The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (left). During his summit meeting with Kim on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. In Washington, a reasonable concern would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle inroads made by US President Donald Trump with Kim, and spun up the young leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. In reality, he may have unwittingly done the opposite.

The fate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), good or bad, will likely be decided at this moment in time. Hopefully, what is negative, wrong, and evil, will not walk upon the scene. The potential source of those ills could possibly be Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. During his summit meeting with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. Presumably, an item for discussion during the meeting was the diplomatic process on denuclearization in which Kim has been engaged with US President Donald Trump for more than a year.

Kim’s vist to Vladivostok was actually a two-day affair. Beginning on April 24, 2019, there were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, where mostly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was not tender, but rather rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader and, to the extent possible, understand his idiosyncrasies and the nuances of his facial expressions and body language, chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. It was perceived by others as a display of Soviet-style formality. The suggestion being that not much should be put into Putin’s behavior at Vladivostok. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim. Consider that Putin did nothing special to help him. If he did, it was so subtle that it could not to be seen. Putin certainly did nothing publicly to convince anyone that he was Kim’s benefactor or protector. If he did, giving notice to the world of such a pledge is the usual way to ensure other countries would pay heed. Alas, he did not do that. Kim apparently failed to correctly parse out Putin’s agenda, moreover his concept and intent, with regard to North Korea before he arrived. Kim likely came to Vladivostok comforted by the thought that the Russian relationship has been long-term, beneficial, and historically speaking, reliable. He perhaps thought he might be able to eek out some type of additional assistance from Russia, in some form or another. If Kim truly came to Vladivostok with that purpose, his was truly an anemic effort. That approach may have left him open to the measures of the artful Putin.

A reasonable concern over Vladivostok in Washington would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle the inroads achieved by Trump with Kim, and that he may have successfully spun up the young North Korean leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. Throw on top of that reports in the US news media indicating that even before Kim left for Vladivostok, there was intelligence apparently collected by the US on activity taking place at facilities related to North Korea’s supposedly dormant nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. That would present the possibility that Kim wants to have the capability to leap back into developing systems that will allow him the launch a nuclear strike against the mainland US. Such would be an act of daylight madness by Kim. To intuit that the diplomatic effort at this point is still somewhat fragile surely would not be out of court. However, as result of his relatively lukewarm reception of the young North Korean leader, Putin may have actually given that diplomatic process a boost by bumping Kim in the direction of Trump. So different are the approaches and opportunities presented respectively by Trump and Putin, that Kim’s choice of whom to travel North Korea’s path into the future is essentially black and white. There is no equivalence, no shared attitude toward people, no mutual conduct displayed, no matching diplomatic techniques, for Kim to find comparison between the two leaders. Through the next set of communications and via a third summit, Trump may have the opportunity to capitalize on Putin’s shrewd, but barbed and unconventional moves. Si computes annos, exiguum tempus, si vices rerum, aevum putes. (If you compute the years in which all this has happened, it is but a little while; if you number the vicissitudes, it seems an age.)

There were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders during Kim’s visit. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, perhaps where mainly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim.

A Reality Check for Kim

Kim seemingly came to Vladivostok bearing all of Pyongyang’s vulnerabilities and anxieties on his sleeve. The Achilles Heel of North Korea is its economy. That economy has been in an absolute shambles for many decades. Through the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign targeted at North Korea’s economy, the country has been slowly strangled to death. Kim may have been desperate to maintain or increase Russia’s economic munificence in talks with Putin. As for his country’s anxieties, Kim, from the start of the Trump administration, boasted about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and burgeoning capability to reach the US with them. However, the US has the actual capability and capacity to attack and destroy North Korea. Away from the rallies and loudspeakers in his country through which he has convinced his people that their country is part of a larger bulwark of anti-US countries in Northeast Asia, there is the reality that Pyongyang’s allies in Moscow and Beijing would never put their countries’ well-being at risk for North Korea. There is the additional reality that North Korea was more of a financial strain and psychic drain on Russia and China than a useful and valued asset as a buffer against the US and its allies in the region. It is likely that Putin, to some extent, saw the meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate that what Russia thinks and says has relevance with regard to Northeast Asia, a region in which its territory resides. Putin had been unsuccessful in finding the angle to latch on and carve out an influential role for Russia in the Trump-Kim Talks. Putin surely knows why Trump was not so eager to offer him a place in the diplomatic process.  He was already on fairly shaky ground with the US President over Russian efforts to interfere in US elections as well as Russian misdeeds in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, and other points around the world.

Perhaps it was thought in Moscow and Pyongyang prior to the actual meeting that Vladivostok had the potential to become a public relations triumph. However, the world appeared to take only a moderate interest in events there. Public relations-wise, Trump had already made an authentic splash with his first meeting with Kim on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. His second meeting from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019 in Hanoi also drew quite a bit of attention. After Kim met with Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, there was a real sense that a new energy, new hope for peace and progress in Northeast Asia had been created. Kim was brought out the hermit kingdom to discover a brave new world, a world from which his people still remain isolated. For introducing him to that world, Kim really has much to thank Trump for. Any luster was left to glean from a Kim meeting was exploited by Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met from March 25, 2018 to March 28, 2018 and January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019. Indeed, by the time Kim met with Putin in Vladivostok, he was no longer the mystifying, obscure young leader in Pyongyang.

In the search for indicia that there was plenty of goodwill between the Russian and North Korean leaders and the meeting served to advance their relationship, much has been made of the fact that Putin was reportedly thirty minutes early for the April 25th meeting and waited for Kim. That fact takes on greater significance given Putin’s well-known history for arriving late for meetings with world leaders. He was nearly one hour late for his Helsinki Meeting with Trump in July 2018, four hours and fifteen minutes late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, fifty minutes late for a meeting with Pope Francis in 2015, and a tame fourteen minutes late for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. Yet perhaps conversely to creating a positive atmosphere around which the Russian-North Korean relationship could be viewed internationally, Putin was of the mind to set a sort of trap for Kim. The goal of which most likely was to suss Kim out and, at the right time, take the opportunity to establish the nature of their relationship as leaders. As a result of that effort, the entire visit had a strange feel. Everything seemed a bit off kilter, a little grayish. Certainly, Putin and Kim were never too chummy publicly. Putin’s personal approach and demeanor toward Kim did not mirror that of the avuncular Trump. Rather, he behaved nearly in the manner of a cold-hearted, Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of “gangster as spy” of whom Trump’s critics and detractors inappropriately claim the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires. He did not! Putin handled Kim much as a bewildered target for recruitment. As it was previously discussed in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,” Putin prepares for his meetings or any other forms of contact with another national leader or senior foreign diplomatic official, in advance, by mining all available information and by considering all possible angles of how an interlocutor might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Being engaged in an exceptionally devious sort of manipulation of Kim, one could be certain that every little move made in Vladivostok was performed with purpose. To that extent, even the anomaly of Putin’s punctuality was a calculated step.

