex diplomatic agreement through a series of treaties approved by the legislatures of the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, China and Germany.
The treaty cannot be pulled out of without showing complete contempt for international law and diplomacy. Trump had no problem doing exactly that.
Trump's new national security team, with Mike Pompeo at the head of the CIA and John Bolton as national security adviser, suggests nothing less than a military cabal. Pompeo has been on the payroll of the ruthless Koch Brothers for years and is famous for his radical and dangerous statements.
Bolton has advocated an unprovoked attack on North Korea, and on Iran, for more than a decade and he is uniquely capable of starting a world war. As Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, remarked recently, "John Bolton is the most dangerous person I have met in 50 years of government service."
South Koreans, accustomed to following the initiative from Washington D.C., are at a loss. It is standard practice in the Korean media, or conversations among friends, to remark that Korea is still not as advanced as the U.S. and has so much to learn.
Imagine the shock of finding that the U.S., which has shaped Korean foreign policy for as long as anyone can remember, is being run by a group of corrupt businessmen and war mongers who are linked to corporations who seek to reap great profits by pursuing further war.
In this context, the Moon meeting with Kim Jung-un is absolutely critical. If South Korea can come up with a regional solution that the Trump administration will allow, even if it does not agree with it, there may be a way back to a path towards denuclearization.
However, that path is going to be extremely difficult as long as the Moon administration acts as if it is unaware of the larger security threat posed by Japanese remilitarization and the emergence of a regional arms race.
Another problem has been the lack of a long-term plan on the Korean part. President Moon is generally considered a likable and honest person, but lacking in strategic calculations. Numerous Koreans in government and in business have remarked to me casually that so far the discussion about a Trump-Kim summit is valued primarily because it puts off the possibility of a military confrontation for the next four to five months. But putting off war day by day is not a strategy and is unlikely to be successful.
Although obviously the environment may seem less tense now than it was a few months ago when Trump was threatening nuclear war, there has not been any positive change on the American side.
Instead the Trump administration is increasingly focused on how it will resist hostile forces within Washington D.C. The administration thinks a war, or a radical diplomatic reordering, or both, would be the only thing that might save them.
There were no rational voices around Trump before, but at least some moderated their war mongering. Now war is going to be front stage and center and the only question remaining is which country.
The opponents in Washington D.C. are not peace activists, but rather war mongers of a different flavor.
The interview with Nikkei by former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage on April 1 suggests that the opposition to engagement with North Korea could well be about making sure that Abe Shinzo and his far-right cabinet can pursue their agenda of building a powerful military and dominating the region.
Armitage made the cryptic comment, "I would be ashamed of my president if he goes and gets a deal which helps U.S. security, but doesn't improve Japan's. That's not the right way to treat an ally, in my view."
South Korea must make this summit work, and work big time. There is reason to believe that Kim Jong-un's recent visit to China places us on the verge of a regional consensus on security that could lead to a historical breakthrough.
But to achieve that breakthrough will require either that the summit produces exactly what the Trump administration wants, or produces a regional security architecture that can stand on its own and provide the U.S. and Trump the option of going for "America First" in the sense of drawing down U.S. forces in Korea and Japan.
The first scenario, a historical breakthrough, is being played up in a dishonest and shortsighted manner in the press. Trump is incapable of making a meaningful deal and he has only contempt for the experts who could make it happen.
Hardliners around him like John Bolton are pressing for impossible concessions by North Korea that would require it to give up national sovereignty without any guarantee that the U.S. will not change its mind tomorrow and attack.
It does not matter what North Korea, or others, say about what Pyongyang will do to denuclearize. We must think through the process from Pyongyang's perspective and consider what happened to Iraq and Libya, and more importantly, what is being threatened against Iran even after a sophisticated diplomatic solution was put in place.
The second scenario is probably what is actually being discussed in the back rooms, a pull back from Northeast Asia by the U.S. to focus on domestic issues (positive) or to give it freer rein to wage a war against Iran (negative).
But will it be possible to put together a solution to the North Korean problem without any "help" from Washington that will actually be implemented?
It is possible. Koreans are being forced to think for themselves because the stakes are just that high. Could they pull it off? More amazing things have happened in history. And one thing is certain: no one who is paying attention to current trends wants to see the Korean peninsula reduced to a site for a brutal war of attrition.
The massive military build-up by the U.S. and mobilization for a military conflict cannot be maintained forever. Either a war is launched, or a move to draw down forces is started.
Korean diplomats who thought their ticket to success in their careers was to study at Harvard or other elite schools, will now have to struggle to make up their own strategies with no help from the U.S.
