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.)

To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits

The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Kim Jong-un (above). The administration of US President Donald Trump hopes that Kim Jong-un sincerely desires peace and are genuinely committed to diplomatic process on denuclearization. To nudge thinking in the right direction, efforts have been made to incentivize North Korea to change its economy to benefit the entire country and not just the elites. Reaching a decision on whether to stay on this new path with the US weighs very heavily upon Kim, now ensconced in Pyongyang.

Military analysts have estimated in recent years that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) possessed an arsenal of 30-60 nuclear weapons. In Washington, great concern had been particularly expressed over the possibility that North Korea would soon construct thermonuclear warhead tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Having successfully tested several ICBMs In 2017, North Korea posed a security threat not only to US allies, such as South Korea and Japan, but also to the Continental US. The Trump administration has absolutely no intention of allowing North Korea retain such an arsenal, and moreover, add to it. In 2017, the administration initiated a “maximum pressure” campaign on Kim’s regime and its supporters, increasing military exercises in coordination with South Korea and Japan, deploying missile defense systems in South Korea with urgency, sending more firepower there, and encouraging the US Congress to enact the strongest sanctions possible against North Korea and its enablers. Eventually, in February 2018, the US imposed a raft of sanctions in an effort to target entities linked to North Korea’s shipping and trade sectors. Trump had also urged China, North Korea’s economic lifeline, to assist in reducing tensions by talking frankly with Pyongyang. Yet, to the surprise of all, talks were successfully arranged between US President Donald Trump and the Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un. The decision was precipitated by efforts of the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to end rather bellicose verbiage and repeated muscle flexing by the US, Japan and his own country, and weapons testing by North Korea. Following their summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018, Kim Jong-un publicly committed North Korea “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in the broad joint statement issued at the summit. Trump was so confident that North Korea would begin “total denuclearization” right away that he immediately offered to halt the joint military exercises with South Korea, without Kim agreeing to any specific steps and timeline towards the denuclearization. The day after the summit, Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Even more, on July 18, 2018, Trump said that there was “no rush” in its negotiations with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fully concurred with that position earlier this month. He said negotiations with North Korea are a “decades-long challenge” that involves North Korea making a fundamental shift in its strategic decision making. Pompeo further explained “(North Korea) for decades told their own people that without nuclear weapons their country was at risk of being attacked by the West, by America, by some other country,” Pompeo explained. The job for the US now, he also said, is “to get the entire country to understand that they have that strategically wrong. Chairman Kim told President Trump he understood that. I was there. I saw it.”

Trump appears to reasonably quantify continued progress by the fact that there have not been any North Korean missile or nuclear tests in recent months. Still, although the halt to these tests is a welcome sign, North Korea has made little progress toward “total denuclearization.” Critics as well as some very capable military and foreign policy analysts posit that Kim had no intention of keeping his promise on denuclearization, and has set out to deceive the Trump administration and the rest of world, much as his father and grandfather misled previous US administrations. One cannot be certain that Kim will stay the course and effectuate denuclearization. Using logic and reason, one cannot not know what exactly is on Kim’s mind, know what lies within his heart. What might be inferred from all that is known about Kim is that one would make a huge mistake in placing complete faith in him. While an opportunity has been presented to Kim, he may become froward and revert to old ways or simply retract having been confronted with prospect of such great change. Concerning the former, certainly, the US must not underestimate Kim’s maliciousness and subterfuge. He is following the same strategy deployed by his father and grandfather but with a bigger ambition. Unlike his father and grandfather, Kim will not be satisfied with temporary economic relief through negotiations. He has visited China three times so far this year. Regarding the latter, a retrenchment or retreat by Kim might not be impelled by aggressive thinking or some recurvation programmed into the plan for engagement with US on denuclearization. As important to the process of achieving denuclearization are the personal concerns and feelings about the change. If Kim is not psychologically ready to move forward, the process may breakdown. Protecting his own sense of being, self-image, self-worth, Kim may reject all that is before him. That would consequently cause great pain and harm for himself and the North Korean people.

