US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) walk side by side toward South Korea following Trump’s historic June 30, 2019 crossing of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea. It appears that attendant to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions, a virtual “maximum defusion campaign” designed to mitigate lingering distrust and cauterize tension is being directed at North Korea through Trump’s interactions with Kim. A genuine friendship has developed between the two leaders. Hopefully, Kim will further open his consciousness to see the great possibilities Trump’s denuclearization proposal will create for North Korea and finally accept it.
The immediate impression of supporters, critics, and detractors of US President Donald Trump over his suggestion that he and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom was surprise, skepticism, and apprehension. Yet, on June 30, 2019, the meeting occurred, and the results were excellent. To Trump’s credit for inviting Kim to meet at the DMZ, and to an extent to Kim’s credit for accepting his invitation, the diplomatic process, which appeared to be moving somewhat slower after their last summit has been invigorated. The parties have now taken the step to organize teams of officials from both countries that will form working groups on the denuclearization matter. Many observers are still struggling to understand how Trump managed to get the US relationship with North Korea to this point. The situation is surely a long way from the flap early in the Trump administration during which there were reports every ten seconds about some vituperation he or Kim had hurled at the other. The situation in Northeast Asia seems an even longer way from the formerly atrocious condition of relations between their respective countries since the end of the Korean War. Generally, contentious relationships as that which existed between the US and North Korea do not recurvate so quickly. The surprisingly fast change in this case started from the moment Trump opened to the door to talks with Kim. Nearly all foreign and national security policy circles in the US were skeptical that Trump’s entreat to Kim to enter diplomatic talks on denuclearization would amount to anything worthwhile. However, Trump clearly understood that the time for the two leaders to meet, far more than just face-to-face, but one-on-one, eye to eye, head-to-head, brain-to-brain, had come. The improved environment resulting from the burgeoning relationship between the two leaders through their meetings in Singapore on June 12, 2018 and in Hanoi, Vietnam from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019, and in satisfying communications through diplomats and letters, surely encouraged both Trump and Kim to meet extempore at the DMZ. Both men, thinking in harmony, saw something attractive, constructive, and very positive, in the opportunity.
The diplomatic process on denuclearization is a devilishly complex undertaking. For that reason, many less discerning eyes, looking for some dramatic advancements, continually report that Trump and Kim are accomplishing little to nothing through their interactions. Yet, in reality the indications and implications are that much has been achieved. They are unaware that Trump has not only taken a real step away from war, but he has also been engaged in a virtual “maximum defusion campaign”. That diplomatic campaign has been running parallel with his maximum pressure campaign. Perhaps greatcharlie is going out on a slender thread by positing that Trump has been engaged in some unannounced and nowhere else expressed diplomatic campaign. However, the world can see for itself how much attention and energy Trump has given to what has been a masterful, statesmanlike diplomatic effort, uniquely shaped by his bold and self-assured personal style to encourage Kim to move toward denuclearization. His maximum defusion campaign has required a considerable, dedicated effort to do what is necessary to reduce, relieve, alleviate, moderate, and mitigate rough spots and tackle some nagging issues most present to mind between the US and North Korea that might preclude the reaching of an agreement on denuclearization. The meeting at the DMZ was a very visible manifestation of the positive, forward thinking mindset that has developed between Trump and Kim via the maximum defusion campaign.
Admittedly, in 2019, greatcharlie has been somewhat focused on the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization. Its enchantment with the matter is stimulated by its support of the effort. Through this essay and others it has written on the topic, greatcharlie, using the faculties it has on US and North Korean foreign and national security policy decisionmaking, has sought to put together the arithmetic of what Trump nas been doing. His prosecution of a so far successful virtual maximum defusion campaign is outlined. Interestingly, the diplomatic process on denuclearization can be seen as a vessel in which all of the strengths attitudes and varied aspects of Trump’s diplomacy can be found. Perhaps it could said that the diplomacy on denuclearization is a metaphor for Trump administration diplomacy in general. Through a closer look by greatcharlie at the diplomatic process, to some extent, a better understanding of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign and national security policy is provided. Non viribus celeritate corporum magna gerimus, sed sapientia et sententia et arte. (We accomplish important things not with the strength and quickness of our bodies, but by intelligence and thought and skill.)
The Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign”
With regard to the word “defusion” as used in the term “maximum defusion campaign”, it is defined as an effort to improve a difficult or dangerous situation, for example by making people less angry or by dealing with the causes of a problem. A tame double entendre can be found in the term “maximum defusion campaign” when effort is interpreted as having the purpose of deactivating, disarming, and disabling North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range range missiles programs to make the region and the world safer. Assuredly, the maximum defusion campaign has meant far more than peppering his interactions with Kim with simple acts as using humor or a slap on the back to lessen tension at severe moments. The maximum defusion campaign could best be described as a nondestructive method of conflict resolution. It has been an effort in which Trump, through face-to-face diplomatic exertions and other direct forms of communication such letters, has sought to create a genuine, personal connection with Kim. Through that connection, Trump would hopefully would be able to encourage a change in Kim’s conception of denuclearization and make the idea of a US assisted economic renaissance in North Korea more comfortable for him. The two leaders would be energetically engaged in tandem to resolve was once a nuclear crisis.
Among obstacles to finding a peaceful path between the two countries was the great animus existed between them for many years following the July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula. They were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and North Korea. For the US, the thrust of its dislike of North Korea was anti-Communism. Its main goal was containment of the Communist threat there as well as everywhere else in the world. Communism was correctly characterized then as an aggressive revolutionary political system dedicated to the destruction of the West. That anti-Communist posture morphed in the 1990s to the extent in which the uncertainty and instability that North Korea posed in the region to primacy over the geopolitical threat. In North Korea, there was an almost anti-US underpinning to the country’s development, that was perhaps not as strong as, but almost equally significant as its Communist movement. Out of all three potential adversaries in the Northeast Asia, North Korea, not the Russian Federation or China, posed the greatest threat to US allies in the region despite the existence of the US nuclear umbrella that provided was designed have a deterrent effect. That type of de facto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and other various reports. This was particularly so in the military, the intelligence services. Lest we forget, for 65 years, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of the DMZ have remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off.
The process of creating a connection between the US and North Korea could only begin with one side expressing itself to the other. It was Trump who took the first step. He saw the opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with Kim. Fortunately, Kim was willing to listen and understand, albeit cautiously, to what Trump was saying. In establishing terms that interaction, there were very apparent and essential differences between the two leaders that could have become hurdles for them to overcome. On a very basic level, they included: political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power. Trump, however, decided straightaway to engage Kim by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the realities of his position as a young leader. As the personal diplomacy evolved, to some degree it has also entailed an unspoken reliance upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, exploiting all of their human potential. Ever since those surprising beginnings of the diplomatic process, there has been a seemingly irreversible mutual respect exhibited between Trump and Kim. All along the way, an authentic effort has been made by both leaders to be understanding toward the positions expressed by one another in their negotiations.
No precondition of creating some faux parity in status between the US and North Korea as countries was insisted upon before the talks began. Big concerns about that still have not been raised since by North Korea. An equilibrium in power and prestige did not need to be feigned between Trump and Kim. Conversely, there was not an insistence by the Trump administration that Kim recognize Trump’s greater standing as President of the US. Although the talks could not be honestly described as “a meeting between equals”, they could certainly be called an “exchange between friends.” Trump has kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking.
In the talks, surely there have been moments when Trump and Kim have been required to reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking. Steps taken by Trump to cauterize tension would certainly fall under the rubric of Trump’s virtual maximum defusion campaign. Among the culprits that have likely elicited such dialogue between the two leaders are: joint military exercises; ship seizures, missile launches, and delays or deception concerning the dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development facilities. Whenever matters have needed to be smoothed out, rather than loose ground, Trump turned those occasions into opportunities to propel the conception of denuclearization forward with Kim. To be certain, whatever Trump has discussed has not exceed what is decent. Indeed, what he has said and has offered would only be congruent with the interests and values of the US. The same has most likely been seen from Kim. The extent to which the leaders have been successful in handling controvertible issues is evident to all that Kim and North Korea appear far less the threat that deservedly made headlines in 2017 when the administration began.