Putin (right) and Kim (left) on escalator in Vladivostok. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim. Intriguingly, at Vladivostok, Putin was practically every bit the Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of cold-hearted, gangster as spy about which critics and detractors of Trump have endlessly waxed and have inappropriately claimed the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires.

Attempting to reach into Kim’s head concerning the visit, Putin probably calculated that he would be very optimistic over the outcome of his visit. Putin may have also parsed out that Kim believed that there was virtually an organic affinity between them given the long relationship Russia has had with North Korea. That affinity would be primarily founded on the notion that Putin was raised and served for years as an officer of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known as the KGB in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, which form the political underpinnings of North Korea today. Russia, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower. Moscow was the Soviet capital. Further, in support of his grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but covertly provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to to engage covertly in combat operations. (China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater.) Thus, Putin would be reasonably assured that drawing Kim in would not pose difficulties. Ensuring that he would be able to exert influence on Kim would be his main task. Putin’s effort to miniaturize Kim was almost heartbreaking to watch. Yet, few would shed tears for the despotic North Korean leader under the thumb of the ex-Soviet spy. He exploited every opportunity to publicly demonstrate that he was dominant. On each occasion that he did so, he had the look of a cat among pigeons. This is how it looks when expediency and outcomes are given primacy before method. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim.

Psychologically, Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. Putin has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. Putin has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.” (This reality makes Putin’s attitude and behavior with Trump even more intriguing. One can clearly observe a certain grace and sangfroid displayed by the Russian leader. He has never appeared jagged or, even more, threatening in the slightest degree toward Trump at any moment in which they were together publicly.) Among the North Korean people, Kim is the “Alpha-male”, who rules with an iron fist. He is the country’s supreme leader, its champion, its top man above all, deified, never to be second-guessed, never to be challenged. That side of Kim was not present in Vladivostok. There was no swagger, no expressions of conceit from Kim.

Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. He has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. He has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, author Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.”

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display an equal degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In that way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him. Indeed, seeing the footage revealed to the public of Kim’s expressions, gestures, and positions in Vladivostok, one might have trouble believing Kim was sure of anything while there. No one could show Kim the way while in Russia. Lucky enough for him, he maintained his balance, saw his way through, and made his way home. For Kim, it was doubtlessly an embarrassing chain of events. If those in Pyongyang who might read this would pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, Kim appeared to be caught completely off guard by Putin and stumbling around with his pants at his ankles in Vladivostok.

The Putin-Kim meeting most assuredly was not an inflexion point in Russian North Korean relations. Beyond Putin’s use of the meeting to remind Kim of the nature of their relationship, it is difficult to discern, with certitude, what was accomplished in Vladivostok. Urgent and important matters specific to their countries underpinning the meeting, at least officially, were not sufficiently enumerated publicly. From what was witnessed, no significant change in the geostrategic balance in Northeast Asia or relations in general among countries in the region that resulted from the meeting. As for dealing with the US as a threat, Kim did not appear to have been given the assurance of support from his country’s longtime “ally” that he wanted receive. It could be imagined that instead of promising to provide a type of nuclear umbrella for North Korea that the US provides for its allies in the region, Putin, in a hollow gesture, likely praised Kim’s willingness to take on the US and found his devotion and heroic disregard for death admirable. Concerning the denuclearization diplomacy with the US, it would be difficult to believe that Kim was given, at any point while meeting with Putin, solid, hopeful advice. Putin most likely acted in the manner of a dark muse for Kim on the matter.

Given that economic conditions of both countries have been greatly harmed by US sanctions and both leaders have publicly indicated that they would like to have all international trade sanctions removed, one might extrapolate that the matter of business, relations, business activities, between the two countries were broached. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between a modicum of legitimate and substantial illicit activity. Legitimate trade was limited to $34 million in 2018 due mainly to sanctions against North Korea. Statistics on gains from illicit activity are not available here but reportedly clandestine sanctions busting efforts are ongoing and apparently profitable enough to be worth the risk. It would not be a matter too trite to be managed by the two leaders as detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities, disallowed by sanctions, would mean grave consequences for both countries via sanctions. Through the process of monitoring their business activities, the international community has learned that transport agents in the Russian Federation have prepared documents for North Korean vessels. The government has not denied that. However, certain actions  have also been taken to help North Korea evade sanctions. Port services have allegedly been provided to North Korean-flagged ships. North Korean vessels have been fueled in Russia. The sale of that fuel to them by representatives of certain firms has been ignored. No interest is given to whomever might be selling cargo and oil products to the North Koreans. Further, a blind eye is turn toward whomever may be loading North Korean vessels. Vasili Kolchanov, head of the Russian Federation port services agency involved, explained to Reuters: “It’s not our concern who fuels the vessels, who sells that fuel, who they buy the cargo and oil products from.” He further stated: “We do not load vessels. As an agent, I only need to check that they have permission from customs.”

The type of business Putin would like Russia to develop with North Korea concerns mineral resources, including rare metals. Kim would like access to Russian electricity supplies. While Moscow generally views North Korea as a poor investment, Kim would like Russia to invest in the modernization of Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure. Nevertheless, as long as sanctions remain in place, none of that will come to fruition.

Image of an illegal cargo transfer to a North Korea vessel on the open sea. (above). Economic conditions of Russia and North Korea have been greatly harmed by US and UN trade sanctions. One might extrapolate that business activities between the two countries was a key issue in the Putin-Kim talks. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between the legitimate and illicit. Detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities disallowed by sanctions would mean grave consequences for both countries.

Kim’s Health

Taking a look at Putin’s bearing in Vladivostok, the Russian leader made a proper showing of himself as the usual sharp, strapping Russian leader. It was the loose, athletic, macho Putin, who in meetings exudes confidence, high-energy, and a readiness to do business. Taking a comparable look at Kim’s bearing, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Being most apparently somewhat outside of his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

In every video clip made public of the North Korean leader in Vladivostok, Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

The following link, https://youtu.be/40M-cfOhqxQ, provides a short video clip of one of several occasions at the Putin-Kim summit during which Kim’s labored breathing can be seen. Please focus on the region of the thorax between the neck and diaphragm in the front of Kim’s body or stated more plainly, his chest. On medical matters, greatcharlie is somewhat out of its province. Nonetheless, it seems fitting in this case, no matter how clumsy it may seem, for it to engage in an unlicensed, uncertified foray as an apothecary, to better understand Kim’s behavior. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, odd behavior, in response, he showed him no quarter, no sympathy.

Kim takes cigarette break in China while en route to Hanoi Summit (above). In Vladivostok, Kim looked unhealthy. He breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time in Vladivostok was that Kim may have been suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, he showed him no sympathy.