The diplomatic process between the US and North Korea is still relatively nascent at this stage. Efforts must be made to detect any incongruences in Kim’s actions as they relate to denuclearization and extrapolate and infer from his words what he may be thinking. Doing so will allow the US make needed adjustments in its diplomatic approach. If it appears North Korea might jump to a negative path regarding denuclearization, it would best if the US had already stolen a march or two ahead of him and prepared itself to act. Examined here, from outside the box, are possible intangible motivations that might be a potential causality, among others, for Kim to back away from denuclearization. It takes a brief look a what Kim might be asking himself. Τίς εἶναι θέλεις, σαυτῷ πρῶτον εἰπέ: εἶθ’ οὕτως ποίει ἃ ποιεῖς. (First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.)

A North Korean Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (above). Military analysts estimate that North Korea possesses an arsenal of 30-60 nuclear weapons. Having successfully tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in 2017, North Korea poses a security threat not only to US allies, such as South Korea and Japan, but also to the Continental US. More so, there is concern in the US that North Korea’s may soon construct thermonuclear warhead tipped ICBMs. The Trump administration has absolutely no intention of allowing North Korea retain such an arsenal or add to it.

Trying to Keep Things Right with the Diplomatic Process

Trump administration diplomatic efforts on North Korean denuclearization have been smart, methodical, and well-managed. The purpose of the talks is to find points at which Washington’s thinking touches with that of Pyongyang, and develop mutually satisfying, attainable and sustainable ends. The US must be cautious. Still, the purpose of the talks is not to find fault in the expressions and gestures of the other party, allow suspicions to color thinking, and make the whole process a fruitless, unconstructive exercise. The worst actions and impressions Pyongyang has made in Washington over the years should not be forgotten. However, as there is presently no urgency, no immediate danger of conflict between the parties, every effort should be made to display sangfroid and temperance, temporarily suppressing strong feelings over what has happened in the past. Over time, the intentions of North Korea will be revealed as good or bad. Indeed, one must employ forward thinking of positive progress in resolving matter or improving relations is to be achieved. In meetings with their North Korean counterparts, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials have done his best to explain and secure US interests, channeling Trump’s thinking. The essence of that thinking is to stop Kim from chasing his destructive dream of developing a large nuclear arsenal capable of striking the US. Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Now away from the grandeur, the luster, the celebrity, and the energy of the Singapore Summit, and the persuasive Trump, Kim seems to be leaning into his own thinking, He may not have a sense that he must even be honor bound by culture to remain obedient to the terms of the agreement with Trump and act consistently in line with them. Kim may no longer have the same sense of trust in Trump. After taking one step away from the intent of the agreement in Singapore, each step becomes easier. One can also usually find ample reasons to do the wrong thing. Kim would be comfortable in the end for the reason it was standard behavior of North Korea. A challenge for the Trump administration from the start has been to satisfactorily reconcile the diplomatic Kim, the open-minded Kim, with concomitant enormities of his authoritarian reign of North Korea. Washington must keep in mind that Kim is a tyrant, ruling with an iron fist. That observation is not outdated. Recent actions concerning the nuclear program or expressions that disparage the US and US officials, have certainly raised greater concern over Kim’s intentions. Goading the US, snuffing out the positive spirit that remains from Singapore might be an awkward exit strategy from the denuclearization matter. However, Washington has not shown any interest in exchanging insults with Pyongyang. The focus of both parties must be diplomacy.There is no desire by the Trump administration to demonstrate superiority over countries by moving forward consistently along a narrow path of attitude and behavior. Washington will not lower itself to the long-practiced tactics of diversion of Pyongyang. Pyongyang will need to rise to the occasion.

Beyond verbiage, there have also been disappointments stemming from actions and inaction by Pyongyang. Imagery analysis of satellite photos indicate Pyongyang has rushed to make improvements to the infrastructure of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, and enriched uranium production for nuclear weapons has increased. The South Korea’s military has collected information indicating that Pyongyang may be developing a new submarine capable of launching nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. North Korea indicated that it would conduct its annual summer military exercise without regard for Trump’s gesture of goodwill in halting a planned joint US and South Korean military exercise. Further, Kim promised the immediate repatriation of identified remains of US POWs in Singapore, but without explanation, Pyongyang has been slow to act. The Defense Department, however, has had to display great patience in the face of the inexplicable deliberate pace taken by Pyongyang on the return of remains. Additionally, North Korea’s handling of Pompeo’s July 6, 2018 visit to Pyongyang was graceless and inelegant. Critics took it as another troubling sign. Pompeo and his team were not provided a schedule of meetings. They were not told in which hotel they would stay. They were never provided a definitive answer on whether they would meet Kim, and in the end, they did not. Pompeo pressed his North Korea counterpart Kim Yong-chol on concrete steps toward denuclearization, but it is unclear whether any were provided. After the visit, Pyongyang played the role of a fretful and peevish innocent party emotionally injured by the stern Pompeo and publicly attacked the US for making “gangster like” demands.

