Nei­ther Trump nor Kim cur­rently seek­ing war: ex-se­nior CIA of­fi­cial

Paul Pil­lar says North Korea is un­likely ever to give up nu­clear weapons as a de­ter­rent against armed at­tack

Tehran Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Zahra Khezri

TEHRAN — A for­mer se­nior U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial be­lieves that nei­ther U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump nor North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are now look­ing for a war.

“Nei­ther side cur­rently is seek­ing a war” Paul R. Pil­lar tells the Tehran Times in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

“None­the­less, given the per­son­al­i­ties of the two lead­ers in­volved, one can­not rule out that sheer per­sonal pique could be­come a direct fac­tor in trig­ger­ing a war,” notes Pil­lar now at Georgetown Univer­sity.

What fol­lows is the full text of in­ter­view:

Ten­sions started ris­ing be­tween the U.S. and North Korea after Don­ald Trump came to power. What were the rea­sons for such an es­ca­la­tion?

A: The be­gin­nings of the cur­rent spi­ral of ten­sion can be found mainly on the North Korean side. The rapid series of mis­sile tests, which have demon­strated in­creas­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, to­gether with the test of a nu­clear de­vice far more pow­er­ful than what North Korea had tested pre­vi­ously, would have pro­duced a cri­sis no mat­ter who was in charge on the U.S. side. Once be­gun, this spi­ral of ten­sion has been wors­ened by the rhetoric of Don­ald Trump, rhetoric that has come to re­sem­ble to a re­mark­able de­gree the in­sult­ing in­vec­tive we had grown ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing from Kim Jong-un.

In his UN speech, Trump warned to “to­tally de­stroy North Korea” if it threat­ens U.S. or its al­lies. What mes­sage does this threat­en­ing lan­guage send to the world?

A: This was the line in the speech that prob­a­bly got the most at­ten­tion, and un­sur­pris­ingly so. Many lis­ten­ers prob­a­bly are still try­ing to fig­ure out its sig­nif­i­cance. Many prob­a­bly have con­cluded, I think cor­rectly, that this is care­less rhetoric of the sort that Trump of­ten ex­hibits, and that it does not re­flect op­er­a­tional pol­icy or plans. But also un­sur­pris­ingly, many lis­ten­ers worry that this phrase in­di­cates a hot­head­ed­ness on the part of Trump that could lead to dan­ger­ous and de­struc­tive ac­tions. Although the lan­guage may have been in­tended to de­ter, its de­ter­rence value is di­min­ished by the fact that, if the threat is taken lit­er­ally, it would mean the death of mil­lions of in­no­cent peo­ple who are vic­tims of the North Korean regime, not par­tic­i­pants in it.

Can ex­change of in­sults be­tween the lead­ers of the U.S. and North Korea lead to a war?

A: Nei­ther side cur­rently is seek­ing a war. If war were to oc­cur, it most likely would in­volve un­in­tended es­ca­la­tion from an in­ci­dent that spins out of con­trol. The in­sults con­trib­ute to the tense en­vi­ron­ment that makes such es­ca­la­tion more likely, more so than be­ing a direct cause of war. None­the­less, given the per­son­al­i­ties of the two lead­ers in­volved, one can­not rule out that sheer per­sonal pique could be­come a direct fac­tor in trig­ger­ing a war.

Aren’t war of words in the 21st cen­tury alien to the mod­ern world?

A: Un­for­tu­nately, wars of words are not hard to find, even if most of them do not get quite the at­ten­tion that the U.S.-North Korea ex­change does. Trad­ing in­vec­tive is all too com­mon a fea­ture of in­ter­na­tional con­flicts. They do not help to re­solve such con­flicts, of course, but they are part of the in­ter­na­tional scene, even in the 21st cen­tury.

Some an­a­lysts be­lieve the threat of regime change have prompted the North Korean leader to ad­vance its nu­clear weapons pro­gram and or­der nu­clear tests. They ar­gue the North Korean leader, through such be­hav­iors, is seek­ing guar­an­tee that his regime will re­main in­tact. What is your anal­y­sis?

A: Sur­vival of the regime is un­ques­tion­ably Kim Jongun’s num­ber one pri­or­ity, and the nu­clear weapons pro­gram de­rives di­rectly from that pri­or­ity. The pro­gram has some value to the regime do­mes­ti­cally in terms of pres­tige, but mostly the nu­clear weapons are in­tended to be the ultimate de­ter­rent against any moves by out­side pow­ers to over­throw the regime.

