Amplifying the Truth about the Denuclearization Diplomacy to Counter Flawed Interpretations and Negative Expectations: A Response to Readers’ Comments

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at Panmunjom in June 2019. It is important to hear from our readers, and necessary to directly address their latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue much of our effort has been dedicated to in the past couple of years, in this case the US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy. Although the diplomatic process has been long and there have been no big results yet, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. No reason has yet been found to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Hoping to provide greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here.

Following the publishing of our December 12, 2019 post, “Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, If Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others “, greatcharlie received a number of comments concerning its analyses of the US-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) diplomatic process on denuclearization. Perhaps the top five among those comments would be: discussions in posts are overly optimistic about the negotiations; discussions in posts are too supportive US President Donald Trump; discussions in posts are too understanding of North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un; discussions in posts fail to provide enough information about what is going on inside North Korean foreign and national security policy institutions (a rather immoderate expectation); and, discussions in posts are too critical of using overt sources, specifically US news media broadcasts, publications, and online posts, to draw inferences about the Trump administration’s future actions. All comments on greatcharlie’s work product, with the exception of the churlish few, are welcome. It is important to hear from our readers. It is especially necessary to directly address the latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue to which several of our posts have been dedicated in the past couple of years (in this case, US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy); they question the blog’s outlook; and, their comments arrive in considerable volume. Under the best circumstances, greatcharlie would like to be known for being a voice of common sense. The hope of greatcharlie is to earn its readers through the quality of our work. The hope also is to successfully act as a virtual listening post for our readers, discerning foibles from inside of governments, while being remote from it.

It stands to reason that many observers would have serious reservations about what is happening with the diplomacy on denuclearization and whether there is a genuine path to success under current circumstances. One could say there has been a lack of progress. Each summit between Trump and Kim, to include Hanoi, has been a “nearly but not quite” moment. Kim at first offered real hope that something positive could be constructed, it would be reasonable for some to sense now that he will provide in the end what he been best known for providing: disappointment and pain. To go further, one might presume that the North Koreans were never fully vested in the diplomacy and had not even tried to fully grasp the immense responsibility they shared with their US counterparts at this important point in their country’s history. One might be convinced that they simply sensed some prospect of exploiting, in some way, an opportunity that they still do not fully understand. (If they have surreptitiously taken that path, their greatest test may come soon enough when they must know what to say or do to prevent a war with an unbeatable opponent.) It has been said that a gentleman should know when to leave a party. Nonetheless, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. Struck by that, greatcharlie has not as yet found reason to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Optimism allows one to believe that there may still be some sort of eclectic masonry that Trump can build to create a link between the two countries. (Perchance this is the sort of optimism that some readers find so unsettling.) With the aim of providing greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here. Dicamus bona verba. (Let us speak words of good omen.)

Kim (center) gesticulating as he talks with North Korean officials. On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, surely the rational and reasonable could recognize the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept his proposal in some form hashed out at the negotiation table. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward with Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump, downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, and then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been tedious. Wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves as lower tier players.

North Korean Diplomacy: Something Fairly Different from the Norm

On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, the rational and reasonable should surely recognize  the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept them in some form, hashed out at the negotiation table. Trump’s proposal would have positive implications for the North Korean people for generations. Kim’s delay in recognizing what could be gained is somewhat perplexing. There have not been mixed messages from US, or anything that could reasonably be interpreted as such, to confuse the North Koreans or throw them off their game. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward from Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump then downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been positively tedious. If Pypngyang could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves, by all reasonable and accepted international diplomatic standards, as lower tier, Mickey Mouse players. Without knowing for certain, it would be wrongful to ascribe what is at the professional core of the North Korean negotiators and their managers in Pyongyang that might be the cause for what they have been doing in the diplomatic process. Parsing out their words and deeds, greatcharlie has been able to draw inferences as to why they have been acting in eccentric ways. (Perhaps policymakers in North Korea would be better labelled policy transmitters for Kim is the only policymaker in North Korea.)

Dissimilar to their US counterparts, who may likely be morally centered by a particular religion, Pyongyang’s policymakers and diplomats are centered by the official ideology of North Korea, that in a way mimics theology, known as juche. Translated from Korean, juche means “independent status of a subject” or simply “independence.” The concept was founded in the 1950s by Chairman Kim Il-sung, Kim’s grandfather, on the idea that Korea suffered for hundreds of years under foreign, specifically Chinese control, and it is determine forever into the future remain independent. To that extent, it will remain independent, North Korea, in nuanced ways has sought to distance itself from the influence of big Socialist powers, at one time, the Soviet Union and China still. Among the nuanced aspects of juche was the promotion of the cult of personality of the “quasi-divine” ruling Kim dynasty ensuring a monolithic leadership. That was officially adopted as the leader doctrine in 1980. Indeed, starting in their early years, North Koreans have been taught  to fanatically cling to the party line of Workers’ Party of Korea and place their faith in the party chairman, the Supreme leader, above all things. Ethnonationalism is also an aspect of juche. There is an emphasis maintaining and celebrating the purity and superiority of North Koreans. There are several other aspects, some equally disconcerting. While so much has been done to distinguish juche from Communists and Socialism, the underpinnings of those political ideologies in its system is clear. Despite any displeasure this comment might cause in Pyongyang, it could be said juche is essentially an avant-garde or disjointed simulacrum of a Communist or Socialist system as intended under the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (To the disapproval and exasperation of many Northeast Asia regional experts and Korea scholars, in previous commentaries on North Korea, greatcharlie has simply labelled the country as being Communist. To clarify, the purpose for doing that was to provide an immediate point of reference to our readers to allow them to better understand how its bureaucracy operates. Further, leaving everything stated here about juche aside, the country that would develop from Kim Il-sung’s movement, North Korea, was originally girded by the sweat, blood, wherewithal, and guidance of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China. To that extent, far more similarities to both of those Communists countries still exist than differences. The intent of stating any of this is neither to extenuate greatcharlie’s choice, nor  offer a mea culpa.)

All members of the society are true believers in juche, and every move they make is colored by the precepts of juche. That certainly holds true for North Korean policymakers and diplomats working on the denuclearization diplomacy. For them, participating in the negotiations has been more than a job. It has been a grand opportunity to faithfully serve Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea and vehemently support and defend North Korean political ideals. Making certain that their performances in the negotiations immaculately adhered to national ideals has very likely been a measure of success for North Korean diplomats. That being the case, likely ever present among them is the stress of potentially making an error politically. Avoiding that means always making certain there is no possibility for the misinterpretation of their actions. Looking toward the North Korean policymakers and diplomats to introduce an ingenious idea to propel the diplomatic process forward would be misguided. What one might expect from the North Korean policymakers and diplomats at best would be a spirited reflex defense of party ideals and expressions of a decades old hostile national bias against the US. As fate would have it, this is essentially what has been observed. Stirred in has been a heavy portion of negative sentiment and caprice toward the US in the public statements of the North Koreans. As much as part of a larger negotiation stratagem, periods of indignant silence from the North Koreans also appears to be a manifestation of the daily travail of officials not to say or do anything that might remotely skirt the party line of the Workers’ Party of Korea. When confronted with either behavior, their US counterparts, as expected, have exhibited classic diplomatic sangfroid and patience. Audi vide, tace, si vis vivere in pace. (Use your ears and eyes, but hold your tongue, if you would live in peace.)