The maximum defusion campaign has required Trump to create une atmosphère ouverte et amicale, an open and friendly atmosphere, when engaged with Kim that will ensure forward thinking must be dominant in all interactions. That positive atmosphere has been promoted without effort or pretentiousness, and a natural discourse between them has resulted. That undoubtedly accounted for the warm interaction was observed by the whole world at the DMZ. It is essentially what has been publicly observed from Trump since his first meeting with Kim in Singapore. Further, there is apparently no disproportion between what had been seen publicly and what has been happening behind closed doors between Trump and Kim. Reportedly, from small bits and pieces overheard when their meetings have started, Trump and Kim have spoken to each other in a very friendly, very natural manner. Their conversations have unlikely been fraught with technical matters, unless the discussion migrated into issues concerning land development, architecture, engineering, and construction and Trump’s enthusiasm got the best of him. It certainly seems that Trump has accurately claimed that he has a friendship with Kim, and certain chemistry exists between them.
In their conversations, both Trump and Kim have surely been exposed to considerable amounts of unsynthesized intelligence that has come from one another. That would be a natural result of negotiating truthfully and in good faith. That has required both leaders to evaluate what is heard, select what is important, and advance the dialogue by incorporating in their decisionmaking. That process of selecting what should be given their attention is aided by experience and a strong sense of priority, a clear focus on ones goal. It would appear it has all gone well because the two leaders have made progress and a good rapport has apparently developed between them. Further, both Trump and Kim have proven respectively that they can been discreet. Nothing of substance has leaked from their furtive talks. That may be doing much to further build confidence between the two leaders.
Maximum Defusion May Aid Trump’s Efforts to Encourage Denuclearization Nearly as much as Maximum Pressure
The maximum pressure campaign has been centered on the entirety of North Korea’s world so to speak. However, the virtual maximum defusion campaign has been centered on Kim. In all fairness, it was Trump who managed to awaken the curiosity of Kim, and moved him to consider the prospect of working, of all things, alongside the US President. As explained in a February 4, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider ”, the connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them were comfortably founded. Those communications were conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their meetings. It is very likely that at the DMZ, they were no longer appeared exactly the same to one another as they had in Singapore or Hanoi. Surely, Trump may feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim has displayed an awareness that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump has been moving through a process of growth. As important, he has likely recognized how Trump has grown into the job of US President. Regarding his own maturation, Kim has likely developed a greater sense of what could be done for North Korea with Trump. Perchance he has already noted just how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea. He may finally decide to grab what Trump is offering, the best path possible for his country’s future. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)
As a critical element of personal diplomacy, there must be trust and there should be a palpable sense that it is always evolving, always improving. Trump must be able to trust Kim. Kim must be able to trust Trump. Each must believe what the other says, and say what they really mean. It appears at this point that they trust one another to a certain degree. Coming across the DMZ at the invitation of Trump was a firm, physical expression of trust in the US President. For Trump, going across the DMZ at the invitation of Kim was far more than quid pro quo, tit-for-tat. Rather, it was a reciprocal firm, physical expression of trust in the North Korean leader. All in all, their mutual crossing of the DMZ could be categorized as an historic confidence building exercise, a very visible symbol of the mutual trust that exists between Trump and Kim.
As aforementioned, Trump without question created a comfortable atmosphere for Kim at the DMZ, as well as in all previous meetings. Kim has apparently tried to create a similar comfortable for Trump. At the DMZ, Kim was successful to the extent that Trump was willing to come into North Korea. Through a brief discussion in a conference room on site, it was jointly determined that the parties would move to the next step which is establishing teams of officials from both countries to form working groups on the denuclearization matter. As Trump explained in his own words on July 1, 2019 on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump: . . . . In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!” Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.
Away from the negotiation table, the maximum pressure campaign goes on. Trump has kept all economic sanctions in place. Still, some military exercises have been suspended. There have been no flyovers of formations of US bombers and stealth jets, and Japanese and South Korean fighter-bombers. For his part, Kim has not test launched any long-range missiles, and no nuclear tests have been conducted. US warfighters reported missing in action during the Korean War have been returned. Cyber activity against the US is below the threshold that would illicit a concerted response. There have been no revelations on cyber activity by North Korea against the US. Valuable talks, positive conversations with good exchanges of ideas, have taken place between diplomatic officials of both countries. Letters have moved back and forth between Trump and Kim. Right on the heels of the Hanoi Summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome had not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress is being made on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing. So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word. I hope that’s true.”
