Trump may stum­ble into de­ter­rence with N. Korea

The Expositor (Brantford) - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).

If the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing be­tween Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-un had been a zero-sum game, then Trump def­i­nitely lost. But maybe it wasn’t.

Kim got a meet­ing with Trump on terms of strict equal­ity right down to the num­ber of flags, which is a huge boost for his regime’s claim to le­git­i­macy. He per­suaded Trump to end Amer­ica’s joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea (and got Trump to call them “war games” and say they were “provoca­tive,” which no U.S. spokesper­son has ever done be­fore).

And he got Trump to ac­cept North Korea’s de­lib­er­ately vague lan­guage about the “de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula,” with no spe­cific ref­er­ence to North Korea’s nu­clear weapons, let alone any talk of dis­man­tling them. The agree­ment talked about “re-af­firm­ing” North Korea’s de­nu­cle­ariza­tion pledge, so ob­vi­ously no progress there.

This is sev­eral light-years dis­tant from Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s pre-sum­mit def­i­ni­tion of the U.S. goal as “per­ma­nent, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible dis­man­tling of North Korea’s weapons of mass de­struc­tion ... with­out de­lay.”

There’s no cause for sur­prise here. Trump is not a great deal-maker; he’s ac­com­plished at play­ing the role of a great deal-maker. It’s like the deal he signed with Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal: half the ad­vance, half roy­al­ties, and equal billing on the cover. Schwartz was as sur­prised and pleased then as Kim un­doubt­edly is now.

The South Korean gov­ern­ment was blind­sided by Trump’s spur-of-the­mo­ment prom­ise to stop the joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. “We need to find out the ex­act mean­ing or in­ten­tion be­hind his com­ments at this point,” Seoul said, mis­tak­enly as­sum­ing Trump him­self knew his “ex­act mean­ing or in­ten­tion.”

But this was not re­ally a ne­go­ti­a­tion. It was a show, staged for the ben­e­fit of the two main par­tic­i­pants, and they both got what they came for. They were bound to since they had the power to de­fine the meet­ing as a suc­cess or a fail­ure. Nat­u­rally, they said it was a suc­cess — but that doesn’t mean it was a fail­ure.

All this zero-sum game non­sense is ir­rel­e­vant to what is hap­pen­ing, or at least could hap­pen: the grad­ual ac­cep­tance by the United States that North Korea is ir­re­versibly a nu­clear weapons power, although a small one, and the ne­go­ti­a­tion of some ba­sic rules for this new re­la­tion­ship be­tween two nu­clear pow­ers of rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent size.

Diplo­matic and mil­i­tary ex­perts have been say­ing for years that there is no way that North Korea will ever give up its nu­clear weapons. The whole coun­try lived on short ra­tions for a gen­er­a­tion to get them, and Kim is well aware of what hap­pened to dic­ta­tors who didn’t have nukes, like Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein and Libya’s Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

Nu­clear de­ter­rence, as Bernard Brodie pointed out more than 70 years ago, works even when there is a huge dis­par­ity in the num­ber of weapons pos­sessed by the two sides.

If North Korea has even a mar­ginal abil­ity to de­stroy one U.S. city, the United States is de­terred from us­ing nu­clear weapons against it. North Korea is de­terred from at­tack­ing the United States be­cause it would be ut­terly de­stroyed in a mas­sive Amer­i­can counter-strike.

That is the des­ti­na­tion the U.S. -North Korean re­la­tion­ship is head­ing for, be­cause it is the only one real­ity per­mits. Kim is cer­tainly seek­ing it, although it’s un­likely Trump has thought of it in these terms.

No mat­ter. That’s what Trump is head­ing for, and by the time he gets there he will un­doubt­edly think it was his goal all along.

There will be more meet­ings and the two coun­tries will move, slowly and crab­wise, to­ward the mu­tual de­ter­rence that will de­fine their fu­ture re­la­tion­ship.

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