There are issues of competence at play in the North Korean’s actions, too! They lack experience in authentically working with other diplomats or simply conversing with a diverse group of interlocutors Indeed, their limited range of diplomatic skill reflects the fact that they come out of a society alienated from the rest of the world, the so-called hermit kingdom. Diplomats of its UN Mission in New York might have opportunities to interact with their counterparts of other UN member states’ missions in committees. Diplomats in North Korea’s 25 embassies situated in as many countries have opportunities to interact with the outside world. However, they may seldom have the opportunity to authentically practice core skills such as confidence building and give and take in negotiations. Even their contacts with diplomats of a handful of friendly countries, while congenial and business-like, would expectedly be superficial as all important decisions have been normally been made directly between the capitals of those countries and Pyongyang. That being the case, having the experience of interacting with US diplomats has undoubtedly been a learning experience for the North Korean negotiating team whether they admit it or not.

Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiation team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes kind of akin to cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. (Hopefully, that pretense does not belie any artificial intentions of Pyongyang in the diplomacy on denuclearization in general.) In an odd way, that bit of pretense could be what in a way liberates them to act uncoventionally. It is not easy to know what is genuine with the North Koreans. It never has been. A pitfall of being frivolous, though, could be that their inexperience may not allow them to judge just how far off from what is decent they can go. There is a thin line between chaos and order. Potentially, the North Korean negotiators could spoil the entire diplomatic process, albeit unintentionally. Instances in which they seemed to have moved a bit far off the mark might be those occasions when North Korean negotiators have reportedly made platitudinous objections to US proposals. There have also been occasions when doses of pronounced immaturity, crudeness, and impertinence were included in official statements from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

In North Korea, the government insists upon keeping a watchful eye over threats to its system and society. It is understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. Given human nature there was always the threat that could arise from the unsuccessful education of citizens. The security services use techniques to create fear that rival those of the Erinyes in the poems of Aeschylus and are forever hunting for those who may fall short of what is expected or may be “foreign spies.” Citizens live as if plugged into an electric outlet, terrified of crossing the line. To that extent, North Korean policy approaches have been forged by analysts in an environment of fear, and implemented by terror stricken diplomats who in addition to adhering to the precepts of juche, are simply trying to stay around. Although well aware of the danger posed by their own government’s security services, it causes one to wonder why false promises from North Korean diplomats have been commonplace during their past 25 plus years of negotiations with the US. Perhaps it was the human element. Their egos got the best of them and they wandered off toward a bridge too far in the heat of the negotiations. There has not been any of that in the current process. One can be certain  that if something is stated at the negotiation table that billows up the slightest ire in Pyongyang, it will be walked back immediately. Quam multa injusta ac prava fiunt moribus! (How many unjust and improper things are authorized by custom!)

Under ordinary circumstances, one thinking in ordinary ways might expect that North Korean policy makers and diplomats would eventually recognize that there is a need for them to become climatized to a true international environment. The clear choice would be to try to tidy things up and to transition to a new line of not political, but professional thinking. However, expecting the North Koreans to catch the Holy Ghost and see the error in their ways would be out of court. Except for Kim, North Koreans, at least officially, do not engage introspection. The government believes it has provided them with a clear path to follow.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong (center), stands with the North Korean foreign policy officials at Panmunjom in June 2019. Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiations team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the negotiating table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes a bit akin to cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. Indeed, that bit of pretense could be what liberates them to act uncoventionally.

How North Korean Attitudes and Behavior Are Perceived

Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in the West, Pyongyang approaches have resembled some huge masquerade, performed as a way to avoid engaging in the authentic diplomacy of give and take. The North Korean’s aspiration appears instead to be wearing the Trump administration down and compel its acquiescence to a default agreement under which all key North Korean goals would be attained. Those goals would include retaining their nuclear weapons and delivery systems at level of their choosing and ending the economically devastating sanctions imposed by the US. There are likely others in the Washington who believe Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it. (Those feelings seem well evinced by the hostile countenance of North Korean negotiators’ faces in the few publicly available photos of them. As opposed to concealing any gesture of internal thought, their faces betray an almost immeasurable anger that can barely be contained. One might also be led to believe that the North Korean negotiation team’s sullen and stoic faces might be the result of having had the Hell posted out of them at some point.)

Presumably, North Korean policy makers and diplomats could not care less about what their US counterparts think of their style. That is not exactly a perspective conducive to building confidence and forging a fruitful working relationship. If the North Koreans were to give it a moment’s thought, they would likely discover that far from being beguiled by their behavior, US negotiators on the other side of the table find coping with the whole cabaret they have been putting on during diplomatic process very unsatisfying to say the least. One might go as far as state that US negotiators may personally feel the process may no longer be worth the candle. Yet, being well-trained, imbued with true diplomatic acumen, exceptionally experienced, and just plain professional, they will remain figuratively strapped in place. They certainly will not walk away from the drawn out process that has featured dismal interactions with the North Koreans.

Pyongyang apparently never read, and accordingly never had the chance to heed, greatcharlie’s advisement not become distracted by the rants and ramblings on Trump’s foreign and national security policy in the US news media. It appears that this us precisely what they have done. From the North Korean’s repertoire verbal attacks against the US, one can discern similarities with US news media’s favorite criticisms of Trump administration. A top US news media criticism of the Trump administration’s effort at denuclearization diplomacy is that a well-thought out, reasonable negotiating strategy is absent. A parallel to that would be the statement of North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Myong Gil that whether Pyongyang breaks its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and missile testing “entirely depends on the stance of the United States.” Perhaps a misplace patrician aesthetic has founded that absolutely absurd idea, endlessly presented by the US news media, is that in diplomatic settings, Trump is unaware of etiquette and unable to properly present himself as President of the US. Moreover, it is also frequently posited that Trump has displayed an alleged barbaric, “gangster mentality”, that has tainted his personal interactions and diplomatic efforts with European allies at G7, G20, and NATO summits. Echoing these preposterous sentiments, have been official statements emanating from the North Korean Foreign Ministry referring to the denuclearization diplomacy as the “sickening negotiations” and threats that talks will not be resumed unless Washington takes measures to ensure a “complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.” Additionally, what has become rather kitsch reaction is the US news media insistence upon declaring anything Trump is doing as being solely directed at supporting his reelection or personal gain. Not thinking, but simply mimicking that ludicrous idea, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “abusing the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for its domestic political events.” Quis nescit primam esse historic legem, ne quid falsi dicere audeat?; deinde ne quid veri non audeat? (Who does not know that it is the first law of history not to dare to say anything that is false?; and, the second not to dare say anything that is not true?)

Group photo of Kim (center) and his leadership team in Pyongyang. Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in Washington, Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it.