In addition to directing attention at Kim’s difficulty breathing, the international news media noted what was generally described as an awkward gift exchange. Kim gave Putin a sword. Interestingly, among Russians, presenting swords and knives is considered sign of bad omen that could lead to disagreements and confrontations. Kim may have been aware of that superstition when decided to present Putin with a sword. After all, Russians and North Koreans are certainly not strangers to one another. Both Putin and Kim have sufficient, well-qualified experts to inform them of the nuances of gift giving in the respective cultures. Still, Kim presented it anyway, perhaps believing that Putin would be impressed with its size and value. Putin’s gift to Kim was even more intriguing. He gave Kim a coin. Video of the gift exchange made public show Kim completely befuddled in response. He seemed disappointed, closely eyeing the coin, clearly fazed by its diminutive size and relatively low value.

One might attempt to airbrush the episode by suggesting that Putin meant well when he gave Kim the coin, but that is unlikely. Putin was surely well-aware of Kim’s tastes and what would please him when deciding upon a gift for him. Gifting Kim with a coin may have been an atrocious display of Kremlin wit. Indeed, there is the real possibly that the coin presentation served as a banal amusement devised by Putin and his circle of mostly male acolytes. They may have wanted to witness an “entertaining”, stunned reaction from Kim. Even worse, a darker meaning of the gift could have been to create the impression that Putin was giving coin to a beggar. Along with their boss, the boys’ club in the Kremlin’s Senate building, who most likely in private mock and lampoon foreign leaders, have too often allowed such predictable, over-rehearsed, bad behavior, insinuate itself in important matters. Recently, it has been a persistent, distasteful theme in Russian diplomatic behavior that analysts and scholars have either missed or ignored. Indeed, Putin has been engaging in rather curious form of gift giving. Notable was his public presentation of a soccer ball to Trump in Helsinki. In response, Trump looked at the ball with a smirk, stated that he would give it to his son Darren, palmed it with his large right hand, and then casually tossed it one-handed to the First Lady, Melania Trump.

Despite the many problems associated with their interactions, Kim seemed to speak in harmony with Putin after the summit, and adhered to an anti-US line. It is unclear whether Kim simply wanted to oblige Putin just for old times’ sake or create the impression that he achieved some success in Russia. It may also be that he was left with little choice but to acquiesce to Putin’s position. At a post summit press conference, Putin, projecting a sense of accomplishment, stated that the North Korea’s denuclearization was necessary, but he insisted that North Korean sovereignty must be recognized and that security guarantees must be provided to Pyongyang. For Putin, security guarantees is a alternative way of stating the US must retreat from Northeast Asia, abandoning its longtime allies, and most importantly, remove the nuclear umbrella that shields those allies from a nuclear threat, not just from the North Korea, but also Russia and China as that umbrella was originally designed. Over the years, those capitals have been satisfied to see US military resources, psychic energy, and ire, directed at North Korea. By encouraging North Korea to seek steps that would to improve its security situation by reducing, even weakening the defensive posture of the US and allies in Northeast Asia, Russia would consequently serve its own security needs by invariably weakening the security of the US and its allies versus it, too.

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display a similar degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In this way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him.

Wake Up Kim!

Qui non proficit, deficit. (Who does not advance, recedes.) Ideally, for Trump, Kim would come to a third summit strangling at the leash, anxious to get going. It would be counterintuitive for Kim to come into a third round of negotiations with well made plans to melt away sanctions without offering necessary progress on denuclearization. He may very well retreat intellectually and be satisfied to accept advice from the North Korean intelligence services, crafted with an intelligence bigotry of military and security service elites founded on conspiracy theories about Trump and US actions and intentions. Particularly at this cut bait or fish stage, there is the potential for North Korean intelligence services, expert at whipping up scenarios and hypotheticals to expediently conjure up reports that provide support for the politicized or even hysterical views of consumers. (This is a disturbing reality that intelligence services almost everywhere face: hiring in error, individuals without honor, unfit to meet the moral obligations of the job.) The minstrels for the occasional exaggerated, distracting flashes of a belligerent posture to the US have been North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. To promote peace, and being the responsible party, the Trump administration listens to those expressions, but does not react emotionally to them.

As greatcharlie has noted in previous posts, there is an endless sense of distrust within North Korea toward the West that always comes into play in diplomacy. Further, given what is known about Kim’s psychological disposition, success with him in diplomatic effort was never assured. With Kim, one must take into consideration his selective welcome toward outsiders, pretension exhibited in public displays of affection for his people, reported lurid acts of self-indulgence, irate outbursts, outright cruelty, violent actions towards the people, associates, and family, and murder, Kim has not been popularly described as an up and down, manic depressive. These attitudes and behaviors have been chalked up as the stuff that defines tyrants and despots.

To enlarge on that, one must remember that prior to all of the niceties that followed the Singapore and Hanoi meetings and the many kind letters exchanged between Trump and Kim, the US President accurately assessed in his September 2017 remarks at the UN, that the North Korean leader’s regime was extraordinarily violent. Some expert observers of Kim might call the young leader essentially a sadist who is intoxicated by violence. The March 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled “Commentary: Trump-Kim Talks: Will Desire Obey Reason or Will Force Be Used to Overcome Force?” discusses a Yonhap article on an examination made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (Gukga Jeongbowon) of Kim’s behavior. Trump is well-aware of such reports about Kim. Yet, in the greater cause of denuclearization, international peace and stability, and the betterment of conditions for the people of North Korea, it is expedient to put all of that aside. The focus must be on what is positive, to ensure the diplomatic process is fruitful. If Kim goes down the wrong road, observers should expect to see him figuratively shoot the soccer ball far off to the wrong side of the aluminium goal post at the next summit with Trump. Perhaps Moscow and Beijing, in order to promote their own respective geostrategic goals versus the US, may very well be trying to undermine Trump’s diplomatic efforts with Kim at the moment. Even more, they may be nefariously encouraging him to behave in ways contrary to advancing that diplomacy.

Trump has kept a positive front, projecting optimism with regard to the antithetical attitudes and behavior of the leaders of both Russia and China. He has likely kept in mind that a delicate symmetry does exist among their three countries from which any good basis for a positive interaction now and the future might be founded. Yet, there can be no doubt that Trump is well-aware of their unseemly ways. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled a visit to Moscow on April 14, 2019, in order to express US concerns over Russian “aggressive and destabilizing actions.” Doubtlessly, Putin’s meeting with Kim in Vladivostok qualified to be an agenda item of the in camera Moscow meetings. In further response to the strategic goals and thinking of its soi-disant friends in Moscow and Beijing, Washington has nourished the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies in Northeast Asia. Those ties that bind the US and its allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with Russia and China.

Kim must decide what his priorities are. Though, the choice for Kim, through the use of reason and wisdom alone, seems obvious. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has practically indicated that he already has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing and make the right choice.

Trump (right) and Kim (left) in Singapore. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has essentially announced that he has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing, make the right choice.

Trump to the Rescue?