The U.S., a nation that Koreans benchmarked for virtually everything is now run by a president who shows explicit contempt for intellectuals, for ordinary people and for just about everyone.
His uniform contempt is in fact a strategy for ending the rule of law or due process within the government. This radical change on the American side is tremendously puzzling and troubling to most South Koreans, leading often to deep confusion.
I interviewed three leading figures in diplomacy and security to get their insights about the prospects for a North-South summit and beyond that for a Trump-Kim summit.
The first expert I interviewed was Dr. Kim Changsu, a research fellow at the Center for Security and Strategy at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, and frequent commentator on geopolitics.
I think that the North-South summit will go smoothly. The successful Pyeongchang Olympics gave real momentum to the normalization of relations. We see a real effort by the Moon administration to make it work and a passion for improving North-South relations among citizens.
Clearly a successful North-South summit is essential to put together the foundations for a successful campaign in the local elections to be held on June 13. So we can expect consensus on this topic, and focus, in the Blue House.
At the same time, there is a high probability that the content of the joint declaration at the summit will consist primarily of the confirmation of an agreement to adhere to principles of denuclearization and to restart a North-South exchange, with the actual details left to the following working-level meetings to address.
Conservatives see Moon Jae-in as simply being lured along by North Korea's offers and being used. Progressives, by contrast, see these talks as absolutely necessary to avoid the threat of war and also as an excellent opportunity to improve North-South relations.
Businessmen perceive the summit meeting as the central achievement for the first half of President Moon's term and hope that it will bring with it changes in economic policy as well. They are cautiously optimistic. Scholars have varied, and contradictory evaluations of the summit and its potential.
The timing and the location for a U.S.-DPRK summit are still undetermined and the Trump administration will make its decision based on its evaluation of other factors in domestic politics and developments in diplomacy and trade.
A possible trade war with China, diplomatic confrontations with Russia, the consequences of Kim Jung-un's recent trip to Beijing, and the upcoming North-South summit are all factors that will impact at US-DPRK summit. I still think that there is a 70-80 percent possibility of a U.S.-DPRK summit.
There is a high probability that a summit between Trump and Kim would be quite symbolic and would enable North Korea to affirm the principles of nonproliferation and of denuclearization without a concrete roadmap forward.
President Trump has the ambition to leave behind a historic legacy of solving the North Korean nuclear issue, and beyond that the problem of the Korean Peninsula. He thinks he can utilize the results of such a summit as an opportunity to increase the number of republican seats in the congress.
North Korea, for its part, will use the summit as a chance to ask for an end to hostile U.S. policies, obtain a freeze on U.S.-South Korea military drills, and push for the normalization of U.S.-DPRK diplomatic and economic relations.
It is important for Trump to give the impression that he is a strong, high-caliber leader. That means that the summit should be successful. The Korean and the Chinese governments will do their best to support this summit because they want an end to the Korean War and because they see the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula as critical.
There has not been any fundamental shift in the diplomatic game between U.S. and North Korea. The Trump administration so far has stressed "maximum pressure" toward North Korea. The outcome of the summit will determine further engagement.
We have a group of North Korea hawks, Pompeo, Bolton and Haley, in the White House now, and they will want to continue maximum pressure, while working to make the summit possible. We need to watch carefully how North Korea will respond, especially to the demands for a clear agreement on denuclearization.
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the final goal, but the realistic first bench marker is a freeze on North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and testing, combined with an agreement to inspections and declarations concerning facilities in accord with the nonproliferation treaty.
The process should include CBMs (confidence-building measures) and Nunn-Lugar-style CTR (cooperative
I also spoke with Lieutenant General (ret.) Chun In-Bum of the Korean Army and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Koreans are for the most part relieved that there is a chance for dialogue between North and South, but many remain skeptical as to whether there will be any meaningful results.
The results of Kim Jung-un's visit to Beijing to meet Xi Jinping suggests there is a willingness to engage with the world and China conveyed Kim's comments about a commitment to denuclearization, which were reassuring.
South Korea is split politically. Many progressives feel as if peace has already arrived and that the big problems have been solved. Conservatives, however, insist that Kim simply cannot be trusted.
The business community does not know what to make of the upcoming summit and academics as a whole are taken up too much with details to be of much help in the larger national debate.
I do think the US-North Korea summit is a real possibility, but who knows what the outcome will be? Many are doubtful of meaningful progress.
Finally, I interviewed Wi Sunglak, the former South Korean ambassador to Russia and former head of the South Korean team at the six-party talks.