Pyongyang’s Perceptions of Where Washington Is Headed

In news US media outlets today, bits of news about the efforts of an administration in office is highlighted or hidden by reporters depending upon whether they fit the narrative, positive or negative, that the outlet holds of that administration. To that extent, the news, as opposed to being reported in a fair and balanced way, is decidedly curated. As a staunch proponent of the right of freedom of speech as entitled under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, greatcharlie certainly believes critics of US government activities, particularly the press, the Fourth Estate, should have free hand to express themselves.  However, along with that right of free express comes a reasonable expectation that news media outlets, particularly in the arena of international affairs, will act prudently in presenting information. Professional ethics alone should guide behavior in news media outlets with regard to presenting information that is known to be false or cannot be substantiated. Even more, presenting questionable information that may have an undesirable, deleterious, and even destructive impact on their own country’s success must be avoided. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who, to be more forthright, are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him that may be based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency.

Ex falsis, ut ab ipsis didicimus, verum effici non protest. (From the false, as they have themselves taught us, we can obtain nothing true.) Trump’s adversaries seem to feel a compulsive need to express from a soapbox overly simplistic views about him and his administration’s efforts to the point of extravagance. What was one of the worst direct allegations made by his adversaries in the news media was the shameful declaration that “Trump is a Russian spy.” For those willing to submit to reality, the final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, Robert Mueller, known as the the Mueller Report, should have knocked down any concerns the fantastic allegation might be true. Anyone who understood what that falsehood would have entailed to be true would hardly have uttered such complete nonsense without feeling foolish or guilty. At the same time, many at very high levels inside and outside of government, most of whom had albeit possessed an untutored expertise in the subject matter, clearly believed it all. Strangely, it appears that vacuous pronouncements about “Trump’s espionage” were rooted in “facts” on how the “spy world” works from productions of the entertainment industry. Trying to make any sense of it, one might believe that instead of being concerned with foreign and national security policy, his adversaries were writing spy novels or novels of political intrigue. (Perhaps the intent among some of them is to publish a roman à clef on this period at some point down the line.)

Vigorous as ever are the endless exertions that Trump has done this or that lurid or generally inappropriate thing. Those pundits with the gumption to state such things publicly seem to have been provided an open invitation to flood broadcast, print, and online news media with their breathtaking, multi-layered rumors, cluttered with ambiguities and contradictions. To be blunt, one should always suspect that the stories they hear in the US news media are lies. Perchance, such views expressed on Trump reveal the limits of their intellectual power, and more sadly, the sensibilities of the times, banal and tasteless. Added to all of that, Trump clearly makes a satisfying target for the misguided passion of reporters and pundits. For those who can recall the degree of professionalism and intellectual acuity that journalists of those same news media outlets once displayed in an era not so long ago, it all becomes too heartbreaking to watch. Current journalists from those outlets now seem so completely estranged from that high-level of performance.

Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn the lesson that is dangerous to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching endless incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel. Some countries based their policy decisions on the many absurdities about Trump found in the US news media enough so that they brought their relations with the US perilously close to ruin. As aforementioned, questionable information from the news media has surely provided the push from behind to both flawed and completely incorrect inferences and judgments made in Pyongyang. To that extent, the US news media  has undoubtedly played a role in making efforts of the US negotiation team to establish an intimate relationship with the North Koreans more difficult.

Trump at his inauguration on January 20, 2017. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency. Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn how dangerous it is to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel.

Nodum in scirpo quærere. (To look for a knot in the rushes (I.e., to look for difficulty where none exists.) Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party who hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. Their premise was that during a phone call that Trump had on July 5, 2019 with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump sought to coerce him to initiate an investigation of an election opponent in return for the release of military aid he was withholding. It was very unusual interpretation of the phone call given the official transcript of the call released by Trump indicated nothing of the sort. It was all initiated by claims of an alleged whistle blower who never heard the phone conversation. Supposed fact-finding hearings insisted upon by House Democrats lifted the veil on nothing but hearsay and alarmist presumptions. (Res ipsa loquitor! If they truly do not understand that the world does not work in that way, how apparent it becomes that some officials from the US intelligence services, through their briefings, have failed to provide Members of Congress with a thorough understanding of intelligence work, particularly tradecraft.) Observing events, greatcharlie admittedly hoped that the smallest spark of decency would have caused House Democrats to find some way to stop moving down their destructive path. Instead, they pushed through the two articles, accusing him of betraying the country for his own political benefit and obstructing a Congressional investigation into his actions. That drastic step taken was more about House Democrats feelings about Trump than about his actual actions. Democrats in Congress, through their legislative action, have memorialized the schism between themselves and Trump.

To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big. However, what observers in foreign capitals should actually note is that there are two chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The US Senate, which also has a say in how US foreign policy is conducted, is controlled by Trump’s Republican Party which has fully supported his efforts and can continue to achieve much to support the US President without their Democrat counterparts in House. Those observers in foreign capitals should further note that Trump has actually acquired a remarkable record of success on a plethora of foreign policy issues. Still, most importantly, observers in foreign capitals should note that House Democrats, have not as yet recognized or acquiesced to the truth that they may have all been useful idiots in a larger, darker plan of dishonorable individuals within the government, and some outside, to force Trump from office. The true nature of the very apparent criminal conspiracy is currently under investigation by the highest ranking law enforcement officials in the US. They will twinkle out the conspirators of this abominable enterprise–hidden most likely within the intelligence services–and reveal the full nature of their heinous plans. More than just tge House Democrats, the news will undoubtedly perplex and unravel all those individuals who have been so certain of Trump’s guilt in all of the nonsense propagated. (There will most likely be a tidal wave excessive emotional outbursts, likely be akin to those unsightly ones seen in the camp of Hilary Clinton when was announced that she had lost the 2016 US Presidential Election.)

Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party, who currently hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big.

Getting an Improved Grip on the Situation

Unlike a mystery, all challenges, much as puzzles, have solutions. They simply need to be found. As outlined earlier here, there are political, professional, and personal issues that doubtlessly preoccupy the North Koreans and stand as obstacles to constructive negotiations. However, there may indeed be a way make interactions between negotiating teams rewarding and thereby potentially useful to Kim in moving the diplomatic process on denuclearization forward. Right now the negotiations, ironically, have been a tool that has allowed Pyongyang to stall it, intentionally or unintentionally. If an issue takes one into deep waters, one must often dive deeper into it in order to develop a sound theory, to find solutions. Sometimes that can be done by making connections between a matter at hand with similar yet remote issues that already have answers. If Pyongyang can again forgive greatcharlie’s honesty, it must be stated that dealing with its foreign policy apparatus, and particularly its Foreign Ministry, seems akin to trying to interact with a young adult, just beginning to understand his or her place in the world.

The young adult, teenager to be more precise, may typically spend time and exert energy strongly protesting vehemently complaining, and tearfully fretting and frowning about one thing or another. However, whatever may actually be at the root of what irritating or pressuring them more often will not be articulated. The teenager will expect a responsible adult, to whom they may choose to express their feelings, to supernaturally possess some understanding of not only what is disturbing them, but it’s cause. Failure to do so will elicit the words that nearly every teenager may have stated or thought at some point, “You don’t get me!”