Maybe if everything had been going perfectly on the denuclearization front, a third round of summit talks would be an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a deal. Meetings between US and North Korean business, financial, and development experts as well as meetings of international experts forms in various committees ostensibly would have come next in order to get cracking on North Korea sanctions economic rejuvenation. Surely, there is still time for that. At the moment, things are perhaps moving more gradually than initially expected. Yet, optimistically, everyone and everything will eventually arrive at the same place. To that extent, Trump continues to do the best things even in arguably unappealing circumstances with the hope of avoiding a calamitous situation in Northeast Asia. Trump sees no need for scare tactics. At the same time, Trump has kept his weapon, the armed forces of the US and its allies, figuratively cleaned and his sight zeroed. Cito rumpes arum, semper si tensum, habueris, at si laxans, quum voles, erit utilis. (A bow kept taut will quickly break, but kept loosely strung, it will serve you when you need it.)

In April and May of 2019, Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan. It may very well be that Kim believed the April 18, 2019 test of North Korea’s new “tactical guided weapon” and its May 4, 2019 “strike drills” using short-range, multiple launch rocket systems, fell well outside of the parameters of his promise to Trump not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Both weapons systems, fired off North Korea’s west coast, fell into the Sea of Japan, and did not intrude into Japanese or South Korean waters. As a result of the launches, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. Some went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. True, no matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Yet, Trump felt the tests were not of sufficient order of concern to derail the diplomatic process. He determined that the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise concerning weapons testing. His statement in response reflected that thinking. His response was in line with his concept of pitting hope against despondency in the diplomatic process on denuclearization. On May 4, 2019, using his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, Trump explained: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise me. Deal will happen!” Hopefully, Kim will not push such injudicious activity alongside the borderline on which Trump would not be able to countenance it.

To a larger extent, Trump would hardly believe that Kim thought for a moment that the launches would in any way improve his tactical position against the US. North Korea was never in great shape tactically versus the US, and will never be allowed the opportunity to be so. Trump would hardly imagine Kim thought the launches could somehow strengthen Pyongyang’s hand in the diplomatic process or pull him closer to Pyongyang’s negotiation position. On a more basic level, Trump is aware that many individuals develop and express impressions of decisions and actions of foreign leaders without attempting to detect internal matters that might be driving events. Homosum: humani nil a me alienum puto. (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me.)

When Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan on April and May of 2019, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. No matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were  unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Some analysts and scholars went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. Trump, however, determined the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise not to conduct tests.

A dimension of North Korea that one on the US side must lose sight of is that it remains a totalitarian tyranny, with power elites stratified in neat rows. To maintain his grip on the ranks of the military and security services in the midst of his denuclearization diplomacy, Kim may have decided to demonstrate his control and interest in the activities and developments within their organizations. It has been best for him to act in this way before even sensing any issues trouble in the ranks, Kim, to some degree, must also be responsive to Workers’ Party of Korea elites and senior leaders of North Korea’s now a tad more significant, forward-thinking, business leaders. North Korean military and security service elites, in particular, might have the sense that denuclearization will have the impact of discrediting and disenfranchising them. They would ostensibly be stripped of a considerable degree of real and psychic power. There would also more than likely be a loss of pride, prestige, and a certain emotional satisfaction. In any actions that he might take, Kim must be certain to avoid precipitating grumblings from them. By the same token, Kim would certainly be intolerant of the slightest scent of fragmentation within the Workers’ Party of Korea as a result of his diplomatic initiative with the US. Rather than avoid or preempt problems in the ranks, Kim might simply punish and obliterate suspected reactionaries and potential ones. Perhaps recent shifts made within the party’s senior leadership reflect his sensitivity to potential dangers.

Among the thoughts of those other than Trump in Washington, a greater concern might be that although Kim has metaphorically boarded the elevator and is riding it up, he does seem willing to travel to the top floor. He appears to be willing to get off several floors beneath it, just short of a grand prize for himself and North Korea. Perhaps when meditating alone over committing fully to a path toward denuclearization and working with the US, Kim may now and then feel slightly unclean in mind and body. Indeed, a turn toward denuclearization would surely require Kim to go against instinct. (In a way, that makes the mere fact that he is very openly considering it an extraordinarily step.) Alternatively, Kim might fear that Trump’s proposal is a cruel hoax, all too good to be true. Fool’s gold offered by a false heart. Considering such thoughts, one would not be on a slender thread to speculate that a real obstacle to working with Kim on denuclearization, may not be external manipulation or domestic concerns at all. There is the possibility that Kim, himself, remains the greatest restrictor to forward movement on a deal. However, in the diplomatic process, Kim is not being asked to bow down to US pressure, its desires, or accept something ephemeral. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. It cannot be stated enough that through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people over the misfortune that they are coping with today.

Inter cetera mala, hoc qunque habet stultitia proprium, semper incipit vivere. (Among other evils, folly has also this characteristic, it is always beginning to live.) A potential pitfall for Kim would be failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be fairly certain as to the Communist leader’s intentions once he leaves the table. As the erstwhile businessman, Trump will have a contingency plan for bad news. He calls such plans “alternatives.” Those alternatives surely include inflicting an unimaginable tragedy upon North Korea at best through ratcheting up the ongoing maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and at worst via a war fraught with the wreckage of innocent lives. It is also very possible that a prospective war might be fought with nuclear weapons.

In the diplomatic process of denuclearization, Kim is not being asked to bow down the US pressure, its desires. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. Through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people. A potential pitfall for Kim is failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be certain as to his intentions once he leaves the table. Trump will have a contingency plan. He calls such plans “alternatives.”

When one’s brain is functioning at such a high speed as Trump’s does, it regularly searches into the abstract. With the imagination serving as guide through the obscurity, his mind discriminates, vets, facts and ideas it has both recently encountered and has collected over time. His mind grasps for those most relevant to matter being focused upon. Those separate, yet correlative, facts and ideas are associated and via an even deeper analysis, are given higher meaning. As a result, an impression is formed which Trump’s mind constantly challenges with new information that is introduced to it. Having the ability to think in this way truly places Trump in a different category. (Note: There is no intent here to link Trump’s way of thinking to transcendentalism.)

Despite everything Kim has done so far, Trump, more so than anyone, appears to view him as a national leader, who has albeit made mistakes, but still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump does not believe Kim has limited faculties to improve his mind. Having worked with, coached, and mentored a number of young men and women during his business career as a land developer and builder, Trump has seen many evolve into very capable executives who went on to make the most of opportunities placed before them. Throughout the denuclearization diplomatic process, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. Such empathy was likely difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. The very type of stresses that Trump wanted to keep out of his denuclearization diplomacy with Kim appeared to weigh heavy on the North Korean leader while he was with the Putin. Trump doubtlessly discerned that something was bringing him down, and seemingly burning him out. To steal a phrase from Trump, Kim “was low energy.”