Critics say Pyongyang has displayed this pattern of obfuscation too many times in the last three decades. It has been sardonically called “business as usual” with Pyongyang. Every administration since that of US President Bill Clinton has publicly expressed the belief that it could better handle North Korea than the previous one, and some special deal could be reached to curb or bring down its nuclear program. Yet, they all ended up formulating and implementing unsatisfactory approaches the results of which were being misled the regime. To an extent, Pyongyang developed a record of success in dealing with the US, while the US would walk away with only frustration. Even now, North Korea continues its steadfast march toward becoming an undeniable nuclear power. However, the administration will not moan over the past and recent maladroit and tactless actions.

 

There is the possibility that Kim agreed to talk to Trump as part of nefarious plan to convince the Seoul that his country’s purpose is peaceful. Success for Kim with such a deceitful purpose would be a unilateral decision by South Korea to halt their participation in US-led military exercises. Even better for him would be a request in the near future by South Korea for partial, substantial, or the complete withdrawal of US forces from their country before or simultaneous with an agreement to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs.

If Kim Had a Nefarious Plan for Singapore, It May Have Been Trumped by Trump!

From what was seen from Kim in the earliest stages of the meeting with Trump, he appeared amiable, yet at the same time self-contained and somewhat obscure as the talks began. An occasional smile could not cloak the fact that his face was hardened, An attendant aspect of his likely effort to conceal himself. He remained silent. He would nod his head. One might theorize that Kim did not want to make it easy for Trump to read him. Kim was likely trained in those mannerism years ago. They may have been designed to create the trompe l’oeil of receptiveness. Yet, if such a thought was guiding Kim’s behavior, it was likely soon commingled with a sense of being overwhelmed by the news media attention, the public adulation outside his hotel, and the gravity of the talks in which he was engaging

The renowned ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, is quoted as saying: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” It is possible that self-conceit closed Kim’s mind to whatever was said. In believing that he already knew what Trump would say would have served as an effective buffer to Trump’s comments and explanations. Indeed, Kim may have arrived in Singapore as a man on a mission, believing that he could shape events on the Korean Peninsula in his way. Before the talks began, Kim took affirmative steps in support of engagement with the US to include a superficial charm offensive in which he was presented as an exponent of denuclearization, unification, and peace. He sought to prove that he no longer the source of dread and terror in Northeast Asia, the Continental US, and everything in between. However, he had already shown enough of his hand to sufficiently convince Trump that his intentions were potentially nefarious. Yet, Trump also likely saw that Kim was facing a dire situation, and wanted to allow him some room to gravitate toward a new tact more satisfying for the US. If everything goes Trump’s way, North Korea will scrap its nuclear weapons and missile programs in a timely manner.

In a previous post, greatcharlie, hinting at its suspicions about Kim, hypothesized that there was the possibility that Kim was directing a duplicitous efforts at Trump but at South Korea. (That possibility was also likely among the “what ifs” considered by the Trump administration before the meeting.) For example, Kim might have sought to talk to Trump in order to better convince the Seoul that his country’s purpose is peaceful. A signal of success with such a deceitful purpose would be a unilateral decision by South Korea to halt their participation in US-led military exercises. Even better for him would be a request in the near future by South Korea for partial, substantial, or the complete withdrawal of US forces from their country before or simultaneous with an agreement to dismantle his country’s nuclear weapon and missile programs. Hopefully, Pyongyang is not engaged in an active strategy to gain control of the Korean Peninsula by convincing South Korea to buy into the fantasy that it too wants to create conditions for peaceful relations. If it does, things certainly have not been moving in favor of it. Mens impudicam facere, non casus, solet. (Impurity is caused by attitude, not events.)

Believing that he could shape events on the Korean Peninsula in his way, Kim, before the Singapore talks began, took affirmative steps in support of engagement with the US to include a superficial charm offensive in which he was presented as an exponent of denuclearization, unification, and peace. He sought to prove that he no longer the source of dread and terror in Northeast Asia, the Continental US, and everything in between. However, he had already shown enough of his hand to sufficiently convince Trump that his intentions were potentially nefarious.