Trump, Unlike Others, Is Kim’s True Friend
Publicly, the historic meeting between Trump and Kim at the DMZ was initiated with a Twitter message from the US President to the North Korean Chairman that stated: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
Writing in that manner, Trump indicated clearly that while the message was ostensibly a short note on the progress he made with other countries during the G20 Summit in Osaka, the exertion even more was directed at getting the attention of the North Korean leader. From that perspective one can begin to find more underlying meaning in those other portions of the message that Trump also wanted Kim to notice. Indeed, very conspicuous was the emphasis Trump’s placed on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he considers to be a friend and with whom his administration is engaged sensitive negotiations on trade and sorting out the matter of tariffs. It was as if Trump wanted to remind Kim that the Chinese have created a very successful, evolving economy while being a Communist country. Although moving toward a similar path alone would be incredibly challenging, it is along a similar course that Trump would like to see Kim take and would like to support.
However, almost as conspicuous in Trump’s tweet was the absence of any mention of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It could be supposed that Putin was mixed in with names other leaders that Trump met under label “world leaders”. However, doing so meant not giving Putin any special recognition as the leader of a superpower which Putin craves. There was no recognition of their talks as a meeting of eagles. (Given the childlike taunts heard from the Russian Federation news media over the Fourth of July Celebration hosted by Trump, one cannot help but sense that there was no feeling that at the G20 in Osaka, Putin had once again failed to have Trump “eat out of his hand” as critics and detractors in the US have repeatedly suggested he could. In fact, the very telling attitudes and behavior displayed within the Russian Federation media very likely manifested an attitude of dissatisfaction that perchance has trickled out from the corridors of the Senate Building of the Kremlin over the outcome of his meeting with the leader of the world’s only superpower.)
With certain domestic political troubles facing Trump in mind, US commentators would likely make the case that Trump refrained from mentioning Putin in his Twitter message to avoid triggering commentaries from critics and detractors in the US news media and political opponents who, incredulously, are still holding on to the belief that Trump has some secretive tie to Putin concerning his 2016 Presidential Election. Such commentaries regarding Putin had emerged, they could have obscured what Trump was trying to communicate concerning a possible meeting with Kim. Trump is aware of what greatcharlie, in a June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed ‘Struggle’ with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”, referred to as un grand defi, a great challenge, promoted by Putin, pitting the US against Russia, to a large extent, in order to raise Russia’s profile as a superpower. Trump will not lend any credence to the idea that there is some all-encompassing geopolitical and geostrategic struggle between the US and Russian Federation. What Kim possibly read into it is that Trump, who is the main player on the world stage, mentioned him before Putin. Moreover, Kim was presumably struck by the fact that Trump gave special attention, put considerable thought into meeting with him.
Kim may be ruminating over side-by-side comparisons between his treatment from Trump with that from Putin and Xi. North Korea has a long history with the Russian Federation and China, but the matter at hand is the country’s future. It is a fact that Putin, Xi, and others did not stop by the Korean Peninsula to see Kim on their way home or ever before when they have been in the region. Neither at least publicly suggested doing anything of the kind. In Trump’s ostensible campaign of maximum defusion, it is always the thought that counts. Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. If Kim has engaged in an honest comparison of treatment by the three leaders, Trump presents Kim with something absolutely different than Putin and Xi. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to break free of the status quo which has locked Kim in as the very junior partner in its relations with both the Russian Federation and China. Those ties established many decades ago through revolution and war have become de facto chains for the North Korean people. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to escape the bondage of his ties with the Russian Federation and China and find a path to a greater future than the one they have essentially engineered for his country. Whether Putin and Xi are willing to admit it or not, they have both treated North Korea as if it held some second-class status. If one would allow greatcharlie to say, Kim is treated as a junior worm in their de jure tripartite partnership. Perhaps due to habit or simply a manner of thinking, they could not bring themselves to interact with Kim in any other way. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetao manent. (Stern masters do not reign long.)