Hopefully, Kim is self-aware enough to recognize that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump and his sense for what could be accomplished has been moving through a process of maturation. As part of that maturation, Kim must recognize that there needs to be a mutual exchange of inspiration between Trump and himself. If Kim is truly able to apply the discipline of accuracy, think with precision, accept the truth, and discern how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea, he will recognize that Trump has offered the best path possible, and all will be well. Interestingly, Kim, both keeps his hair cut and most often dresses in suits tailored in ways similar to those of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. He has also fashioned his leadership style in his image. However, Kim, as with most humans, may aspire to advance to some greater form of himself. To that extent, there is the real possibility that he will want to take both his people and country to a far higher level from where they stand today.

The Way Forward

In Act III, scene i of William Shakespeare’s The Third Part of Henry VI, King Henry is being held captive by two armed keepers in a forest north of London. Stirring a discussion with his two captors, King Henry discusses his responsibilities as king. He explains that as king he serves for the purpose of his people, not for his own benefit. He states that every king must settle in to that idea. They must accept that is what it means to be a leader. Henry says in that moment: “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; / Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, / Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: / A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.” When Putin and Kim met in Vladivostok, everything was seemingly done under the pretense that all was well between the two countries. Still, there was a palpable sense while observing events in Vladivostok that Putin does not want North Korea to advance. He wants to  pull Kim and North Korea backward in time, backward to a circumstance in which North Korea could only define itself as subordinate to Russia and obedient to its whims. It may very well be Putin’s standard behavior with leaders of “lesser countries” and nothing extraordinary. Perhaps Putin, before and after the meeting, viewed Kim as being naive and that he could easily have him eating out of his hand. It has been considered in previous posts by greatcharlie that Trump, being different in his approach, may be able to do things that others cannot. Kim left Vladivostok appearing uncertain of how to respond to what he observed and heard from the Russian Federation President. As aforementioned here, in a scenario favorable for Washington, Kim, having met with Putin, may now be better aware of the stark differences between the respective futures that the Russian and US leaders offer North Korea. Putin met Kim figuratively empty handed as opposed to Trump who offered a golden future for his country. To the extent that Russia can exert influence in the world, particularly its large stake in the energy field, its attention is sought after by some. Whatever influence it may have internationally, it pales in comparison with that of the US.

If Trump had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. Still, it is not Trump’s responsibility to be the sole engine behind denuclearization and the legitimate push to advance North Korea economically. If and when he meets with Trump for a third summit, it would behoove Kim to show how he is moving North Korea in that direction. It must be reflected in his proposals, his language, and his demeanor at the negotiation table and away from it. If Kim is unable to recognize the real value in what Trump is offering, at best, he will essentially condemn North Korea to a grey economy of black market and questionable bootleg products of all types, reliant on back alley deals with organized crime and corrupt foreign government officials, cash influx from North Korean guests workers abroad with limited to no access to substantial salaries and remain present in foreign countries at the whim of their governments. Throw on top of that nuclear weapons and long-range missile program that the US fully intends to eliminate if not through diplomacy, through devastating military strikes.

In all likelihood, Kim, would be incensed over failing to remove painful sanctions and end the maximum pressure campaign; impress his people by scoring a diplomatic victory over their US foe by removing sanctions while retaining the DPRK’s nuclear program; and, losing time on developing more nuclear weapons and perfecting their ability to reach the Continental US. If the denuclearization process fails, that will be a tough ticket for Trump to swallow. Yet, rather than being angered, he would likely be saddened over failing to reach the young North Korean leader, to establish a friendship with him, or embrace him as neighbor in this small world; and, to prevent the great potential of the North Korean people from being wasted. Hopefully, none of that will be the case. Nunquam sero te venisse putabo, si salvus veneris. (I shall never think you are late arriving as long as you come safely.)

Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summit Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?

If an agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only in terms of US-North Korea relations, but also in terms of establishing true global peace and security. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. The world should wish them well.

If some agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  (North  Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un when they meet February 27-28, 2019, in Hanoi, the hope is that it will be more consequential than cosmetic. Since his first meeting with him in Singapore, Trump has been thinking through a new type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. What he has also been doing, however, is creating the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider how to work well with it. Hopefully, Kim has been preparing his people for a big change, a new path forward. Some observers have demanded to see tangibles, commenting specifically that there are no signed documents agreeing to any plan of action with concrete steps. The reality is that on this monumental undertaking, change will take time. One might refer those impatient observers to the words of the Greek Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome, Epictetus, which explained: “No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

Accepting that has most likely been tough for the North Koreans on many levels. The enormous uplift and national pride, the sense of power and control, that comes with possessing nuclear weapons and the means to use them, elevates their importance in Pyongyang. To that extent, resistance to Kim’s effort could have been expected from many senior officials. Certainly, Kim is well equipped to cope with stubborn resistance to his new efforts in his own way. However, quite different from resistance to a deal, but still threatening enough to it, would be almost inherent lack of desire in Kim or any other official in Pyongyang to be “subsumed” by Washington just to gain advantages or considerations being offered. It must always be remembered that the North Korean government is authoritarian in nature and underpinned by a revolutionary movement. It will be reluctant to trust and slow to accept change. There would unlikely be a desire to integrate with what North Koreans may have for so long demonized as a Western-led international order.

It would be a mistake to believe that reaching an agreement would be seen by North Koreans as a means to acquire some sense of affirmation. For the North Koreans, particularly members of the Workers’ Party of Korea, affirmation can only result from loyalty to Kim, to country, and adherence to revolutionary ideals. That all lies deep within. Reaching an agreement would find greatest acceptance among North Koreans as a decision driven by revolutionary impulse. Additionally, North Koreans would want to know what they might create as a result of an economic revival will rightfully belong to them alone. There would be joy in knowing that whatever they might build would be the product of their own hands, not something given to them or done for them by external agents. Support from Trump must be viewed as being actuated by his humanism, and not negatively perceived as a cloaked manipulation or a quest for US dominance. As noted in Pensées, the collected works of 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

What may also prove challenging for Pyongyang, if an agreement is reached, will be exercising the restraint required when working within the international order. The parameters of of bilateral and multilateral agreements, rules, regulations, and procedures, will need to be obeyed. Pyongyang should not equate using restraint as surrendering control. Rules, regulations, and procedures both established and understood in the international order, allow for sense of certainty, assurance, and safety. If anything, control resides in Pyongyang’s ability to make the decision to enter and to remain in the global economic fray as a genuine player. What is being presented is an authentic opportunity for North Korea to choose to be something other than a stranger to the rest of the world.

Given the great economic and financial benefits expected of a Trump-Kim deal, the question would likely remain in Washington on whether the life condition of the North Korean people would be changed by steps taken by it. Only Kim would be able to decide that. The best hope Washington might have on the matter would be that Kim will accept with “revolutionary zeal and patriotism” that the transformation of the country should touch all levels of North Korean society. Interestingly, if Kim follows through on a deal with Trump, the economic effort could very well be viewed as the greatest attempt to take DPRK’s Revolution to new heights since the Chollima Movement initiated by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, decades ago.