Any Nefarious North Korean Plans to Exploit Singapore Likely Stymied by Culture Shock and the Realism of Trump

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar culture or way of life. The possibility that Kim may have had a bout with culture shock while moving through Singapore should not be discounted. Certainly Kim is familiar with the world outside of North Korea, reportedly having attended the private English-language International School in Gümligen near Bern, Switzerland from 1993 to 1998. It was also reported that Kim attended the Liebefeld Steinhölzli state school in Köniz near Bern under an assumed name from 1998 until 2000. However, Singapore is not a European country. Singapore is one of the four economic tigers of Asia that have consistently maintained high levels of economic growth since the 1960s. That growth was impelled by exports and rapid industrialization. The other tigers include South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In Singapore, Kim saw what a small Asian country could achieve by successfully marshalled the energies of its people to create was the site. It was his dream for North Korea. He undoubtedly though how much he wanted it and despite keeping his mind on the revolutionary path, wondered whether there might be a real possibility of guiding his country to such economic height by working with the US and international community.

Perhaps while in Singapore, he may have considered putting aside any potential nefarious plans and playing things by ear. Indeed, whatever part of Pyongyang’s effort was superficial had to make way for what was authentic: the promise of a bright future for North Korea. The Singapore talks were marked by the very apparent graciousness and humanism displayed by Trump. Even for the most skeptical, the interaction would have been intoxicating. Trump may be difficult for foreign capitals to discern perhaps because there is also the background noise of critics with their varying levels hostility. Among the many things that dissatify  them about Trump is the fact that his approach to nearly everything is not business as usual: decision making based on political expediency. A heavy dose of realism is typically injected into his exchanges. Whatever follow-on steps that are agreed upon will be concrete. It is very likely that even after Singapore, the event lingered in Kim’s psyche, leaving him a condition different from the time before the summit. His old habits and faculties have likely been effected by the event. It is Kim’s choice to either entertain and perhaps pursue all of the new considerations or shun what transpired, erase all traces of it or setting the matter off to the side while proceeding in his ways. Nevertheless, there was little doubt for Trump, who actually negotiated directly with Kim, that Kim understood his exposition in Singapore.

After having opened the eyes of Kim and officials in Pyongyang to the opportunity put before them, a satisfactory, inviting gateway must be created for them to cross through to a new reality, on both nuclear weapons and their country’s future. Although ongoing sanctions are also an incentive and helped get the diplomatic process started, a far more positive way is needed to push Pyongyang up and out from depths in which it has put itself. Trump has apparently reasoned out what course the process will take. Reportedly, he accepted that he needed to be somewhat patient and act intently, with diligence, which naturally mean taking time to make certain things are correct. Trump has an understanding of human nature, and even sympathy for human frailty. He can project empathy. One of Trump’s greatest strengths is his capacity for listening.  Indeed, Trump, via the summit, successfully interviewed Kim. From what he heard and did not hear in their one-on-one session, Trump feels that he better understands Kim’s thinking and intentions. After committing to being patient, a diligent person expects receive fruit from their efforts. Hasty people may receive something transitory, but likely unsatisfactory for the long term.

The state of North Korea’s economy has been atrocious for some time, but it was made several ticks worst once sanctions killed most of its foreign trade. North Korea’s economy necessarily loomed large in the negotiations. Some consideration had to be given to what would happen after sanctions were removed and the subject of the country’s greatest investment had been scrapped. Benefits that would come Kim’s way once denuclearization was complete.were dangled before him to make taking the path to denuclearization more attractive.

Encouragement in the Form of Economic Assistance

The state of North Korea’s economy has been atrocious for some time, but it was made several ticks on the meter worst once sanctions killed most of its foreign trade. North Korea’s economy necessarily loomed large in the negotiations. Some consideration had to be given to what would happen after sanctions were removed and the subject of the country’s greatest investment had been scrapped. Benefits that would come Kim’s way once denuclearization was complete.were dangled before him to make taking the path to denuclearization more attractive. There was even a short video presentation prepared to support that cause. Trump and administration officials indicated that US companies could come to North Korea en masse if relations between the countries improve. Reportedly, at their first summit on April 27, 2018, the South Korean President gave Kim a USB stick that held plans for robust infrastructure investments and a list of South Korean companies that would like to benefit from a de-escalation of tensions.