However, while their approach to Kim and North Korea may feel right given his power and his country’s diminutive size and output relative to theirs, Kim certainly does not see the world from a worm’s eye view. With respect to that, Kim may have come to the realisation that the foreign and national security steps he has taken since coming to power have supported the existing paradigm between North Korea and its powerful allies in Asia. Those steps have greatly served their interests. To that extent, the Russian Federation and China have commodated North Korea in the development of many aspects of its military equities, although they both vehemently deny assisting Pyongyang in any way with it nuclear weapons program or long-range missile program. Surely, the nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs provide directly for North Korean defense. Yet, from where one sits, whether in Moscow, Beijing, or Pyongyang, the relative value of those weapons can be determined. From Moscow and Beijing, surely, at least initially, they supported North Korea in its role as a buffer to the US and its allies in the region.
Intriguingly, it would appear from what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Kim and North Korea must have a curious sort of faith in Russia and China. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources can still seep into the country primarily through various schemes set up by Kim’s friends in Moscow and Beijing. North Korea is so reliant upon such resources that beyond any threat that its powerful neighbors might pose to it militarily, at the present, Putin and Xi can control its links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival essentially rests in their hands. Kim has a choice to allow that to go on as it is, or to seek a far better path for his country. Being who they are as leaders and as individuals, Putin and Xi would hardly accept a similar existence for themselves or their respective countries. To the extent that the picture presented here is on target, it is possible that the initial overly aggressive stance that Kim took toward the Trump administration in some part may have also been a manifestation, or even a projection, of his angst over being boxed in by his purported friends in Moscow and Beijing.
In vinculis etiam audax. (In chains, yet still bold.) It is hard to imagine that since he came to power following the death of Kim Jong-il, that officials in Moscow and Beijing believe they have managed their relative relationships with Kim well. It could be supposed that the coming of a US President such as Trump, and his authentic and energetic efforts to connect personally with Kim and forge some sustainable agreement regarding peace and security between their countries, was never a factor in their geostrategic forecasts. That despite the ruffling of feathers and some saber rattling, the situation in the region would remain pretty much the same for some time to come. Everything that has occurred so far between Trump and Kim has no doubt been disturbing for Putin and Xi to watch, and for them it may pose terrifying prospects. Likely among his own reflections, Trump has considered and weighed the possible impact of any complicity by Putin and Xi in delaying Kim’s movement on denuclearization and outright efforts by them to undermine the diplomatic process. Streams of intelligence from the US intelligence services more than likely indicate that any negative impressions he might have were not limited to being just a hunch. Trump, however, would want to get a picture from Kim on the relative roles of Putin and Xi. Whether Trump would ever broach the matter with Kim is uncertain as it is a delicate area. Still, it may be an area that needs speaking to at some point because with the assistance of the US, Kim could be put in a better position to fend off efforts by the Russian Federation and China to spoil any efforts to economically develop North Korea that might get underway.
The Importance of Empathy
Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional responses, the full meaning of the diplomacy to him, and his reaction to the enormity of the matter. Indeed, from the very beginning, Trump regularly expressed publicly an interest in Kim’s well-being and what he was thinking. Developing that understanding has likely been somewhat difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, it cannot be denied that Kim has certainly made some dreadful mistakes in the treatment of his people and in international affairs that would reasonably cause pause. Trump has faced criticism for speaking only somewhat elliptically about that. However, no one should not get that idea that Trump is in the least bit dewy-eyed over building relations with the North Korean leader. Indeed, as greatcharlie has repeatedly explained, he is very aware of Kim’s maliferous leanings and outright violent acts against North Korean officials, friends, family, and ordinary citizens. Looking at the greater picture of Northeast Asian and global security and for the purpose promoting dialogue, Trump has focused upon Kim as a national leader who still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump has sought to find the humanity in Kim, to convince him to work for good, to stir the better angels of his nature. He has placed his attention to bringing Kim along to share his vision of North Korea path. Trump wants to walk with Kim to what could colloquially be called “a good place”. Trump hopes reports of Kim’s past negative behavior will eventually become simply an unfortunate record “from his past”, and not describe a potentially far more evolved “Kim of the future”. Given the great opportunity put before Trump, to be certain, it would be absolutely counterintuitive for Trump to splice the budding communications link with Kim by belaboring the matter.