If Trump and Kim reach an agreement in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only for the US and North Korea, but also in terns of establishing true global peace and security. The world should wish them well. China, Vietnam, and Mongolia have gone through similar, yet respectively unique, economic transformations. If some written accord is not reached by the two leaders at the summit, there will be other opportunities to meet. However, if everything goes thoroughly bad at the meeting and this mighty diplomatic effort collapses, both leaders will face a dilemma that could take two forms. One may include cobbling together an agreement to maintain some semblance of the status quo. The other may be to go war. The latter is certainly far more distressing than the former, as it may result in the loss of millions of lives. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. In his work, Meditations, the renowned Ancient Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, provides apt marching orders for Trump and Kim: “Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then, do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.”

The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider

US President Donald Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope defeat those problems in order to achieve the President’s goals. Trump is working hard to make denuclearization a reality. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. 

Regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and denuclearization, US President Donald Trump has pursued what he perceives to be an opportunity for the US to change things for the better. Since his meeting with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un, Trump has expressed the view that relations between the US and DPRK are the best that they have ever been. He explains that is evinced by the fact that: his communication with Kim has been very positive; there has been no nuclear weapons or missile testing; US citizens being held in the DPRK have been returned; and, the US is receiving remains of its soldiers lost in the Korean War. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope with or even defeat those problems. That is what the Trump is trying to do. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. Now is the time to advance toward the actual realization of denuclearization as well as have the US enumerate what it and the rest of the world will actually do for the DPRK.

Naturally, success, while wished for from the second meeting, is not guaranteed. Trump has been acknowledged both directly and obliquely in eloquent phrases on Twitter, speeches, and press conferences. This next meeting must be the inflexion point of the negotiation process on denuclearization. If satisfactory results in the form of guaranteed, concrete steps from Kim are absent, abandoning the effort would be completely in step with Trump’s “America First” concept. The purpose of this rather “lean” essay is to look briefly at some issues both Trump and Kim might be already contemplating before the next meeting, along with other, small thoughts that might also be worth considering. At points, it highlights some impediments that were very likely responsible for decelerating the pace of the negotiation process, and calls attention to those obstructions that could be removed in the second meeting. It is not orotundity to state that it is not greatcharlie’s intention, as the 2020 Presidential Election Campaign begins, to serve as some conseiler isolaté d’un aspirant president from which attacks against the Trump administration could be formed. The hope is to simply contribute in some balanced way to the policy debate on the DPRK and denuclearization. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Kim seated during his 2019 New Year’s Address (above). It is very likely that both Trump and Kim will find in that face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as on June 12, 2018. Much as Trump has expected Kim to have evolved somewhat in terms of his thinking on the US and on the potential of his country following their Singapore Meeting, Trump, having gone through much concerning international affairs, has surely evolved since.

Some Things Kim Might Discern about Trump

Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was comfortably founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their next meeting. It is very likely that they will find in their next face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as in Singapore. Trump already seems to feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim will discover that Trump, having gone through much in the realm of international affairs since, has also evolved.

Objective observers of Trump would say that if one is able to get a sense of Trump’s inner thinking, one would become better able to parse out or simply have better sense of his decisions on foreign and national security policy.  Otherwise, he may often appear to be doing nothing when he is actual doing a plethora of things, step by step. In his efforts, Trump does not act as if he were tinkering figurative tools in his political maneuverings and deal making. Rather, he uses certain “instruments” to methodically, and rapidly, tailor a situation, to craft things. The vocal “bang and boom” often heard while he takes action is typically used as distraction and even amusement at times. Within, he approaches matters with a rhythm that is smooth and unbroken, steady and strong. He always has a plan and knows where he is going. His true target is not always one that others would immediately discern. He prefers to accomplish many things at once. When warned about advancing on a matter, Trump may often boldly push ahead. In his current position, much as during business life, Trump will treat important what he intuits on how to proceed. US Government foreign and national security policy professionals may appreciate his ideas, but requirements that they much adhere to regarding diligence will invariably demand that generally refrain including his “gut reactions” in their analyses. Yet this contrast in approach in no way serves as indicia that the relationship between Trump and the US intelligence community has been corrupted.

Critics and detractors within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have had Trump on the brain continuously from the time he became a Presidential Candidate in 2015. Unfortunately, it seems that some mud brought into the campaign by a few self-interested others, unbeknownst to Trump, was tracked into the White House on the bottom of his shoes. However, it has long since been swept out of the building despite continued efforts to impute upon Trump whatever behaviors in which others were engaged behind his back. Trump is certainly not totally insensitive to his opponents attacks. Admittedly, there is some aggressiveness. The attacks of his critics and detractors should not be underestimated for they surely would have smothered or destroyed other national leaders of less strength and fortitude. In a way undisclosed, Trump still finds space to grow and evolve as president, despite the weight and nature of criticisms levelled against him. It may sound a bit soupy, but the reality is that Trump becomes stronger, vitalized by the adversity he faces; he draws from the potential energy and kinetic energy manifested from the power of his struggles. The Ancient Roman Senator and historian Marcus Porcius Cato, known as Cato the Elder, once expressed: “We cannot control the evil tongues of others; but a good life enables us to disregard them.”

On that basis, an understanding of Trump’s approach to foreign and national security policy can also be founded. A fairly common belief globally, but not always admitted in more recent times, is that the US is the beacon and the ballast for the world. Trump holds to that belief, and knows that it would be a moral failing to be remiss or delinquent in dealing with urgent and important issues  However, unlike his predecessors, while he sees all the needs around the world, Trump is not inclined to hand anything to anyone. He would like the other party to demonstrate, through some exchange, of goodwill even, an appreciation for what the US may give. Me rendez-vous heureux?

From what is collected by the intelligence services of both countries, strands must be pulled from what is synthesized to support the requirements of decision makers. That information must also be accurately portrayed. Seeking to collect as much as possible about Trump to prepare Kim for the next meeting, to develop something new, there may be the temptation to infer and extrapolate information from derisive US news media reports of recent events concerning the US President. Reading that might lead Pyongyang to erroneously believe that Trump’s range of action and ability to do big things on foreign and national security policy might be restrained somewhat by his rather curious domestic political struggles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Observing reporters almost instantaneously receive approval from editors and producers in broadcast, published, and online media to pursue stories on the Trump administration only after developing an immediate impression of their veracity shocks the system. The overwhelming nature of its incredulity can even amuse as it is the juxtaposition of two ideas: “all the news that is fit to print” versus “anything goes!” Still, as long as such reporting and commentaries sell advertising space, there most likely will be a lot more of it. Is qui scit plurimum, rumor. (That most knowing of persons: gossip.)