As this is the first summit meeting involving the rather odd leader of North Korea Kim Jung-Un, and the nuclear technology, and missile technology of North Korea is far more advanced than it was on the occasion of previous summit meetings, we should see it in the proper context as taking place in a time of increased tensions and nervousness on the Korean Peninsula.
For that reason, there are expectations that a breakthrough can be reached concerning nuclear weapons, missiles and peace on the peninsula.
I also hope that the worries about nuclear weapons and missiles, about war itself can be defused and placed in context and we can focus meaningful and effective diplomatic negotiations that will lead to the resolution of the issues.
However, there are two important respects in which this summit is fundamentally different from previous summits. The North-South summit will be conducted in the explicit context of a U.S.-DPRK summit. For this reason, the North-South summit will not be evaluated solely on its own merits, but also in connection with the U.S.-DPRK summit.
One could say that we have a process set up wherein the results of the North-South summit will ultimately be evaluated in terms of the results of the U.S.-DPRK summit.
In addition, denuclearization will be the overwhelmingly central topic for this North-South summit. But North Korea has argued that denuclearization is not an issue between the two Koreas, but rather between the DPRK and the U.S., thus trying to avoid addressing what is the essential issue.
For that reason, it is hard to be overly optimistic about the results of the North-South summit. It is not clear if North Korea wants to discuss seriously the central issue of denuclearization with South Korea.
In addition, if the discussions with the U.S. about denuclearization do not produce the anticipated results, whatever was achieved previously in the North-South summit will seem far less impressive.
That is why, concerning denuclearization, it is so critical that we prepare in advance a precise response in coordination with the U.S.
Conservatives express concern that Moon Jae-in's progressive administration will fall into a trap set by North Korea as the South tries to pursue rapprochement. Conservatives criticize the progressive stance towards North Korea for being too conciliatory. Moreover, the political advantages of the conservatives have decreased since President Park Eun-hye's impeachment and their position is weak as they face the upcoming regional elections.
The conservatives seem to be taking the appraisal of the North-South summit as a card to play in the upcoming election. If they continue along that track, there is concern that it may work to their disadvantage and so they have adopted a defensive posture in advance
The progressives have promoted a major role for South Korea in the upcoming summit, increasing anticipation of a resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.
However, if we consider the situation realistically, the primary player in a resolution of the nuclear problem will be the U.S. and there are obvious gaps in perception between the two parties.
The current progressive administration is unlikely to work hard to persuade a conservative and idiosyncratic Trump administration to accept the agreement. Seen from this perspective, it could end up being a burden for the Moon administration if it raises expectations too high.
For the business community, the possibility of a mood of reconciliation and stability on the Korean Peninsula would be welcome. The summit is welcome. But because many business figures have political connections with the conservatives, they do not actively support the administration's conciliatory posture towards Pyongyang. Many businessmen are deeply concerned that the failure of the summit could dramatically increase tensions.
Scholars are divided between progressives and conservatives. For the most part there are tremendous expectations for this unprecedented combination of a North-South and a U.S.-DPRK summits.
At the same time, there is growing concern that the North-South summit is being pursued too quickly. Similarly, there are those who worry that the issues will be treated too much as a political event.
The international sanctions mechanism must be employed effectively to induce North Korea to change its traditional calculations. For this reason we must establish good working relationship with those nations like China and Russia, which might be inclined to be lax in enforcing economic sanctions.
It is necessary that as a result of the summit North Korea commit to agreements and irreversible actions to pursue true denuclearization. It is necessary to be resolved to, and prepared to, take forceful countermeasures to achieve this goal.
For its part, North Korea has insisted on step-by-step, simultaneous moves forward on both sides. The Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 suggests that the North Korean position will be, in principle, to make a declaration and then proceed to engage in negotiations with the U.S. concerning a smaller package that will help advance that agenda.
If North Korea insists on only a stubborn step-by-step approach to engagement, it will be difficult to reach a single comprehensive resolution. We need to make strong demands that will assure that even if a step-by-step approach is employed, we do not face the salami-style engagement we have dealt with in the past.
We must, in advance, carefully consider what concrete solutions can be advanced and coordinate, with tremendous precision, with the U.S. and with Japan as the basis for entering the summit.
Also, we must engage in real negotiations. The time has come to focus on substance in the summit.
The exact nature of the upcoming North-South summit remains uncertain, and could be subject to tremendous shifts as the political landscape in Washington D.C. evolves. That said, we can expect without any doubt profound geopolitical transformation.
We are moving into a period of instability and the institutions of the U.S. that have played such a central role over the a 60 years are collapsing. The summit meeting will be like none other and may end up defining a whole new world order, not just some discussions about normalizing relations.
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|Publication:||The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)|
|Date:||Apr 21, 2018|
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