In order to get to the root of the problem means creating conversation, talking it out. That will usually responsible adult to try to hear them out while ignoring criticism and accusations mostly without merit. It would not be the proper time for ordinary repartee. When opportunities arise to get a word in edgewise, the adult can discuss similar situations from experience, and say things that will draw questions from the teenager. Discussing situations from which commonalities of  experiences can be recognized will also support communication. A conscious effort should be made by the adult to supply a vocabulary that the teenagers can incorporate to express their experiences thus supporting a more productive exchange. Further, by taking these steps, a figurative bridge might be constructed which may support other fruitful exchanges with the teenager in the future. Notably, if teenagers are not correctly mentored in a way that is right and proper by caring adults, they can very well fall prey to their contemporaries and other adult who will not have their best interests at heart. In a similar way, North Korea could fall prey to its northern neighbors, the Russian Federation and China, which only seek to promote their respective interests.

Conceptualizing along such lines, an approach might be developed that might potentially provide US negotiators with a way to work more effectively with the North Koreans. Of course, the North Koreans, themselves, must be open to any approach in the end. However, if US negotiators could convince them to share, without pretension, their bedrock concerns, things could really get started. Certainly, the North Koreans’ laser focus during negotiations will remain pursuing specific goals as instructed by Pyongyang. However, other than an all or nothing frontal assault, they may not have considered better ways to pursue those goals via talks. Demonstrating to the North Koreans at the negotiation table that there are alternative ways to mutually satisfy the aims of both countries may resonate with them. It could very well provide them with work product that they might be pleased to report back home. Virtus est vitium fugere, et sapienta prima stultitia caruisse. (To flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and the beginning of wisdom is to have gotten rid of folly.)

It is important to note that what is presented here does not infantilize the North Korean policymakers and diplomats. That is far from its intent. What is presented here acknowledges a pattern of behavior, identifies an instance of similar behavior unrelated to foreign policy from which an understanding of it can be furthered, and provides a starting point from which strategy for working constructively under such conditions might be more easily conceptualized. (One might muse lightheartedly on how much easier it would be for Washington to interact with Pyongyang, if US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could staff the US negotiation team with clairvoyants and precognitive empaths!)

Some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie does not subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right.

The Way Forward

Confessedly, greatcharlie feels a certain piquancy about receiving comments for they serve as proof positive that readers take a real interest in what is posted on the blog. Equally pleasing is the thought that prior posts have stirred debate on the issue of diplomacy on denuclearization to some degree. Still, it remains a tad troubling to know that some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie will never subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening with regard to the diplomacy of denuclearization. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right. Our intent is to keep gnawing at the subject of diplomacy on denuclearization. The hope is that our readers will continue to give our posts the concentration that is sought from them.

In composing this precis of greatcharlie’s thinking on the diplomatic process on denuclearization in response to readers’ comments, it became very clear that our readers have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the issue. Interestingly though, us-them arguments and hints of the rhetoric of good versus evil were common features of their responses. Questions were also frequently raised as to why the US would even want to negotiate with Pyongyang given its disobliging stance. Perhaps the best response to all of that would be that Trump did not stumble into the diplomatic process on denuclearization. He knew the history of US-North Korea relations and jumped in knowing that there would be a lot of hard work entailed without an immediate solution. The work may be challenging, but the prize of success is greater peace and security in Northeast Asia, and greater degree of peace and security in the world. That is certainly worth pursuing. Prudens futuri temporis exitum caliginosa nocte premit Deus; ridetque, si mortalis ultra fas trepidat. (God in His wisdom veils in darkness of night the events of the future; and smiles if a mortal is unduly solicitous about what he is not permitted to know.)

Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, if Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others

North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un with his country’s future, its children, at youth rally (above). Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan may not assure peace Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s northern neighbors might react poorly to a denuclearization agreement. More specifically, the Russian Federation might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a troubling manipulation of Pyongyang, leading to a US encroachment toward its borders. Hypothetically in response, Moscow might create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korean territory. Without deterrent power, Pyongyang may not be able to prevent that. Those engaged in the denuclearization negotiations should give consideration to this possibility as such a scenario could bust everything they might achieve.

What US President Donald Trump wants from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same end product that was at the root of his decision to talk with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un in 2018: 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 the mitigation of economic pressure, to include draconian sanctions implemented under a maximum pressure campaign, that has had a considerable deleterious effect not only upon North Korea’s economy but its existence. Additionally, Trump has assured that the prospective partnership with the US would be a long-term and a robust path toward economic vitalization, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Indeed, the US would be prepared to support the economic transformation of North Korea, supporting not only the growth of its industrial capabilities and capacity, but introduce North Korean firms to new techniques and technologies for efficient and high quality production. Further, the US would encourage new investment in North Korea from other industrialized countries, to include its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, both of whom it currently views as adversaries. What is being presented to North Korea is the choice to be something other than a stranger, or worse, an outcast, to the rest of the world. Even so, throughout 2019, demurs and objections were heard from senior officials of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Their comments appeared to echo a speech by Kim at the 1st Meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, on April 12, 2019, during which he indicated a willingness to negotiate “on the condition that [the US] has the right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.” Kim further stated at the Supreme People’s Assembly that he would “wait patiently until the end of the year for the United States to make a bold decision.” Kim’s words were uttered long before he and Trump met impromptu at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Panmunjom on June 30, 2019, but they nevertheless seem to have stuck within the North Korean foreign policy apparatus. In Washington, it all rings bells, reminding of the past and raising questions whether Pyongyang’s ways of thinking and doing things are trapped in amber. For the sake of the negotiations and their potential for enhancing global peace and security, one should hope that is not the case.

Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan, however, may not assure peace on Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s neighbors immediately to its north, China and the Russian Federation, may not react well in the wake of a denuclearization agreement. Based on what it has declared to be its strategic interests, the Russian Federation in particular, might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a threat, and that Washington was simply manipulating Pyongyang in order to move closer to the Russian Federation’s borders. Hypothetically, Moscow might decide to create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korea’s sovereign territory to halt any perceived encroachment by the US. Without deterrent power, it is hard to see how Pyongyang on its own could keep the Russian Federation off its land. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation has displayed a propensity for maligned behavior. There is still a chance fate will bring a denuclearization agreement as envisioned by Trump, all of North Korea’s neighbors will put down the shutters and accept the new development, and the Russian Federation, in particular, will show restraint. That would be ineffable. Nevertheless, if there is a chance that everything might not land quietly and gracefully, requisite caution must be shown now by the negotiating parties. Trump must be on guard.

This is the ninth in a line of occasional commentaries concerning the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization published by greatcharlie since August 2017. An enchantment on the matter and support and enthusiasm for the effort has stimulated the preoccupation. Through its commentaries, greatcharlie has sought to put together the arithmetic of what both sides, the US and North Korea, are doing on the matter. In this commentary, greatcharlie emphasizes that realism must be a key ingredient to the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Nothing discussed here should sound extravagant in today’s world. Together the US and North Korea must open the figurative box from which all the essential qualities and ingredients for a longstanding, sustainable peace are released, and at the same time avoid releasing the makings of conflict from another direction. Both sides must really look at the situation diligently, not dismissing unpleasant possibilities, to ensure negotiators do not construct an agreement that may not serve either side’s purposes in the long-run. Through such a reflective approach, greater unity of purpose and action can grow between the negotiating parties, and the viable and sustainable peace sought more likely will be found. Certum est quod certum reddi potest. (It is certain, whatever can be rendered certain.)Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that they can cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US would not pose difficulties. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its economic well-being, Pyongyang has displayed a curious sort of faith in Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources mainly come into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Putin and Xi control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival already rests in their hands. Kim can allow that to go on, or seek a better path for his country.

