Observations of an Expat: Trump and the Korean Swamp

March 16, 2018 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

AFP photo



Tom Arms



Hey, hey, hey, Donald Trump is off to Pyongyang. Or is it Beijing, Moscow or Seoul?


Anyway, that is not important. What is important is that he will before the end of May hold summit talks with North Korea’s Kim (rocket man) Jong-un to secure the disarming of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. The master of the art of the deal will negotiate peace in our time.


Maybe. More likely, maybe not. Donald Trump has failed to master the dark arts of diplomatic negotiation. And he refuses to accept that discussions between governments require a different perspective and skill set than those practised by New York real estate moguls.


It is quite possible to read about a potential acquisition in the morning; walk into a boardroom in the afternoon; and walk out in the evening with the title deeds to a skyscraper. Saving the world from the threat of nuclear annihilation is more complex.


There is a set procedure which involves months of careful preparations by diplomats who are experts in their field. These diplomats go by the nickname of “Sherpas” because their job is to prepare the way for the meeting of heads of government at “The Summit”. By the time country leaders walk into the grand chamber, every ‘i’ has been dotted and ‘t’ crossed. The only thing left for the political leaders is to sign the documents, shake hands, smile for the cameras and take all the credit.


This is the tried and tested system, and it works. It works because the ideologically-driven politicians tend to take a cack-handed approach to negotiations which lead to annoyance, frustration and finally, failure from which it is nigh impossible to clawback a later success.


The politicians provide a valuable service. They are the link between their respective populations, other populations and the negotiators. They provide the basic guidelines and goals, and, if talks fail, they take the blame—or at least, they should.


But in America’s case there is no Sherpa. The Trump Administration has not even appointed an ambassador to South Korea (there are no diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea). They had nominated someone for the job. He is Dr Victor Cha, a hard-line, right-wing world-renowned expert on North Korea. Then Trump invited Dr Cha to the Oval Office and asked him if he would support a limited military strike against North Korea. No, said Dr Cha, because of the dangers that it would quickly escalate to full-scale war.


Dr Cha’s nomination was quickly withdrawn and no name has been put forward to fill the yawning vacuum.


The North Korean problem has been with us since 1953. The threat (or potential threat) of North Korean nuclear weapons has been around since 1956. To be fair to Trump, he is now faced with boldly marching into a diplomatic swamp because his predecessors going back decades preferred the easy circuitous route.


Both Koreas want the peninsula eventually united. North Korea wants it united under the flag of a hereditary communist dictatorship. South Korea wants it united as a free market, democratically-oriented capitalist state.


The United States has provided protection for South Korea since 1953 with its 23,000-plus soldiers and its nuclear shield. China has had an alliance with North Korea since 1961.


Pyongyang has offered to disarm its newly acquired nuclear-tipped missiles if ”its security is assured.” It is unlikely that Kim Jong-un will feel secure unless the United States withdraws both its troops and nuclear shield from South Korea. If the US withdraws from South Korea then it would leave Seoul at the mercy of Kim’s overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons.


The seemingly obvious alternative is the demilitarisation of the entire Korean Peninsula. But this would probably lead to the collapse of North Korea once their citizens are provided with a choice between the material delights and political freedoms of the south compared to the austerity and oppression found in the north.


Korea is the nuclear-tipped Gordian knot of world diplomacy. It does not need Trump charging in Alexander-like with a sharpened take it or leave it sword.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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