Time to give Kim what he wants

What Kim wants most is to strike a deal with US, which it per­ceives as the gravest threat to North Korea’s sur­vival un­der him. US should put its wounded pride aside and treat Kim not as if he were a mad man.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

It is the pin­na­cle of hubris for the world to con­tinue to treat North Korea as if it were an ill child that sim­ply needed a good dose of medicine in or­der to get bet­ter. It is not. The Kim dy­nasty has, de­spite nearly unan­i­mous global op­po­si­tion to it, en­dured for decades, and it will con­tinue to do so be­cause it has be­come adept at not play­ing by the rules. Given this, and the epic fail­ure of its neigh­bours and the West to stop the Kims’ in­ex­orable march to­wards be­com­ing a full-fledged nu­clear power, it is time to turn the pyra­mid up­side down, throw out the old play­book, and give Kim Jong-Un what he wants.

The Kim dy­nasty has proven that the prom­ise of re­tal­i­a­tion by the global com­mu­nity for Py­ongyang’s pur­suit of nu­clear weapons, long-range mis­siles, and satel­lite launch ca­pa­bil­ity is hol­low. Whether it was the breach of the Six­party agree­ment by North Korea, its con­tin­ued det­o­na­tions of nu­clear weapons, or its devel­op­ment of ICBMs ca­pa­ble of a nu­clear pay­load, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s fail­ure to stop the Kim fam­ily in their tracks decades ago im­plies that an im­por­tant part of the North Korea cri­sis re­sides with the West.

When it was first en­acted in 1970, the Nu­clear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT) had three core ob­jec­tives: that non-nu­clear states should not be­come nu­clear states, that ex­ist­ing nu­clear states should share nu­clear tech­nol­ogy for peace­ful pur­poses, and that dis­ar­ma­ment would be pur­sued to even­tu­ally elim­i­nate nu­clear weapons. None of this has ac­tu­ally oc­curred. The orig­i­nal nu­clear “club” of five has grown to nine states (and none of the four new en­trants have joined the NPT), peace­ful nu­clear tech­nol­ogy has not been widely shared by the nu­clear pow­ers, and al­though some progress has been made to­ward dis­ar­ma­ment, the US and Rus­sia are cur­rently in the process of ex­pand­ing the num­bers of types of nu­clear weapons they pos­sess. On this ba­sis, what in­cen­tive does a non­nu­clear state have to re­main that way?

We can never know what “might” have hap­pened had the NPT func­tioned in the man­ner it was sup­posed to, any more than we may know how the Kim regime “might” have re­sponded if it had. But what can be said with some cer­tainty is that, if the world is looked at through the lens of Kim Jong-Un, it is a very un­friendly place in­deed, re­gard­less of how much he and his fam­ily may have con­trib­uted to that re­al­ity. The fact is, Kim Jong-Un is hold­ing the cards now, since he pos­sesses nu­clear weapons and the means to de­liver them on a mis­sile, so if the rest of the world wants to find a way to walk back from the brink with Py­ongyang, it would be well ad­vised to start get­ting into his map of the world, rather than view­ing it from its own my­opic lens.

No na­tion has the abil­ity to ef­fec­tively pro­tect it­self against the use of nu­clear weapons on top of a mis­sile, or the po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic re­sult of elec­tro­mag­netic pulse re­sult­ing from the ex­plo­sion of a mis­sile in its at­mo­sphere. Kim Jong-Un knows this, so he be­lieves he can af­ford to play hard­ball with every na­tion on earth, with the knowl­edge that, short of the an­ni­hi­la­tion of North Korea in a nu­clear ex­change, he holds the up­per hand. That is the real rea­son why, de­spite all the huff­ing and puff­ing, and all the blus­ter and bravado, no na­tion has in­vaded North Korea.