As mentioned earlier, Kim reportedly would like to develop North Korea’s economy. He stated in 2012 that the North Korean people should “never have to tighten [their] belts again,” and the following year, he launched the “byungjin strategy” for the parallel development of the national economy and nuclear weapons, with equal importance.  Less publicized in the Western news media than the country’s other aspects, Kim’s tenure has seen North Korea’s semi-private market system grow, further experimentation in agricultural management explored, and state-owned enterprises have been granted unprecedented liberties in production planning. Clearly, Kim Jong-un has invested himself and considerable wherewithal into improving economic conditions. On April 20, 2018, Kim declared that North Korea’s primary emphasis will be on economic development from that point onward as the nuclear deterrent was secure. The Trump administration has not missed the fact that exploiting Kim’s economic ambitions could give the diplomatic process a boost. Offering assistance for economic development and directing such assistance to spur the shift of a country in North Korea’s circumstances toward a more market-based economic system, is a tried and true course for the international community to take.

How Kim Might Proceed

Kim was selected by Kim Jong-il, his father, to be his successor as Supreme Leader of North Korea. The short-list of attributes of a national leader respective to North Korea, beyond loyalty to the Communist Workers’ Party of Korea would likely include: to organize the people under the tenets of Marxist-Leninism; promote the general welfare of the people within parameters set by the Workers’ Party of Korea; provide for the safety and security of the people; defend the country’s sovereign territory; and know the value of an iron fist. To the extent that Kim has even slightly deviated from that course, he has implemented some economic reforms as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, he has essentially been piloting the country dead ahead on the course Kim Jong-il and Kim Il sung set it on. Kim hit the ground running upon becoming Supreme Leader. Countless North Korea government images showcase Kim performing his duties with what the Renaissance Italian soldier, diplomat, and courtier, Baldassare Castiglione in his 1528 work, Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier), called “sprezzatura”, a certain nonchalance. It is easy to say that Kim is an educated man who should be able to easily see the benefits short and long term for North Korea once denuclearization is complete. However, reason is based on principle, not the prospect of economic development. Kim may indeed see the benefits of moving along the course set by Trump, but he may not have the moral foundation to know that it would be morally right to take that course. In his formative years, Kim also may not have been sufficiently inculcated with any ideas even in the spirit of Marxist-Leninism which would support a decision move off the set path, and boldly set a new course for his country. Even if Kim tried to capitalize on the opportunity to make things better in North Korea, he might be hindered by well-concealed doubts about his own abilities. He may fear falling short. Indeed, for Kim, the difficulty in engaging with the US to create systemic change in the country’s economic system would not be found in the work of implementing change. The difficulty might be wrapping his head around it all and moving forward with confidence. Kim may know better than anyone else that he will not end up being North Korea’s version of Deng Xiaoping.

Kim will not throw caution to the wind. Kim is undoubtedly very aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Again as mentioned, some time has passed since Singapore and Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing about Trump could have morphed into considerable apprehension over the US president’s motives. Nestled in Pyongyang, even the mere mental process of drawing closer to the world that Trump presented at Singapore has required Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just thinking about a transition in ways of doing things that might lead to the economic transformation of North Korea becomes less attractive and more difficult.

Est enim quaedam etiam dolendi voluptas, praesertim si in amici sinu defleas, apud quem lacrimis tuis vel laus sit parata vel venia. (For there is a certain luxury in grief; especially when we pour out our sorrows in the bosom of a friend, who will approve, or, at least, pardon our tears.) It is difficult to say to whom Kim would turn that would genuinely support of move by him toward denuclearization. As noted by greatcharlie in a previous post, Kim apparently holds his sister, Kim Yo Jong, in high regard and seems to take counsel of her on occasions. She led a delegation of North Korean officials to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It is now apparent publicly that Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol, is another North Korean official that Kim is willing to rely upon to some degree. He is a foreign policy doyen and sacred cow of the intelligence industry in North Korea, met with Pompeo in New York City for talks and then met with Trump in Washington, DC before the Singapore Summit, and the two have met since then. Although Kim Yong-chol’s main purpose may be to engage in high-level talks with the US and to advise Kim on the diplomatic process, he can also use his title, stature, and credibility to interface with the Workers’ Party of Korea and North Korean elites and create some semblance of transparency throughout the diplomatic process for those concerned in Pyongyang. Kim Yong-chol has also exploited the opportunity to better understand the Trump administration through direct contact and not the abstract. That being stated, neither Kim Yo Jong nor Kim Yong-chol appear able to comfortably or confidently, approach Kim and counsel him on denuclearization and economic reform.