A Concern from Outside the Box or from Left Field?

One might conclude that there is an almost inherent connection, a natural affinity, between North Korea, China, and the Russian Federation. The defunct Soviet Union, the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, was the model from which North Korea structured its government. As it is the first and largest Communist government in Asia, there is much that North Korea has mirrored in a cultural sense from China. In support of Kim’s 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 also provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to engage covertly in combat operations. The Russian Federation, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower, and to a degree has taken on from the Soviet Union the image of caretaker for North Korea. Nevertheless, China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater than that of the Soviet Union in terms of blood and treasure. China has really been the country’s steward and economic lifeline.

Alieno more vivendum est mihi. (I must live according to another’s whim.) China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that it would not pose difficulties to cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US. Indeed, If Kim possesses any doubts that an agreement would not lead to North Korea moving up and away from the status quo, one might assume the two countries can quietly interfere and exert influence on Kim. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Pyongyang has shown a curious sort of faith in both Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources apparently can still slip into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival pretty much rests in their hands. Kim can allow things to go on as they are and bend to the will of China and the Russian Federation, or seek a far better path for his country. It would reasonable for him to prefer the later. Having ambition is not an offense.

To the extent that officials in China and the Russian Federation feel North Korea is their ball to play with, an agreement that would create firm, lasting ties of friendship between the US and North Korea would likely stick in their throats. If unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim before an agreement is signed, one or both may decide to pose a threat to the agreement afterward. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim if he moves alongside the US. However, Beijing knows where to draw the line. The Russian Federation might do far more, which is the point of interest here. As alluded to earlier, at some point, Putin might order Russian Federation forces to move into North Korea’s sovereign territory with the objective of creating a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula. The goal would be to set a limit to the likely perceived encroachment by the US. After its nuclear arsenal might potentially be evacuated under the terms of a denuclearization agreement. North Korea would lack the deterrent power to scare away a Russuan Federation move onto its territory, and could become the victim of just that. A conventional response might also be less feasible as the bulk of North Korea’s conventional forces may continue to face south near the DMZ for a while even after a denuclearization agreement is reached. Korean People’s Army forces of sufficient power are not presently deployed north in a manner to fend off an attempted land grab by the Russian Federation.

The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. It borders the Russian Federation along approximately 29 kilometers of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and to its east is the Sea of Japan. A rocket launching site is located at Musudan-ri. The Hoeryong concentration camp is also located in the province. It has some value as a line of access by rail to Russia. However, since no customs area exists there, most bilateral trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation moves first through China, raising costs. Ironically, the border with the Russian Federation, having no huge benefit to Pyongyang for years, could become a liability as a point from which hostile forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could land significant numbers of forces at Chongjin. The capability and capacity of the Russian Federation armed forces to conduct such an operation was well-demonstrated during their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. Putin has already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US sharing the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. Considering the possibility of an extreme reaction, a military incursion by the Russian Federation into North Korea, would not be out of court.

The View from Russia

Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. If Pyongyang turned toward Washington, Putin might feel Moscow had been figuratively stabbed in the back after having provided North Korea with assistance and support for decades. In terms of his personal relationship with Kim, Putin may feel a deep sense of betrayal. Putin has shown how he will respond when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being pulled toward the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US either sharing, or even touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are lucky that NATO got on top of their situation right away!) Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea would have the North Korean people believe that their country is a fortress from south to north. A robust, whirlwind of an attack by Russian Federation forces by air, land, and sea, would very likely be able to rapidly displace or destroy any North Korean forces much as a whirlwind has the ability to uproot the staunchest oak tree. On the other hand, if Russian Federation forces are able to act with sufficient stealth and surprise, and–as was the case with Crimea–without any “bang and boom”, they may be able to capture North Hamgyong Province without a struggle. As with Crimea, they may be able to “accommodate” Korean People’s Army troops deployed in the province, perhaps even taking them back to the Russian Federation “to ensure their safety.” Mala mens, malus animus! (Bad mind, bad designs!)

Putin would likely offer some pretense that would “legitimize” the hypothetical incursion. For example, he could conceivably declare that North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation granted by some long-held document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a monumental, decades old debt is owed to the Russian Federation by North Korea. Alternatively, by entering North Hamgyong, Putin may claim the Russian Federation has taken an in-kind repayment territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might attempt to claim a Russian Federation incursion into the area was executed for humanitarian reasons, shocked by what was being said by former detainees in Moscow about atrocities taking place in the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp. If former detainees are not available, Moscow would find some. Under the second and third scenarios, Putin could leave the door open as to whether the Russian Federation land grab was temporary or permanent.

Long before Trump declared his intent to campaign for the US Presidency, the Russian Federation was concerned with the figurative noose being placed around it by US bilateral relationship building with countries on its borders. That thinking is reflective of the Russian Federation’s defense doctrine as articulated by Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. Recall that on February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” Gerasimov provided the first glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The clever boots on the Russian Federation General Staff assessed that future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.”  Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders proffered that outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may actually invade the Russian Federation from different directions to physically grab its territory and resources. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. That plan, and later variations of it, have guided Russia’s thinking on defense and defense spending since 2016, during which it exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, and on other national security related and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. Further, the 2016 plan has guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on its border with Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s Syria operation is also part of that picture.The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. Enlarging the map above, one can see the province in the northeast corner of North Korea. It borders the Russian Federation along 18 miles of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and the Sea of Japan to its east. The border with the Russian Federation could become a key point from which Russian Federation forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could also land significant numbers of troops at Chongjin. The Russian Federation armed forces’ capability to conduct such an operation was demonstrated by their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.

Putin Will Take Risks

The hypothetical offered here should have a realistic feel because history has been used as a guide to develop it. Rational inferences are made from what Putin has been saying and doing. For example, with regard to Ukraine, what cannot be forgotten is the text of a lengthy call that Putin had with US President Barack Obama on March 6, 2014, Putin said Ukraine’s government came to power as the result of an “unconstitutional coup” and was “imposing an entirely illegitimate decision onto Crimea and the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine. Russia cannot ignore calls for help on this matter and is responding accordingly in full compliance with international law.“ On another occasion, Putin insisted that he was only acting in response to Western behavior toward Russia. When speaking about Ukraine at a conference in Moscow on April 16, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.” It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. For that reason, despite the drain on its defense budget, the Russian Federation currently has its troops sitting in the sovereign territory of others, to include: Armenia; Belarus; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Moldova; Syria; Tajikistan; Vietnam; and, at least a far as Kiev is concerned, Ukraine. Among the countries on that list who have reluctantly accepted the Russian presence or who have very publicly and vigorously demanded that Russia leave their territory are: Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Belarus has grumbled about its Russian “guests”. Thereby, as denuclearization agreement would mean Pyongyang was moving closer to Washington, North Korea could definitely meet the same fate as the countries mentioned. Thus, conceptualizing a possible military incursion into North Korea by the Russian Federation is not out of court.