The world should ac­knowl­edge that it is the fail­ure to for­mally end the Korean War, com­bined with the fail­ure of the NPT and of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to stop the Kims decades ago, which has led us to this junc­ture. The West, and the United States in par­tic­u­lar, should put its wounded pride aside and treat Kim Jong-Un not as if he were a mad man, but in­stead with dig­nity and re­spect. Only skilled strate­gists and mil­i­tary plan­ners could have achieved what the Kims have achieved, de­spite all the odds. If the world is seen from Kim Jong-Un’s per­spec- tive, he is act­ing per­fectly ra­tio­nally. Na­tions do what they must to sur­vive. North Korea has, for decades, en­gaged in wide­spread black-mar­ket ac­tiv­i­ties, cy­ber­crime, and the re­peated use of vir­tual ter­ror­ism to sup­port its mil­i­tary and econ­omy. In the face of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions, it has used every tool at its dis­posal. What else was it ex­pected to do given its cir­cum­stances?

The rest of the world has proven in­ca­pable of con­tain­ing North Korea. Pre­vi­ous ef­forts at ne­go­ti­a­tion based on the “old” play book have failed, regime change ap­pears ex­tremely un­likely, and war on the Korean penin­sula (and the re­gion) is so hor­ren­dous to con­tem­plate that it should not even be se­ri­ously con­sid­ered. Kim Jong-Un (and his nukes and mis­siles) are not go­ing any­where and he is es­sen­tially hold­ing the rest of the world hostage. The time has come for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to try some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. What some might call “ca­pit­u­la­tion” to Kim Jong-Un should be thought of as a cold, hard dose of re­al­ity.

What does he want? First and fore­most, to be re­spected, and treated as an equal. Sec­ond, to be given as­sur­ances that nei­ther will the out­side world seek to as­sas­si­nate him, nor in­vade his coun­try. Third, that the de­mand that he aban­don his nukes and mis­siles be dropped (no other nu­clear or ICBM-ca­pa­ble na­tion has been “re­quired” to do so, why should he?). Fourth, that a for­mula be found for en­abling North Korea to join the fam­ily of na­tions legally, so that it can sup­port it­self, in ex­change for agree­ing to halt its il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties on and off line.

What Kim wants most is to strike a deal with the US, which it per­ceives as the gravest threat to North Korea’s sur­vival un­der his lead­er­ship. Don­ald Trump should take his self-de­clared ne­go­ti­a­tion skills and meet face-to-face with Kim. Since both of them have sim­i­lar per­son­al­ity char­ac­ter­is­tics, why not take ad­van­tage of it and treat the North Korea is­sue as a business trans­ac­tion? At this junc­ture, there is noth­ing to lose by try­ing. If both men were to agree to such a ne­go­ti­a­tion, while putting their egos and bravado aside, there ac­tu­ally may be a chance to strike a deal. If that can be achieved, Kim could at­tempt to do the same with the other na­tions on its bor­ders and in the re­gion.

There is no point in try­ing to craft a con­ven­tional so­lu­tion to an un­con­ven­tional problem. The North Korean cri­sis is unique, and it re­quires an un­usual ap­proach to problem solv­ing. The ques­tion is whether Messrs Kim and Trump want to find a way out of this im­broglio, or whether they are hell bent on div­ing fur­ther into the abyss. What is needed is a dra­matic break­through based on bold think­ing. There is so lit­tle time, and so much to be done. They had bet­ter get on with it. Daniel Wag­ner is the US-based founder of Coun­try Risk So­lu­tions, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Risk Co­op­er­a­tive, and au­thor of the new book Vir­tual Ter­ror. He has three decades of ex­pe­ri­ence man­ag­ing cross-bor­der risk, in­clud­ing 15 years of un­der­writ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with AIG, GE, the Asian Devel­op­ment Bank, and World Bank Group.

A man walks past a street mon­i­tor show­ing North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un in a news re­port about North Korea’s nu­clear test, in Tokyo, Ja­pan, on 3 Septem­ber 2017. REUTERS

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