All leaders usually sense some degree of isolation at the top. That isolation can potentially be made even more strainful if there is no confidant for a leader to rely upon for honest, supportive counsel beyond the advisement of professional staff on areas of expertise. A leader in Kim’s position faces a particular type of isolation as advice and counsel will unlikely be offered to him freely in an effort to avoid the repercussions of angering him with some mistake. The best option left for Kim would be to turn inward. Uncertain of the outcome of grand steps in different directions, Kim may eventually take a default position, thereby finding his comfort zone. If he could conjure up a path that would only require a relatively small amount of change, it will provide him with some relief and garner praise from like-minded officials at the top of the food chain.

It is very likely that after Singapore, the whole event lingered in Kim’s psyche, leaving him a condition different from the time before the summit. It is Kim’s choice to either entertain and perhaps pursue all of the new considerations or shun what transpired, erase all traces of it or setting the matter off to the side while proceeding with his old habits and faculties. Trump, who actually negotiated with Kim, had no doubt that the North Korean Supreme Leader fully understood his exposition in Singapore.

A Few Possible Scenarios

Rationale enim animal est homo. (Man is a reasoning animal.) With many factors considered, there are a number of scenarios that can be imagined under which Kim might break away from the path of denuclearization. Here are three examples. In one scenario, Kim will maneuver to place North Korea on a path to economic success similar to that which China took. China is a Communist country with a strong economy. It has been accepted nuclear power by the international community. First, along the path China took, it developed its own nuclear capability and capacity. Second, it implemented limited economic reforms while engaging the rest of the world, especially the US through trade and investment, as a result of an opening agreed by Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-Tung  and US President Richard Nixon. It was all done while maintaining a strict one-party rule and hard-line ideological control of Chinese people.

Now that the US, Japan, and South Korea have place their wide array of powerful weapon systems aimed at North Korea on safety, Kim is trying to follow China’s route. He wants the world, particularly the US and South Korea, to help him energize North Korea’s economy by pouring in investment. He hopes to draw them in by seemingly commodifying his country’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, making investment their cost. At the same time, he wants to maintain his iron-fisted, authoritarian control of North Korea and its people. It may very well be that Kim’s heart may very be too hardened, perhaps seared by a belief that the greatest danger to North Korea comes from the US. To that extent, Kim has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons, for he believes they are the only guarantee of his regime’s survival. Falsum est nimirum quod creditur vulgo, testamenta hominum speculum esse morum.(There is certainly no truth in the popular belief, that a man’s will is the mirror of his character.)

In a second scenario, perhaps Kim recognizes that the type of success Kim really wants for North Korea is out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because the country’s problems are so grave and run too deep. Kim may be incapable of coming up with real answers that would put North Korea on real upward trajectory using all of the tools available to him. In a significant endeavor, there is always the potential to become lost. To that extent, consciously or unconsciously, Kim may simply be procrastinating. Of course, there are those who would follow him no matter what. Kim knows better than anyone else just how bad things have been in North Korea. It may be to put off a sober, updated look at the situation, and other than implementing a few measures here and there, basically close his eyes to the situation.

To that extent, if Kim were to receive counsel from an “inner voice”, perhaps among the thoughts he might hear are the following three: 1) “Do not chase a gossamer fantasy of developing North Korea into a globally competitive, economically well-heeled country.  There is a danger posed by Trump as part of larger picture of the US, a capitalist adversary seeking conquest, attempting to subordinate your smaller nation.” 2) “You have developed nuclear arsenal to a level that he has the capability and capacity to strike the US. You are genuinely defending your people from that threat.” 3) “You have accomplished what you father and grandfather strove to achieve, but were unable to reach. Honor them, by remaining on the correct path!” Moreover, Kim might consider whether Trump would be willing to follow through on threats of military action given his lack of reaction to the obloquy and invective inflicted upon him by critics. The latest vitriol from critics is the claim that Trump displayed a treasonous level of timidity in the presence of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland. Journalists asked Trump whether he confronted him with evidence from the US Intelligence Community of  the country’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and whether he actually believed that Russia was even engaged in that activity. Overall, Trump’s foreign policy agenda is viewed by critics as something comparable to the l’infame in late-18th century France, the effort to destroy Christian social order as a means to break from the past. In Kim’s mind, surely if Trump were as fierce as he portrays himself, critics would be hesitant to attack him such vigor.