The Russian Federation is not the only country that has insisted upon placing its troops in another country without welcome in order to shape the situation within it. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan had a near ravenous desire to carve out a 32 kilometer deep and 480 kilometers wide buffer zone along the entire Turkish border with Syria. Through Operation Peace Spring, Erdogan hoped to establish a safe area in his planned buffer zone for millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He also planned in undertaking what he declared to be a counterterrorism operation. Once Turkish forces moved into the autonomous Kurdish territory in Syria, understanding that there would be heavy fighting with the Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units, militias affiliated with the sworn enemy of the Turkish government, the Kurdistan Workers Party which has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey amassed nearly 15,000 Turkish forces along with 14,000 fighters of the Syrian National Army attacked Syria on October 9, 2019. Recall that on December 19  2003, then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to voluntarily eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction programs, to include its nuclear weapons program which was initiated in 1969 when he took control of Libya’s government. He also agreed to limit Libyan missiles to range no greater than 300 kilometers. US President George Bush stated at the time: “With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations. And Colonel Gaddafi knows the way forward Libya should carry out the commitments announced today.” However, from March 19, 2011 to October 31, 2011, under the mandate of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, the Obama administration led NATO forces and those other countries under Operation Unified Protector against Gaddafi regime. The multinational force imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi in support local fighters that eventually overthrew Gaddafi and killed him on October 20, 2011 alongside a road. (In just mentioning Libya’s elimination of its nuclear weapons, greatcharlie feels it is stepping out on shaky ground. On May 13, 2018, the matter was publicly discussed by the former US National Security Adviser John Bolton while details of the June 12, 2018 Trump and Kim Singapore Summit were still being negotiated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Indeed, Bolton made the unhelpful suggestion that the “Libya model” of denuclearization could be applied to North Korea, which would require it to eliminate all of its nuclear weapons before it receives economic sanctions relief and other support for it economic vitalization. Much to the dismay of Trump, Bolton’s public suggestion placed the summit in jeopardy somewhat.)

Without reservation, greatcharlie believes that nuclear nonproliferation is the correct direction in which the world should move. Having stated that, and with no intention of being whimsical about the matter, perhaps if Gaddafi had hypothetically retained his nuclear program, even at the aspiring stage it was in when he surrendered it, he would still be alive and in power in Tripoli. In that same vein, one might let oneself go and suggest if Kiev by chance had kept nuclear weapons under its control, Crimea would unlikely have fallen and the Donbass would be less of a mess. Outlining how hypothetically Ukraine could have plausibly retained those weapons would require adding a complicated coda to this section, completely unsuited in size for this commentary. What actually occurred is Ukraine agreed to divest itself of all nuclear weapons and nuclear infrastructure in accord with the Lisbon Protocol In 1992, along with considerable diplomatic effort and political maneuvering, By 1996, Ukraine had returned all of its nuclear warheads to Russia in exchange for economic aid and security assurances, and it became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in Ukraine was eliminated in 2001 under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. At the time it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including an estimated 1,800 strategic warheads, 176 long-range ballistic missiles, and 42 strategic bombers.A transit map of North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province (above). In a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab, Kim might turn toward Beijing to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. However, China would unlikely want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, China would likely insist that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a relationship with the US. China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too!

Preparing for the Worst

Kim has always had much to worry about from Putin. It stands out a mile. For that reason, North Korea and its prospective US partner should at least consider the potential of a very aggressive Russian Federation reaction as an important “what if”. The matter merits treatment. Ways to prevent it from happening should be considered, and plans should be developed on how to use means available in response. The lack of right discernment on this hypothetical matter could lead to untold suffering. Unless greatcharlie is extremely mistaken, as far as Pyongyang might be concerned, the most plausible way to cope with the matter, would likely be to maintain some level of deterrent nuclear capability. Washington would hardly want to hear anything of the kind. Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and medium-range nuclear capable missiles alone are military equities it possesses that Moscow may want no part of. Readying those systems for launch could coincide with any discernible build up of Russian Federation forces near or along the northern border. That may have a deterrent effect. If some means to make a Russian incursion impossible or unprofitable is not available, attempting to respond before or after an attack has begun will unlikely amount to much

As has been witnessed, the best available option for the US after the fact in response to the Russian Federation’s incursion into Ukraine has been to train Ukrainian government forces and equip them with a limited set of weapons, mainly anti-tank javelin systems. That effort could only attenuate the considerable tactical advantages that Donetsk and Luhansk secessionist forces possessed as a result of being fully supported by Russia. Indeed, the tank-busting javelins along with tactical training from both US and European military advisers may have enhanced the chances of survival for the Ukraine government forces on the battlefield, but they have not allowed Kiev to successfully defeat or eject Russian and Russian-backed forces from the Donbass. Crimea remains firmly in the Russian Federation’s hands.

There is the possibility that preemptive diplomacy, right now, could successfully assuage concerns about a potential Russian Federation military incursion into response to a denuclearization agreement. That would not mean including Moscow in the diplomatic process of denuclearization to prevent it from engaging in malicious behavior. Although there is plenty available from which one can make inferences, Moscow has not as yet said or done anything directly that would indicate an intention to move into North Korea and create a hypothetical buffer zone across their mutual border. In fact, Russia may never do anything of the sort in the end. Still, there is no reason to wait and see on a matter that could potentially keep an agreement from being fully realized. Accordingly, as a reasonable precaution, Washington may want to broach the matter with Moscow, explaining that its concerns stemmed from its past actions.

The US-North Korea relationship might very well grow into something very special. Still, it is unlikely that in a time soon after the signing of a prospective denuclearization agreement that the Communist regime in Pyongyang, with its self-reliant identity, would seek recourse from Trump and the US to find the answer to a hypothetical Russian Federation military incursion into North Hamgyong. On a personal level, Trump undoubtedly would want to see Kim through his troubles. However, if North Korea is unable to fend off a land grab north, it is unclear what exactly the US could do effectively to repair the situation after the fact. Attempting to drive Russia out of North Korea with economic sanctions in response to a hypothetical incursion may not prove fruitful. That tack has not worked most obviously with its incursion into Ukraine. Pointing out what is obvious, a decision by the US to go toe to toe with Russia with thermonuclear weapons over North Korea would be daylight madness. That would hardly be a genuine option. The chance that any US President would alternatively throw US forces into a conventional fight with the Russian Federation over North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province is less than zero.Imagery of the Russian Federation-North Korea border along the Tumen River with an area of detail showing a railroad bridge across the river (above). Conceivably, Putin may find reason to declare North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation as granted by some document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a decades old debt is owed by North Korea to the Russian Federation. Putin may claim by entering North Hamgyong, Moscow had taken an in-kind repayment in territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might also attempt to claim an incursion into the area was for humanitarian reasons, given the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp is located in the province.