Once Trump has determined what he desires from a matter, he finds a path to get where he wants to be, regardless of how rocky. With the knowledge of how he can successfully proceed firmly in mind, Trump often will initially be patient, allowing an opposite party to try to better understand and find some agreement with his positions. The value of that would be to facilitate any negotiations. Intriguingly, Trump prefers and usually seeks to reach a mutually acceptable agreement through negotiations. Yet, at the same time, Trump will allow the path he charted to develop further. If a deal cannot be reached, he will travel that path to his goal. Interestingly, his clashes with political opponents have underlined that “they do not get Trump.” They seem to have no desire to examine him in an objective way. Kim should avoid the mistakes they have made in negotiating with him.

Most important to know is that what Trump does on one issue may serve to positively shape what he is doing on another. He economically exerts his energy, squeezing the maximum benefit from his decisions. Persistent, iniquitous, coverage of Trump’s handling of the very important political debate on border protection, the border wall, the government shutdown and even the State of the Union Address, obscured the reality that there were other important and urgent matters on his plate. A sampling of what Trump was working on at the same time included: agreeing to a new meeting with Kim on denuclearization, throwing full US support behind the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, drawing down US troops from Syria, watching peace talks and the US drawdown in Afghanistan, and working in trade with China. National unity and expressions of goodwill in the US were necessary for the world to see, not a partisan battle. By the way, the outcome of that partisan battle on border security, even though it may not be generally accepted, is certainly assured to go Trump’s way.

The Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol (left) hands Trump (right) a letter from Kim. Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The comfortable level of connaissance suffisante they acquired of one another has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other will be verified by the results their next meeting.

Some Thoughts Trump May Be Having about Kim

The initial meeting in Singapore allowed Trump and Kim to get a sense for one another, discuss expectations, and essentially figure out whether denuclearization was even feasible with all things considered. In the second meeting, some tangible steps toward denuclearization must result or the entire process will be largely seen as a failure. If a memorandum of understanding, outlining requirements, responsibilities, and time lines for action to which officials from both sides could later add flesh out, that would be very encouraging. If Kim came to the meeting and then left having offered nothing new, he would make a huge mistake. If Trump feels in the end that he has been led down the garden path on denuclearization, and would be left standing before the world with nothing, he would not react well at all.

As discussed in a January 19, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World”, when mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. It is more than likely that by now, Kim has dealt with any issues of that nature. Bureaucratic issues concerning denuclearization, if they ever existed, are by now nonexistent in the truest sense of the term. Kim definitely has a strong grip on his government. Political rivals are essentially nonexistent. He most certainly would have been “on his way” after presenting the mere idea of denuclearization to the leadership of the Workers Party of Korea. What is more likely is that Kim may be concerned with being profoundly disappointed by Trump, who is in fact a relative stranger to him and initially an adversary from the US. (One must look from Kim’s perspective, not one’s’ own lens, not one’s’ wishes.)

Given the militaristic culture and security mindset that undergirds the DPRK’s society, Kim naturally may still harbor fears over being outmaneuvered by the US in a way that leads to military invasion. A new window of opportunity has been opened for US-DPRK relations and for the DPRK directly, and the world. Still, due to that, one must not treat the fact that after July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of a Demilitarized Zone remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off with less care than it deserves. The 65 years following the war were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and the DPRK. What emerged from that period within both governments was a vast paranoia.  That paranoia eventually hardened, became somewhat ordinary, and seemingly gave rise to intractable negative beliefs and harsh convictions of both nations respective intentions. This defacto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional  perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and varied other reports on both sides. This was particularly so in the military and intelligence and other security services. Having for years regularly diagnosed one another as bad, to be fair, it is now hard for them to turn on a dime because one wants them to do so. Great unease, suspicion would naturally exist.

Having kept the DPRK in isolation, much as his father, Kim Jong-un, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung had for so long before him, Kim might certainly concern himself with having his society become rapidly “contaminated” by stealthy  Western efforts to influence his people or simply by philosophies and lifestyles that loyal members of the Workers’ Party of Korea would consider anathema. With this alone in mind, it would be unreasonable for anyone to complain that a change in the mindset of the DPRK on interacting so closely with the West on denuclearization or any transformative matter should have come more rapidly. Trump did not leave Singapore feeling a need to dictate the tempo of the negatiation process. It has been left to Kim to guide his country across the many figurative intellectual and emotional pickets lines that exist to denuclearization.

However, what could be legitimately characterized as a resistance and reluctance by Kim to advance toward an agreement may indicate that he may fear an invasion of another sort. He may fear that economic development effort will lead to invasion in the form of multinational corporations which are accountable to no one. Multinational corporations would argue well that they are good global citizens doing much that is not publicized. A general impression in many capitals, however, is that help from them is not really help. They are viewed as operating solely with pecuniary interest in a country. One only needs to recall the experience of Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union a Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin regularly laments. Undoubtedly, Moscow has reminded Kim of that. The massive multinational corporations have budgets greater than the DPRK itself. They are well staffed by very intelligent and capable development professionals who diligently look for what to exploit in weak countries. They can engage in nearly formulaic efforts to self-enrich themselves leading to dreadful damage to societies even if it is unintentional. It can become a plundering of countries struggling to pick themselves up and trying to organize themselves. Kim may believe that opening the DPRK to assistance on economic development may make his country vulnerable to corporate intrusion as it tries to emerge. It is unlikely that the idea of creating linkages between US based multinational corporations and DPRK industries to foster their development, as was done in South Korea many decades ago, will not fly in Pyongyang. The DPRK will most likely want to move along its way without corporate intrusion. If Kim expresses such a concern in the next meeting, Trump will likely guarantee that he would not even hint to any multinational corporation that some right or protection will be provided to seize DPRK resources.

If in the aftermath of the Trump administration, multinationals attempt the move in on the DPRK in well-worn, predictable ways, that will almost guarantee an ugly response in which the multinationals will be most likely be violently forced from the scene. Ultimately, that might lead to the collapse of everything positive achieved. It is highly recommended that Trump should have a solution available to address that likely concern to share with Kim at the negotiation table.

Among the advantages that would supposedly be created by the DPRK’s cooperation with Trump, would be the betterment in the standard of living and ostensibly, through an improved economy, the empowerment of the Workers’ Party of Korea which itself would presumably go through some change. Through its transformation, the DPRK would no longer be “The hermit kingdom”, but rather, find itself invited to the grand table of countries. It too would be able to wield real influence internationally; it, too, would be involved in decisions made on urgent and important matters. Yet, regarding economic development, Kim may reason that the same economic levers that Trump may use to ratchet up the DPRK’s economy and greater industrialization can be used conversely to supplant his government’s freedom of action. It may even be used to undermine Kim’s present unrestricted, authoritarian control his country. If a reliance on the help of the US, or the international community in some collective effort, to subsidise the DPRK’s organization were to develop, the US and others would be able to control the spigot from with the society’s revitalization flows. Kim will be fully responsible for that circumstance, that loss of independence, self-determination, and control.