In a third scenario, Kim may have simply lost interest in diplomacy with the US. Kim fully understands that the world is a big place with may countries, with several adversaries and some allies of a sort such as China and the Russian. Yet, in real terms, Kim’s own world, North Korea, is where he is most comfortable. While at home, Kim may have become insulated in the refracted reflection of reality from that Communist country. The values and interests of North Korea may once again become the foundation upon which he will base his actions and reactions to the outside world, the “real world”, and particularly in the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Kim’s mind may not be open to moving further on the denuclearization matter regardless of what Trump is offering.

Kim is now surrounded by all the familiar sights, sounds, and the atmosphere of Pyongyang. The voices of Workers’ Party of Korea officials, generals, security men, business elites, and other are given higher importance in this context as they comfort and encourage him  It is nearly certain that a majority of those supporters also cannot imagine a North Korea other than the one they have known with nuclear weapons and a rigid stand against the US. All of this might be manifested by Kim becoming more guarded in his contact with the outside. Parvolum differt, patiaris adversa an exspectes; nisi quod tamen est dolendi modus, non est timendi. Doleas enim quantum scias accidisse, timeas quantum possit accidere. (There is little difference between expecting misfortune and undergoing it; except that grief has limits, whereas apprehension has none. For we grieve only for what we know has happened; but we fear all that possibly may happen.)

Now nestled in Pyongyang, Kim is surrounded by all of its familiar sights and sounds. He is away from the grandeur, the luster, the celebrity, the energy of the Singapore Summit, and the persuasive Trump. The voices of Workers Party officials, generals, security men, business elites, and others are given greater importance as they comfort and encourage him  It is nearly certain that a majority of those supporters also cannot imagine a North Korea other than the one they know now with nuclear weapons and a tough stand against the US. It all might be manifested by Kim becoming more guarded in his contact with the outside.

A Possible Boost for the US Effort?

Delays and missteps by Pyongyang may create the perception of the optimistic within the Trump camp that some deliberation has been underway within the Workers’ Party of Korea and among other key elites concerning denuclearization. There are undoubtedly many in North Koreans who do not believe that it would be a good path for the country to take For the sake of peace and security in Northeast Asia and the world beyond, greatcharlie also hopes that is the real cause. It is difficult to imagine at what angle Trump administration, itself, might approach Kim to effectually suggest why and how he should proceed in changing his country. It would seem unlikely that Kim would appreciate being told how he should feel at this moment. He would surely be disinterested in hearing anyone from the US attempt to counsel him from the perspective of having been in the same situation themselves, because no US leader or official in recent times has been in Kim’s position. There is the possibility that a third party could be recruited to help usher Kim in the right direction. In a previous post, greatcharlie explained how Mongolia had moved through similar circumstances advancing methodically from a Communist system to more democratic one. With targeted US assistance, has promoted good governance and the rule of law; developed a new generation of democratic leaders; has enjoyed private sector-led growth, economic diversification, and long-term capital investment; and, mitigated transnational criminal activity, to include human trafficking, and reduced domestic violence. Bordered by Russia and China, the Mongolia has had the experience of working positively with their far more powerful neighbors while appreciating the efforts of what it calls its most important “third neighbor”: the US. Mongolia has also invested in North Korea’s oil industry. Most of all, under its present policy, Mongolia desires to see North Korea succeed in its own transition and transformation. (The Mongols could also serve as a figurative thermometer, taking independent readings of the temperature in Pyongyang toward denuclearization and economic development supported by the US and the rest of the international community.) The US State Department is well-aware of the dozens of points at which Mongolia and North Korea touch. Including Mongolia as a partner to include in the diplomatic process may make sense if Ulan Bator is at all interested.