For Kim, a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab would be a nightmare. It would also likely be the first occasion when Kim would have a palpable sense of separation from Moscow, and plenty of anxiety would come with that. Kim would never consider capitulation to whom would then be an erstwhile ally. However, dazed and confused by an inundation of likely negative reports about the situation in North Hamgyong, Kim may initially run toward what is familiar. Kim might turn toward Beijing and press it to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. Under such a scenario, China certainly would not want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, Beijing would likely take the position that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a historic, new relationship with the US. Thus, unwilling to knock on Putin’s door on behalf of its close ally, Beijing’s advice to Pyongyang would likely be “Talk to Moscow!” China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too! Understanding Putin, Beijing would likely have parsed out the whole matter early on, imagining Putin getting his nose out of joint about a denuclearization agreement, and never ruling out a military incursion. China would likely find it quite imaginable under such a hypothetical that Moscow would expect Pyongyang to rush to the negotiation table despite any fighting that may be underway. To prevent an unanticipated response from China, in such a hypothetical scenario, Moscow presumably would quietly inform Beijing of its planned action and intentions just before any prospective military operation began. Beijing would also undoubtedly place the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Liberation Air Force units near North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province on alert just in case Moscow’s operation went beyond its expressed purpose and scope. From those who have proven to be false one can rarely obtain anything true.

Tu si hic sis, aliter sentias. (If you were in my place, you would think differently.) Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if the most senior officials there were convinced the denuclearization agreement was the fillip for a Russian Federation attack. Indeed, a possible consequence of a Russian Federation incursion might be that Pyongyang would turn its back on the US. Under tremendous stress and not thinking clearly, Kim may very likely wonder whether Trump had considered the contingency. Moreover, Kim might conclude that Trump may have actually predicted what would issue with Putin following a denuclearization agreement and sought the agreement knowing North Korea would eventually be left open to attack. If that were to become his mindset, potentially, Kim might even begin to behave once again in a belligerent manner toward Trump, and might once again begin using over-the-top language. That would most likely signal the point at which Kim will have made the decision to negotiate with Moscow on terms for the withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from North Korea’s northern province. With a dodgy leader as Kim, anything might be possible in such a situation.

One could imagine under the hypothetical here that Putin might plan to use force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, Putin’s goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement and have North Korea make amends for its sin by cutting the cord with the US. Perchance as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. That would likely mean putting the matter before the UN Security Council. Note that using military force to drive countries to the negotiating table was also a favored stratagem of the Obama administration. If Moscow and Pyongyang might have an inkling that they could get away with it, to quell international condemnation of the Russian Federation over a hypothetical military incursion, they might offer a story about some mix-up in timing occurred over a movement by Russian Federation troops to North Korea for a planned joint exercise. They would deny any disharmony existed. In that vein, Pyongyang would probably keep the North Korean people in the dark about the hypothetical incursion. Pyongyang would very likely refrain from making any official reports of the embarrassing episode, hoping it could resolve the matter quickly, and make the whole thing go away.

One could imagine further, under the hypothetical put forward here, that Putin, the maestro himself, might calculate an incursion into North Hamgyong would create political confusion and disarray in Pyongyang. Prospective talks with Moscow in such a situation might take place with or without Kim at the helm in Pyongyang. Kim might even have the courage or insanity to throw the Korean People’s Army into fight with Russian Federation forces. Nevertheless, likely being incapable of ejecting the invaders from the sovereign territory of North Korea, Kim would live under a frightful cloud. He would unlikely be absolved of responsibility for the possible crisis. He could possibly be seen within the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea as inciting the Russian Federation’s action with his denuclearization agreement. A scenario can be imagined in which Kim would no longer be considered fit to serve as the North Korean Communist Movement’s figurative lodestar. The Workers’ Party of Korea might decide to replace him. That would be harder to conceal, but if they did so, they would try to present a plausible reason for the change. Surely there are those in Pyongyang with designs on Kim’s spot. (Note that no matter how things fall, war, peace, or a leadership change, both the Russian Federation and China would be beneficiaries of the success of the US in getting North Korea to denuclearize.)Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Unable to do anything to rectify the hypothetical situation proffered here, Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if it indeed was the cause for a Russian Federation attack. One could imagine under the hypothetical proffered here that Putin might plan to use of force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, the goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement with the US. Perhaps as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program.

Matters Pyongyang Should Address in the Diplomatic Process on Denuclearization

Abundans cautela non nocet. (Abundant caution does not harm.) Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would seem akin to daylight madness to ignore what might very well knock down whatever might be constructed. Pyongyang supposedly understands Moscow. Therefore, it surely understands that Moscow only sees it as a junior partner, not equal to it. If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Moscow. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. If they have not broached such an important issue, the indications and implications may be that Pyongyang was being disingenuous about its interest in denuclearization and North Korea’s economic vitalization. What their real intentions are, might be put into question. On the other hand, it is imaginable that North Korean foreign and national security officials possibly may not be cleared to discuss what may very well be a sensitive matter for Pyongyang: the Russian Federation’s reaction to a denuclearization agreement! It may be a matter, a secret, only for the purview of Kim and members of the Central Committee. The thing about secrets is that outsiders very rarely know what they are. If US negotiators are not willing to broach and fully address this matter with their North Korean counterparts, they may be setting the stage for failure, taking a huge gamble with something extremely important. There would exist an element of superficiality to the negotiations. If the North Koreans clam up in response to their inquiry, US negotiators could respectfully request that their counterparts seek clarification and instructions on the matter from Pyongyang. It may turn out that the matter would need to be broached at the highest level: Trump and Kim.

If ever North Korean negotiators are queried about their country’s concerns over an aggressive Russian Federation reaction to Kim signing a denuclearization agreement with the US, and they are willing to respond, common sense would demand that they completely outline security concerns Pyongyang feels the new situation might create. It would be the best time to explain any concerns that voiding themselves of nuclear weapons to the point in which they would not have any deterrent nuclear power at all would inherently dangerous, having China and the Russian Federation as neighbors. At that point, US negotiators must be able to offer real solutions to mitigate the North Koreans concerns. If North Korean negotiators, once queried, fail to speak forthrightly, and answer “Who is this Putin fellow to whom you keep referring?” or something to that effect, US negotiators would be provided with a real sense of Pyongyang’s genuineness. North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un observes weapons test (above). If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Putin. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would be daylight madness to ignore what could knock down whatever might be constructed.

Suggestions

Quoniam id fieri quod visit non potest, velis id quod possit. (As that which you wish cannot be effected, you should wish for that which may be obtained.) A desire by Kim to retain the ability to deter any sudden, rogue moves by China or Russia, would be the most plausible reason he could offer for retaining his existing nuclear arsenal. If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. (The immediate elimination of North Korea’s long-range missile program must remain a US stipulation.) At the same time, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be phased in place. A demonstration of unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany Korean People’s Army on patrols North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not serve as a deterrent to a Russian Federation incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult. Alternatively, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some ominous military and naval deployments were under way. That alternative would most likely be far more palatable to the North Koreans. While that would be happening, some US and South Korean in phases and at a deliberate pace, could move away from the DMZ, much as Russian Federation forces withdrew from Germany after reunification. US forces could be reallocated to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to reassure allies of the US commitment to their defense and continue to effectively preserve Northeast Asian peace and security.

