Alas, the news just won’t leave us be. Especially after our alliances were demolished at the G-7 summit… and we’re about to be betrayed at the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.
It’s the Conventional Forces, Stupid
Let’s start by questioning an assumption shared across the political spectrum, that the central issue is Kim Jong Un’s access to nuclear weaponry. Oh, sure, that’s important, but it is also a potemkin issue, a mask for deeper purposes.
First, despite achieving H-bombs and ICBMs at remarkable — even implausible — speeds, Kim’s danger to the U.S. remains far from imminent. He knows that any attempt to harm others with those bombs would be personal suicide for him. And he already had the capability, with thousands of dug-in artillery tubes, to flatten Seoul in a matter of minutes.
There’s no way that Kim Jong Un will verifiably surrender all his nukes.
Sure, there will be superficial concessions: a supervised elimination of nuclear R&D, along with demolition of nuclear production and testing sites. Big deal. These are no longer needed by the North Korean regime. Indeed, it is my private belief that they were always just for show; he got his nukes elsewhere. In any event, none of those concessions matter. Those facilities are now expenses he’d rather eliminate from his ledger.
Knowing that he holds all the cards, Kim will demand and get a residuum of perhaps five or six nuclear weapons… as a “deterrent.” He will also insist on guarantees against any attempted regime change, plus an end to sanctions, plus a massive aid package and — above all — a draw-down of conventional arms and armies on both sides.
Who could object to that, you ask? Isn’t peace the direction we want to go?
Oh, but do try to see things as the professionals in our studious, thoughtful, but maligned “deep state” services and agencies already do. Especially this simple fact:
Conventional armed forces are incredibly expensive.
The biggest threat to the Pyongyang leadership caste is their vast, bulky, and expensive conventional army. Not only is it bankrupting the nation, but at any moment, an uprising at one base could rapidly spread, turning Kim’s military into an instant, deadly danger to the regime. While others point to historical examples like Libya and Iraq, the best parallel is the brutal Romanian-communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown in an almost instantaneous popular revolt, spearheaded by countless junior officers.
For reasons of both economic and personal survival, Kim desperately needs a smaller army.
In contrast, nuclear weapons — once you have them — are cheap to hold, to hide and to maintain.
Kim’s current dilemma has only one solution, then. Keep enough nukes to deter any adventurous notions on our side… and hold onto those artillery tubes threatening Seoul… then entice both South Koreans and Americans to shout hosannahs over a “deal” to slash their own forces below the DMZ. Forces they can easily afford and that pose them zero risk.
Let’s be clear: any conventional draw-down is Kim’s chief aim, his win-win.
But oh, why not also get the South and the U.S. to pay for it all, ending sanctions and with massive aid, welcoming Kim to the club of international leaders? Add more wins.
Look, I’m no war-monger. Elsewhere I’ve railed against what seems to be powerful momentum toward a U.S.-Iran conflict that can only have one possible outcome. (We would lose.) Hence, I do not oppose genuine deal-making that could lead to actual peace on the Korean peninsula.
On the other hand, we need to learn from the author of “The Art of the Deal.” Especially when Donald Trump is clearly falling — either emotionally or deliberately — for every sucker-trap that he described in that prophetic book. Desperate to save his presidency he cares only about symbolism.
Sure, it’s a shout into the wind, as Nobel-level praise will foam across all ends of the political spectrum. But the “deal” that appears to be taking shape is one that benefits a mad and brutal dictator at every level. It is one in which we lose-lose-lose.
Addendum: lesser odds
It is possible that Donald Trump will do something else. He might look Kim in the eye, then swivel and leave.
Think about it. What else could add to his cred so simply? Implying that he truly is a savvy “gut” genius?
It would throw all critics off balance, and that would serve the purposes of Beijing and Moscow, too.
Lesser odds. One in five, I’d say. But again, theater, not substance. The real enemy is every professional and “deep state” smartypants. They — and we — lose-lose-lose.