It may very well be that a decision has already been made in Pyongyang not to remain bound to denuclearization. In that case, the Trump administration cannot allow itself to fall into the unpleasant circumstance of relentlessly chases the goal of denuclearization as Pyongyang steadily and methodically moves that possibility farther out of reach. However, nothing stated by him has provided a hint that he has done so. It can only be hoped that he will not make that decision and everything done by the US will foster purposeful  forward movement toward denuclearization. An incorrect decision to divert from the agreed course of denuclearization or to abandon that path altogether may be heralded as a demonstration of Kim’s boldness and fearlessness.  However, that moment of actual failure would more likely be driven by trepidation of the unknown, anxiety toward a future that cannot be foreseen or ever envisioned.

Gaius Musonius Rufus, known as the “Roman Socrates”, was one the foremost Stoic philosophers of the Roman Imperial period. Attributed to Rufus, is the following quote noting that even after the best effort is made, the outcome is really not in our control. He stated: “Of the things that exist, God has put some in our control, others not in our control. In our control he has put the noblest and most excellent part by reason of which He is Himself happy, the power of using our impressions. For when this is correctly used, it means serenity, cheerfulness, constancy; it also means justice and law and self-control and virtue as a whole. But all other things He has not put in our control. Therefore we ought to become of like mind with God and, dividing things in like manner, we ought in every way to lay claim to the things that are in our control, but what is not in our control we ought to entrust to the universe and gladly yield to it whether it asks for our children, our country, our body, or anything whatsoever.”

Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections, Trump must be ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with North Korea cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations believing North Korea wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, trying too hard to understand Kim’s situation.

The Way Forward

In Act III, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, King Henry is in his palace at Westminster. It is the middle of the night, and he is working on the paperwork of the ongoing war. Henry halts he work for a moment, and, as a matter of staging convention, breaks the fourth wall by both talking to himself and addressing the audience. He speaks of his newly insomnia, and waxes on how his poorest subjects can sleep at night in their tattered beds, but weighed down by worry, remorse, and anxiety, he, the wealthy king, cannot. He posits that men in power such as him, are less content and insouciant as the needy and ordinary. King Henry states: “How many thousand of my poorest subjects Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down And steep my senses in forgetfulness? Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs, Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber, Than in the perfumed chambers of the great, Under the canopies of costly state, And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody? O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell? Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains In cradle of the rude imperious surge And in the visitation of the winds, Who take the ruffian billows by the top, Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds, That, with the hurly, death itself awakes? Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude, And in the calmest and most stillest night, With all appliances and means to boot, Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Ensconced in Pyongyang, Kim may feel that he is either in a tough spot and under great strain or he is self-assured and feels comfortable knowing he has choices. He may have even reasoned that there is no real need to be fearful of any consequences if he takes one path or another. However, it is most likely that reaching a decision on how to proceed with the US weighs very heavily upon him. Long-practiced tactics of diversion of Pyongyang have raised their head much as a vampire with goal of sabotaging the diplomacy. Yet, that may not be indicative of a choice move away from denuclearization. Perhaps that behavior is driven by inertia and bad habit more than anything else. The Trump administration only wants to take the high road in the diplomatic process. If the desire for peace is sincere, it is hoped by the administration that Kim and his advisers in Pyongyang, will rise to the occasion. To nudge thinking in the right direction, efforts have been made to incentivize North Korea to change its economy to benefit the entire country and not just the elites.

In contemplating what Kim might do, the US must remain vigilant and cautious. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections, Trump must be ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with North Korea cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that North Korea wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, trying too hard to understand Kim’s position.

If it becomes clear that his administration’s efforts with North Korea have only been a struggle against the inevitable, everything aggressive that North Korea has done will be taken in the aggregate before a response is chosen. There must not be any doubt that such a conclusion is correct. If a determination is made that Kim has turned his back on what was accomplished at Singapore, only the harshest of consequences should be expected. In Singapore, Kim appeared to understand that Trump did not make a half hearted vow to take military action. Make no mistake, Trump has the requisite will to act. Kim must never believe otherwise. Even if Kim keeps that notion firmly in mind as he continues to engage in the diplomatic process, only time will tell how much that really means to Kim. Arma non servant modum; nec temperari facile nec reprimi potest stricti ensis ira; bella delectat cruor. (Arms observe no bounds; nor can the wrath of the sword, once drawn, be easily checked or stayed; war delights in blood.)