Realistically, the long-term process of the DPRK’s economic development will go beyond his time in office and the mission of transforming the DPRK would be assigned to future US administrations. Trump should consider Kim’s possible concern that while he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may be problematic. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

Trump displays letter from Kim Jong-un in Cabinet Room of the White House (above). Beyond their communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region, may all sound well as part of a prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim, if his intentions are positive, will want to know how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

What Might Facilitate Negotiations

Conceivably, more so than less, Kim feels that he can rely on what he might call Trump’s “humanism.” Still, reassurance, most important in negotiations between adversaries, cannot come simply from engaging in more talk with Trump. Trump has already expressed much to exhort Kim to move toward denuclearization. Kim knows very well that Trump now wants to see genuine steps that will complete the dismantling and elimination of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program. Assuredly, Trump will not present a partial version of himself through which he would intend to deceive Kim. There would not be some sort of “secret world” stuff going on that might possibly be discovered in his words, mannerisms, and attitude. Beyond ongoing communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region may all sound well as part of an imaginative prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim will still want to know, if his own intentions are positive, how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

Trump must bring tangibles to the negotiation table during the second meeting developed from his own shrewd thinking and knowledge of resources that he can commit to a deal. When mulling over what to present to Kim that would serve as the making of a plan of action, Trump’s aides and advisers likely determined what the relative value of a tangible might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. Many of Trump’s suggestions might be steps that Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang never considered. Despite what may be the wish of Pyongyang, no suggestions that may shift the security framework that exists between the US and its allies in Northeast Asia should be brought to the table with reasonable hope of seeing change. Indeed, Trump certainly must not give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Although the DPRK would the focus of talks, those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Indeed, given the concerns of the US and its allies to China’s actions and intentions in the Asia Pacific region, a reaffirmation of cooperation and commitments on security among them should be expected. Overall, Kim can rest assured that Trump will not offer rotten apples for him to choose from.

Simulatio delet veritatem, sine qua nomen amicitiae valere non potest. (Pretense obliterates the truth, without which the name of friendship cannot survive.) Kim would do well to focus on his own country’s relations with the US as well as neighbors in the region. If he is negotiating with some pretence of serving certain interests of China at the same time, he will essentially throw away an opportunity as the US and its regional allies would surely detect that effort. Kim must no longer allow his country to remain a prisoner of what most in the world views as an ignoble momentum.

Speculating on what might be offered, there might be some type of Marshall Plan tabled by Trump. Development programs similar to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization must be organized for the DPRK’s many industries. Using its own wisdom, and the external assistance it chooses to receive, the DPRK must in a more efficient way enrich itself with its own natural resources. Improved trade opportunities with other countries worldwide, facilitated by guarantees by the US, could be established following the removal. Rather than to multinational, linkages could be made to the economics departments and business school of specified US colleges and universities. There may be some small-scale variante of the Peace Corps with well-defined parameters encompassing state-run industries and other economic activity within the DPRK, narrow in scope, curated in a way that recognizes the extraordinary internal security concerns of the DPRK. Those concerns will not go away overnight.

Trump is certainly not a political hack being led from the nose by his political party, not a creature of some financial interest due to subsidization, and not a corporate pawn as his enemies portend. or as a number of other US political leaders reportedly have been alleged to be. The potential threat that he could be lobbied or coerced to acquiesce to demands from some external source, political, financial, or corporate, is nonexistent. Nothing of that sort could possibly undermine what might be achieved.

If the second meeting is successful, it would be a dramatic moment. The years of struggle would be about to come to an end. There would need to be the call for collective retreat from hostile thinking if the two countries are to move forward successfully. Thinking and emotions must flow in a new direction. What is read and heard in the public from officials at the highest level on both sides should reflect that. There must be an insistent voice that proclaims the time for change has come. It must be expressed from the top and must be heard repeatedly. If encouraging satisfactory change in the DPRK proves to be insurmountable for Trump, or if there is an unwillingness of the DPRK leadership to be truly open to taking a new path, displaying ambivalence or equivocation in talks, the denuclearization process will most likely collapse. If the DPRK undertakes the effort to transform, it must be dedicated to it completely. Kim is essentially facing a binary choice. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, returning to the unreality that the DPRK has the military wherewithal to take on the a military superpower would be a tragic mistake. Perhaps for him, reason might again be found in the words of Cato the Elder who stated: “Wise men profit from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.”

Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. He has the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order. What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. This is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. Although the values and interests of the US will be satisfied, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well.

The Way Forward

In Act 1 scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, a story in the story of tinker abused as part of a local lord’s practical joke upon a poor tinker, Christopher Sly. He is convinced that he is a lord, and troupe of actors performs a play before him which makes up the main story of The Taming of the Shrew. Their play takes place in Italian city of Padua, a rich young man named Lucentio there to attend university, instantly falls in love with Bianca, a beautiful, mild young woman. However she already has two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, and Bianca’s father has declared that no one may court Bianca until first her older sister, Katherine, an ill-tempered  is married. That problem is ostensibly resolved when Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, a audacious young man from Verona, arrives in Padua seeking a wealthy woman to marry. Believing he has found what he was looking for, he agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. Several characters add to the warnings Petruchio hears about her. However, rather than back away, he views marrying her as a challenge, not just a money making opportunity. He explains that living with Katherine could not possibly be worse than the hardships he  endured in war and at sea. Petruchio exhorts: “Think you a little din can daunt mine ears? / Have I not in my time heard lions roar? / Have I not heard the sea puff’d up with winds / Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat? / Have I not heard great ordnance in the field, / And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies? / Have I not in a pitched battle heard / Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?” In the same vein as young Petruchio, Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. (By the way Shakespeare’s Petruchio proved his capabilities and eventually became happily married to Katherine.) the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order.

What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. There is the real possibility that Kim’s aides and advisers might associate with that notion in their reports to their Chairman as it is one of the more popular analyses propagated about Trump worldwide. Yet, rather, this is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. He has acquitted himself exceedingly well. The better angels of Trump’s nature, so to speak, are guiding him on this matter. Rather than do what Trump is doing, other political leaders, some vying for the highest office in 2020, would perhaps be content to allow a long time adversary that they no answers for dealing with, drown in economic destitution under a continued “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions. Although ultimately the values and interests of the US will be satisfied through the present process to establish a sustainable peace, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well. An optimal way to confirm veracity of both sides at the moment, as the noncommissioned officers likely would have said at the New York Military Academy when Trump was a cadet, is to “snap to it!” Again, words alone simply will not do the trick on this second occasion. Both leaders, mens sana in corpore sano, must come through by constructing a draft upon which a sustainable agreement can be rooted. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applauses of the world, but in the action itself.)