The G20 in Asia, Northeast Asia, brought the major regional powers to the table except Kim. Trump arranged to meet bilaterally with Moon Jae-in in Seoul afterward. Kim and North Korea, although situated geographically in the middle of things, were left on the outside. True, Putin had a summit with Kim in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Xi met with Kim for a secret three-day meeting in Beijing, China, from March 25, 2018, to March 28, 2018; in a surprise two-day meeting from May 7, 2018 to May 8, 2018 in Dalian, China; in a one day meeting in Beijing from June 19, 2019 to June 20, 2018; in another three-day meeting in Beijing from January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019; and, in a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea from June 20, 2019 to June 21, 2019. Yet, while they were on the world stage, when all were present, Kim was clearly not at the forefront of the minds of his Russian and Chinese partners. They left him off the international stage. Trump, on the other hand was thinking about Kim, and wanted him to have a palpable sense of the possibilities for his future and North Korea’s future. To do that, he set up an impromptu meeting with Kim at the DMZ. Kim was given time on the international stage. Kim might consider that this action was a sample of what Trump wants to bring to him. Trump was to end North Korea’s existence in the shadow of other nations, to tear the label hermit kingdom off of it. Trump’s visit to the DMZ was in a way a gift to Kim. Surely, it was not some small coin of a certain age and value exchanged as a supposed symbol of friendship. Trump shared his own moment in the spotlight with Kim. Just the thought by Trump, at that moment in time of attempting to connect with Kim, well-expressed his goodwill and positive intentions. Through his actions, Trump essentially seemed to speak the words: “I promised to support your ascendency on the world stage and here we are. You can count on my word, my promise, my efforts!”
How it all has actually registered with Kim, though, is unknown. How anything Trump has done for Kim remains uncertain. Only Kim really knows. Perchance, it has all been authentically expressed sublimely in Kim’s letters to Trump. To go a step further, perhaps Kim’s thinking may have been evinced by his decision to meet with Trump on June 30, 2019. Indeed, what has certainly been left out of most media commentaries is how big a decision it was for Kim to drop everything and immediately visit the DMZ. Reportedly, Trump was uncertain Kim was even in North Korea at the time he sent his invitation on Twitter. As fate would have it, he was there. Apparently sanguine about the meeting, Kim got his aides and advisers to clear his schedule and get all of the necessary logistics done to bring him securely to his country’s southern border. Doubtlessly, the cost of the unexpected trip was no small amount. From what was observable publicly, Kim appeared travelled to the DMZ to interact with Trump alone. There was no visible official entourage hanging on Kim except a bevy very adept security men, a troupe of photographers who displayed the dexterity of small bees, and a dutiful interpreter. Staying in the background was the First Vice Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea of Korea, who is Kim’s very handsome sister, Kim Yo-jong. Kim seemingly holds her in high regard and whose counsel he appeared to appreciate at one time. She was accompanied the North Korea’s negotiation team. As he reportedly having fallen into disfavor with Kim after the Hanoi Summit, no one would have expected to see Kim Yong-chol, once Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a foreign policy doyen, and sacred cow of the North Korean intelligence industry.
A Diplomatic Process between Leaders
Clara pacta, boni amicitiae. (Clear agreements, good friends.) Many critics and detractors of Trump have a tendency to view the diplomatic process on denuclearization from the mindset of a bureaucrats and bean counters, judging every step, wanting to set their own their measurables all along the way. They insist that a genuine agreement of some type should be immediately printed on paper, put on the table, and signed, even though Trump and Kim are only moving through the first phase of a multi-step process. Undeniably, progress needs to be gauged. At some working level, there must be immediate, quantifiable measurable must be created There should be timelines. However, Trump and Kim are not bureaucrats. Oddly, enough, the manner in which they relate to each other is a very “human process”. While fully aware of what steps are necessary to accomplish tasks, as leaders they must conserve their energy and psyche for examining the bigger picture. Leaders must be the chief imagineer, and decide what course to follow, and pass down their concept and intent for moving in a determined direction. Through their talks, getting thoughts and words of both leaders to closely connect, perhaps not seamlessly, but at a sufficient number of points to have a mutually acceptable agreement is their main job. The two parties are not there yet, but moving closer. Communications between Trump and Kim are most fruitful when they relate at the level of leaders, not as bureaucrats. Once they reach that point in which they are in mutual agreement, it will be the job of subordinates to complete the background work and hammer out documents for them to sign.