Do you be­lieve sanc­tions can cause a change in North Korea’s be­hav­ior? In other words, do you think North Korea leader Kim Jong-un will give in to pres­sure?

A: We have to be spe­cific as to ex­actly what con­ces­sions we would want or ex­pect Kim to make. He is un­likely ever to give up his nu­clear weapons, no mat­ter how much pres­sure is ex­erted. In­deed, threats to use mil­i­tary force only in­crease the regime’s in­cen­tive to re­tain the weapons as a de­ter­rent against armed at­tack. More re­al­is­tic would be get­ting Pyongyang’s agree­ment to lim­i­ta­tions short of giv­ing up the weapons, such as re­stric­tions on nu­clear and mis­sile tests, or on the range of mis­siles.

Politi­cians and world lead­ers are in­sist­ing on diplo­macy to re­solve the dis­pute be­tween the U.S. and North Korea; how­ever politi­cians and an­a­lysts say North Korean can­not trust the U.S., es­pe­cially as Trump is seek­ing to kill all his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama’s for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments. What is your opin­ion?

A: Trump un­for­tu­nately has dam­aged U.S. cred­i­bil­ity sig­nif­i­cantly by try­ing to undo every­thing Obama did. Other gov­ern­ments have been given am­ple rea­son to doubt whether any agree­ment they reach with Wash­ing­ton would sur­vive the next U.S. elec­tion. Of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance to the North Korean sit­u­a­tion is the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion, the agree­ment that re­stricts Iran’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties. By un­der­min­ing and try­ing to kill this agree­ment, Trump has made it sig­nif­i­cantly harder to reach any agree­ment with North Korea, and specif­i­cally any agree­ment hav­ing to do with nu­clear weapons.

Do you also agree with this anal­y­sis that North Korea no longer can trust on China and Rus­sia against the U.S. as it did in the past and there­fore it feels obliged to strengthen its own power?

A: Self-re­liance has long been a theme of the North Korean regime. That theme re­flects the regime’s aware­ness that it can­not count on undi­min­ished sup­port even from its tra­di­tional al­lies. China is by far the most im­por­tant out­side player for North Korea, and Bei­jing has re­cently been in­creas­ingly open about its dis­plea­sure over North Korea’s ac­tions. China still re­mains hes­i­tant to pres­sure Pyongyang se­verely, for fear of touch­ing off a sud­den col­lapse of the regime and a huge flow of refugees into China, but it al­ready has sig­naled its dis­plea­sure through lesser mea­sures such as re­stric­tions on the trade in coal.

What is your sug­ges­tion for res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict be­tween Pyongyang and Wash­ing­ton?

A: In the near term, cool­ing down the hos­tile rhetoric and re­duc­ing the chance of an un­in­tended con­fla­gra­tion should have high­est pri­or­ity. Then over the some­what longer term, we should use diplo­macy aimed at in­creas­ing sta­bil­ity through, for ex­am­ple, the sorts of arms con­trol mea­sures I men­tioned ear­lier. Over an even longer term, our strat­egy should be mod­eled after the con­tain­ment strat­egy that was di­rected at the Soviet Union dur­ing the Cold War. A key prin­ci­ple of that strat­egy is that, while we keep a lid on things and con­tain any at­tempts by the ad­ver­sary regime to ex­pand its in­flu­ence, ul­ti­mately the regime will die from its own in­ter­nal weak­ness and con­tra­dic­tions. The USSR did not sur­vive the 20th cen­tury, and the North Korean regime will die well be­fore the end of the 21st cen­tury.

“Many lis­ten­ers worry that this phrase (to­tally de­stroy north korea) in­di­cates A hot­head­ed­ness on the part of trump that could lead to dan­ger­ous and de­struc­tive ac­tions.”

“Trump un­for­tu­nately has dam­aged u.s. cred­i­bil­ity sig­nif­i­cantly by try­ing to undo every­thing obama did.”

“Other gov­ern­ments have been given am­ple rea­son to doubt whether any agree­ment they reach with Wash­ing­ton would sur­vive the next U.S. elec­tion.”

Paul R. Pil­lar

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