As aforementioned, nuclear nonproliferation is the correct way for the world to go. Another option that may be very off-putting to US officials would be to allow North Korea to retain a portion of its nuclear arsenal after a phased reduction to serve as a deterrent. That deterrent power must be specified publicly to ensure that the small number of weapons retained would have a deterrent effect. In Washington, there would likely be a political backlash over walking back from the initial demand for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in North Korea. To ameliorate concerns about that in a practical way, some additional specific steps that could be taken. If the North Koreans could put their suspicions and distrust aside, on-site joint US, North Korean, South Korean, and Japanese inspection teams could be deployed where the nuclear deterrent would be kept in North Korea. As part of the larger denuclearization agreement, military liaison offices could be created in North Korea, South Korea, and Japan for military officers of all countries involved in maintaining peace and security on the Korea Peninsula which would facilitate the deployment of those inspection teams. The prospective North Korean military liaison officers would also have the right to make escorted visits to one another’s bases in the region. An open skies arrangement with regard to flyovers by aerial reconnaissance and surveillance satellites of all sides should be agreed to in additional to physical inspections by prospective military liaison officers. As suggested in the first option, it could also be proposed that US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability  serve as a type of “peace force” to patrol the North Korea’s northern border in cooperation with the Korean People’s Army. As an alternative here too, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some odd, threatening military and naval deployments were under way. With high expectations about their inventiveness, negotiators could certainly devise additional steps to create a more secure situation.

A third option might be for the US to provide Pyongyang with an assessment of the likelihood that the Russian Federation might seek to establish a buffer zone on North Korean territory in reaction to a denuclearization agreement. In following, the suggestion might also be made to Pyongyang that in conjunction with eliminating nuclear weapons from its arsenal, military equities once organized to defend against an attack from the south should be moved north. It was stated in a publicly available portion of 1995 US Defense Intelligence Agency report published by the Federation of American Scientists that North Korea has deployed over 10,000 artillery systems (mostly multiple rocket launchers and self-propelled artillery systems) near the DMZ.  They most likely have many more deployed now. Once those forces begin moving north, they could be kept in cantonments, while fighting positions could be constructed where they could be immediately deployed in an emergency on the northern border. Of course, under this hypothetical scenario, Moscow may declare the redeployment of Korean People’s Army forces as threatening. In response, North Korea could make clear diplomatically that the redeployment is part of comprehensive change in its national defense strategy. It might appear impolitic but it would be truthful for Pyongyang to declare the redeployment as necessary given the Moscow’s pattern of creating buffer zones in its neighbors’ sovereign territory to provide a theoretical bulwark against US and European encroachment toward its border. Moscow may also decide to deploy its own forces near or on the northern border under such a scenario. However, if the North Koreans bring sufficient power to bear, the threat of a possible Russian Federation attack aimed at grabbing territory should be stemmed. While that is happening, some US and South Korean forces could be redeployed to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to preserve Northeast Asian peace and security vis-a-vis China and Russia, who would ostensibly remain as regional adversaries. With Tokyo’s consent, there could potentially be some redeployments to Japan. The DMZ, North Korea-South Korea relations, and the whole unification issue would left to bilateral talks between the two countries. The US could play a supporting role, if asked. Pyongyang may view the proposed assessment and suggestion to redeploy its forces as a manipulation, a ploy to have it drop its defenses south and open the door to a joint US and South Korean invasion. It would be the task of US negotiators to convince their North Korean counterparts by words and deeds that such is not the case.US, South Korean, and North Korean troops handling a US soldier’s remains from the Korean War (above). If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction weapons that will eventually result in its complete elimination. In tandem with that, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be put in place. A demonstration of support and unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany the Korean People’s Army on patrols of North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not be a deterrent to an incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult.

After reaching a denuclearization agreement, North Korea should no longer think solely about directing its military equities at the US, South Korea, and Japan. Pyongyang must be assured and understand that their military equities would be directed at North Korea. As explained here, the sizable and capable armed forces of China and the Russian Federation would still pose threats to their security, and possibly North Korean security. Training exercises and testing of weapons for self-defense is a right and even necessity that should not simply be stripped from any country in the region. One must also consider practical issues, for example, the metal of armored and mechanized weapons tends to fatigue when sitting idle. However, the agreement might support a move away from extempore tests and exercises and toward greater transparency among military forces. Countries in the region could agree to engage in limited exercises and testing during scheduled dates and times determined via discussions among senior military and diplomatic officials. Critical to maintaining peace and security following a prospective agreement would be the construction of some means for the US, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea to monitor developments, tests, deployments, and other activities as partners to ensure peace.

To create firm channels of communication that will strengthen confidence and dissipate distrust, there must be regular interactions between non-military government officials working on North Korea’s economic vitalization. Interactions should move from likely being stolid and officious to more personable yet still professional. Advisory teams from all governments could interact very closely to guarantee internationals in North Korea are well-informed of the laws under which they must operate, and informed of culturally expected behavior by guests in North Korea. This will help eliminate mysteries about the country which was mostly closed to outsiders, and allow visiting officials and businessmen proceed with their work with confidence and walk with an assured step. The influx of well-trained and acculturated business people, experts on North Korea, will hopefully facilitate that. Success might be measured empirically by the number of congenial linkages created between US and North Korean firms. Eventually, US firms might receive contracts to provide supplies and perform services.US President Donald Trump (left) and Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at the DMZ. The entire diplomatic process on denuclearization might seem much as a rabbit hole to Kim, given the many facets and angles that he needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

The Way Forward

It is burdensome to hold on a hope that has not yet been fulfilled. Impatience, however, can poison diplomacy, and is rarely viewed as sensible by those in foreign services worldwide who instead extol statesmanship and sangfroid. To that extent, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US negotiators have responded to maximalist North Korean demands and cavilling with anodyne statements. In seeking to create a sustainable peace in Northeast Asia, Trump has demonstrated once again that he is willing to take on situations that are not easy. While negotiations appear to still be moving through the confidence building stage between negotiating parties, defusing old animus, the fact that everything has actually reached this point must be credited to Trump. With the many facets and angles that Kim needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, the entire denuclearization process might seem much as a rabbit hole to him. One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

What has been presented here are aspects of a hypothetical scenario in which a denuclearization agreement could ironically open another door to a conflict on Korean Peninsula. In that struggle, North Korea would not be pitted against the US, South Korea, and Japan. Rather, North Korea might find itself struggling against its longtime companion, the Russian Federation. Policymakers and negotiators on both sides must consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula both as it is now and how it might appear after an agreement is reached. Likely threats to a prospective denuclearization agreement must be sorted out with a similar level of interest as sanctions relief is for one party and the drawdown of the nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles is for the other. While impatience may poison for diplomacy, superficiality is its bane. Policymakers and negotiation teams may need to take a new, diligent look across all aspects of the situation, paying as close attention as possible to potential unpleasant developments that may arise once an agreement is reached. If a denuclearization agreement that is genuinely viable and sustainable cannot be found due to new wrinkles, perhaps an agreement somewhat short of what was originally sought, could be considered. In the extreme, the undesirable and regrettable decision to stop seeking an agreement altogether may need to be made. The collapse of the process would not at all be a blot on Trump’s escutcheon. However, the curtain has not fallen yet. Hopefully, both sides can come up with a smart solution for this important issue. Omnia prius experiri, quam armis, sapientem decet. (It becomes a wise man to try all methods before having recourse to arms.)