Assurément, Trump is not simply going through the motions of talking with Kim. He too expects results, measurable, even if he is not in a rush. In the February 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summitt Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?”, it was explained: “What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.” Recall again that Trump, firm about getting what he wants, without animus, walked away from an agreement the North Koreans sought in Hanoi for a relaxation of sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization.
A Few Things Trump and Kim Might Consider Moving Ahead
1. Trump Might Include the US Congress in the Diplomatic Process
Realistically, the long-term process of ensuring denuclearization is sustained and North Korea’s economic development will go beyond Trump’s possible years in office. The mission of ensuring that North Korea never becomes a nuclear threat again and ensuring North Korea would be successfully transformed economically would be transferred to future US administrations. Although Trump has emphasized that he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, he should also consider Kim’s possible concern that perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may not be as positive. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must be established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.
To accomplish that, Trump might turn to the US Congress. Pyongyang may be aware at this point all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. Certainly Trump as the chief executive is the top decision maker on foreign and national security policy. However, as it was noted in a February 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”, government powers concerning foreign and national security policy also reside in the Congress. Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public.
It might be worthwhile to have a US Senate delegation led by US Vice President Mike Pence very briefly visit Pyongyang. The purpose would not be to negotiate. Among the things that might be accomplished through such a visit is: to allow Kim a chance to meet Members of Congress; to allow Members of Congress to meet Kim; to allow Members of Congress to demonstrate the goodwill of the US; to allow Members of Congress to see North Korea and assess for themselves its potential to become another economic power in the region; to allow Kim to ask questions of the Members of Congress and hear about their desire to see denuclearization and bring vigor to North Korea’s economy; to allow Kim to especially hear the enthusiasm of some Members of Congress who are fully onboard with Trump’s ideas for supporting North Korea’s economic development; to allow Members of Congress express the concerns of their constiuents regarding North Korea and its nuclear program and long-range missile development program; to allow Members of Congress to hear Kim’s thoughts on denuclearization; to allow the visiting Members of Congress to personally extend an invitation for Kim to visit Capitol Hill attendant to an invitation from Trump for him to visit Washington.
A decision by Trump to include the US Congress at this stage in the diplomatic process on denuclearization may not be enough to assure Kim that US is trustworthy, but it could help further build his confidence in the process and add to the forward momentum that exists. Indeed, involving the Congress in the interaction between the US and North Korea in this manner might prove crucial to its outcome. The main hope would be that the brief visit would display to Kim that Congress has an interest in, and a positive view of, the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Concomitantly, the visit may serve to gird support within the Congress on the diplomatic process. Surely, it would be worth the candle for Trump to make a go at it.
US President Woodrow Wilson faced a similar decision on whether to include the Congress in perhaps his most important diplomatic effort. Wilson refused to include US Senators among the negotiators accompanying him to the Paris Peace as suggested by his rival, Republican Majority Leader and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge. Wilson needed Lodge’s active support to ensure Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles. As a result of that “offense”, and Wilson’s refusal to negotiate with Lodge on the treaty, Lodge gave little support to the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, on November 19, 1919, for the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty.
2. Kim May Ask Trump: “Prove That You Really Trust Me”
There are likely other North Korean concerns regarding the longevity of a prospective with the US. Kim may not has posed the question but certainly must be wondering whether Trump trust Kim enough now to let him keep weapons that he has. What would be acceptable limits of nuclear capability under trust. If Trump does not trust Kim to that extent, some explanation must be given as to why. Presently from the US perspective, denuclearization is defined as the eradication of all elements of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as well as it long-range missile program. It is expected that denuclearization will be defined in the same way by the time an agreement is reached.
Oddly, on July 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that a freeze of Kim’s nuclear arsenal might suffice to prompt Trump to lift sanctions on North Korea. That report was never confirmed by the Trump administration. US National Security Adviser John Bolton denies that there has been any discussion of a freeze. Bolton stated on Twitter: “@AmbJohnBolton: I read this NYT story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”
Whether such a modification had been confirmed or not, the notion itself, having been published in the New York Times, might have an impact on the course of negotiations. Certainly, Kim does not want to be left undefended in the region as he may have already begun to feel uneasy about the future of its relations if not with the US, instead with Russia or even China. It will be difficult to reconcile Kim’s desire to be trusted over committing to a freeze.
