The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] The art of the deal: Trump vs. Kim

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : March 20, 2018 - 17:34

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These days, South Koreans are full of expectations for the upcoming summit between the US and North Korea. However, experts point out a number of challenges that need to be dealt with to make the event successful. Moreover, many people are worried about what would happen if negotiations at the summit become derailed for some reason.

Recently, I came across an intriguing article in the Washington Post titled “The 3 big obstacles to success if Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un meet.” It was written by Patricia Kim, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington. In her insightful article, Kim highlights three challenging issues for the summit: credibility gaps, expectation gaps and desired outcome gaps.

Indeed, there are trust issues between the US and North Korea. The world, including the US, does not trust North Korea’s sincerity, judging from its past behavior. Then comes the difference of expectations: North Korea would want the US to lift economic sanctions during the negotiations, whereas Washington might think of them separately. The agendas they each bring to the negotiation table may be radically different as well.

Patricia Kim wrote, “North Koreans will face their own struggle to prove their trustworthiness, given a track record of violating deal after deal they have signed in the past. Most observers believe North Korea will cheat and continue to expand its nuclear program in coming months.”

She also raised concerns about the agenda that North Korea will surely bring to the negotiation table in addition to a guarantee of its security. “For instance, Kim could ask for the termination of the US alliance with South Korea and the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula.”

Indeed, there still is a strong possibility that North Korea will propose to sign the Peace Treaty which will result in the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, not to mention the termination of the South Korea-US alliance. When that happens, South Korea will surely find itself in a nightmare as it will become vulnerable to aggression from the North and interference from China.

Conservatives in South Korea naively believe that the US will never be able to give up South Korea due to its strategical importance. South Korea was strategically important during the Cold War era, at a time when the United States competed with the Soviet Union and feared the expansion of communism in Asia. Today, however, communism is dead. Even North Korea, which is perhaps the last communist country on earth, has been calling itself a socialist country since the early 1990s.

In his recent article that appeared in the Daily Beast, Gordon G. Chang, too, cast doubts on North Korea’s credibility, saying it was unlikely it would give up its nukes for a security guarantee from the United States. The kicker of his article is “Really? Could be a breakthrough -- or deception or delusion by the government in Seoul.”

According to him, North Korea’s promise is too good to be true because North Korean politicians have made it very clear that they will never give up nukes. Chang reminds us that North Korea officially stated its nuclear constitution in 2012. Why, then, would the country lay down its precious leverage that it resorts to so proudly?

Chang mentions several possibilities regarding North Korea’s recent gesture. For one thing, he suspects that North Korea may want to buy time to complete its weapons development by deliberately engaging in “another round of fruitless negotiations.” Moreover, North Korea may hope that economic sanctions will be lifted during the negotiations. If that is the case, North Korea will kill two birds with one stone.

Chang also suggested that North Korea’s assurances may not be directed at Washington, but at South Korea. He wrote, “It is possible that Kim Jong-un, a master of propaganda, thought they would resonate with South Korean voters.” Indeed, there will be the parliamentary and local elections on June 13 in South Korea. “Kim Jong-un knows his South Korean counterpart, if given a free hand, will send cash northward.” Chang pointed out that perhaps this is why North Korea does not speak to Washington directly.

Lastly, Chang maintained that North Korea may want money by assuring South Koreans that it will not use nuclear weapons against the South. He concluded, “Of course, no one should believe such a no-attack promise as long as the Korean People’s Army remains forward-deployed along the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas.” We hope that Chang’s suspicion will turn out to be far-fetched in the end. Nevertheless, we should keep his warnings in mind until North Korea really gives up nukes.

Now the whole world is watching the Korean Peninsula. Despite those challenging obstacles, the summit must be realized. We strongly hope the two leaders can conjure up a peaceful solution to this unprecedented crisis and pave the way for a peaceful future on the Korean Peninsula

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and distinguished visiting professor at George Washington University. He can be reached at –Ed.