One stands on shaky ground by making this suggestion, but it might very well be that the US may need to provide a security guarantee to protect North Korea from military actions by any foreign power. In a complete transition, much in the way of many present NATO allies that were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact, the North Korean military might be moved to transform itself to fit with the current US-led collective security arrangement in Northeast Asia. To go a step further, North Korea may be invited to receive the protection and deterrence provided by the same nuclear umbrella the US provides to its other regional allies.
3. A Phased Elimination of North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal?
Surely both the Russia Federation and China are not pleased at all to see Trump make significant “psychic” inroads with Kim. It is very likely that they will try to improve their relative positions with their very junior ally, North Korea. They may even seek to improve the toehold they have on the Trump led diplomacy on denuclearization through some pretense. On July 2, 2019, just two days after Trump and Kim met at the DMZ, the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on Twitter: “@mfa_russia: We welcome meeting between US an #NorthKorea. Normalization of relations is a vital element of any solution of regional problems, incl #nuclear. Multilateral efforts needed for a complex solution in the interests of all parties.”
In a more troubling scenario, the Russian Federation and China may believe to a large extent that they own North Korea. Being unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim, one or both may decide to pose a credible threat to its future. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim, if he moves closer, even alongside the US. However, in Ukraine, Putin already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West. Using history, he points to a way in which that country is actually in possession of Russian Federation territory or some other interest. He might outline how that country owes Russia some long-standing debt. He then takes back what he feels properly belongs to Russian Federation. Perhaps Kim would have much to worry about from Putin. (Putin would hardly want any country friendly with US sharing, touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can.)
There is no desire by greatcharlie to go out on a limb on this issue, but Kim’s desire to be able to deter rogue moves by either country, may to some small degree legitimize his insistence on retaining his existing arsenal to deter any sudden moves. If maintaining a deterrent becomes a major obstacle to an agreement, perhaps Kim could be allowed a phased reduction of that arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. That might be agreed to in tandem with the provision that North Korea’s long-range missile program must be immediately eliminated.
The Way Forward
The adage obtains, “All’s well that ends well.” Despite the rapid actions required and personal strains by staff that resulted from organizing the DMZ visit on both sides, it was all accomplished brilliantly. Interestingly, Trump’s sudden desire to meet with Kim at the DMZ reflected a pattern making quick decisions to act decisively once he discerns the potential making parfois audacieux, bold moves given events and situations. Such thinking greatly resembles what is defined in military science as maneuver. Indeed, Trump’s approach is very similar to what was once taught at Germany’s Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin before World War II. It was emphasized that commanders needed a superior understanding of maneuver at all points to ensure they would always be stronger than an opponent at the decisive point, which they referred to as the Schwerpunkt. Military science scholars and historians may recall two classic examples of this being applied by German commanders during World War II: the Battle of Flanders during the German invasion of France in May 1940; and, the Battles of the Minsk and Smolensk Pockets during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The fulcrum of the diplomacy on denuclearization has become a commitment between Trump and Kim. If Trump, in particular, had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. He certainly would not have had the idea to very publicly invite Kim to meet him at the DMZ. Moreover, he would not have taken the extraordinary step of crossing it into North Korea with Kim at his side. Perhaps Trump now sees more promise in the entire diplomatic process on denuclearization than he had before. For Kim, that could mean economic sanctions are closer to being removed. Certainly, Trump has also created circumstances in which the entire world might begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work with it in normal, internationally legal ways. For Kim, that means Trump is already setting the stage to support North Korea’s economic renaissance.
Kim, too, has certainly moved forward with diplomatic process audaciously. Lingering mistrust and uncertainty undoubtedly still influences Kim’s thinking on it. Despite progress, it has likely delayed his full investment in the denuclearization plan as Trump has proposed. The historical record of the last century as example, it indicates that even deep thinkers have made mistakes by relying only on their limited powers of deduction. It can only be hoped that Kim will likely make greater personal progress as he confronts this particularly tough, challenging matter. After all, the talks concern North Korea’s survival, not the survival of the US. Kim must open his consciousness to all the possibilities of a new, economically successful North Korea. The odds are that a change in his thinking will take place, but over time. Trump has indicated that he is willing, within reason, to give Kim the time he needs reach the point at which they can together sign a verifiable, sustainable agreement to create an improved peace in Northeast Asia. Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet. (An educated man always has riches within himself.)