For more than a quarter of a century – covering five presidencies – the United States, along with the United Nations and virtually the entire civilized world, have maintained a policy that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable. We should dwell on that last word, “unacceptable.” To we common folk (not skilled in the art of diplomatic double talk), that means we will not allow it, period. Regardless of the condemnations, resolutions, threats, bribes and sanctions, North Korea has become a serious nuclear nation. There is a simple reason for that. North Korea understood that the world community had no stomach for doing what it would have taken to stop the Kim family’s nuclear program. They could ignore the threats and live with the relatively mild sanctions.
As could be expected, the left-wing diplomatic establishment that had cowered in fear as President Trump made serious, credible and believable threats to unleash “fire and furry unlike the world has ever seen.” He said he was leading us to the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Now that his tough talk has brought Kim Jong Un to the table, the critics lament that a face-to-face meeting is a serious mistake, and in an amazing twist of logic, they say such talks could lead us to … you guessed it … nuclear war.
If you follow the contorted logic of the pinstriped pants crowd, the best course of actions is to do nothing – a policy they have followed through three generations of the Kim family dictatorship. It is the very policy that provided the North Korean regime with billions of dollars of ineffective bribe money even as they moved forward with their nuclear ambitions. They are a dangerous nuclear power today because of the policies that the establishment folks would like to continue. They would let North Korea do its thing – which is to become a major nuclear power, export mass destruction technology to every rogue regime and terrorist group in the world and to take over the Korea peninsula so that all those folks in the south can experience the joys of life under the wise leader.
The never-Trump crowd argues that the President merely blurted out his decision without any preparation. No so. Despite the withering condemnation of the Fourth Estate, the Trump administrations worked diligently with the world community – including Russia and China -- to increase the sanctions. Trump even got the UN to pass a resolution calling on North Korea to give up its nukes. Trump gave the green light to North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea and encouraged bilateral talks between the two warring factions. (In case you are wondering about the term, “warring factions,” you may not know that the fighting in Korea ended with a cease fire. There has been no surrender, no treaty. The two sides are officially still on a war footing.)
For his entire presidency, Trump and his administration have been working on the problem of North Korea. They have been developing contingency plans to address sanctions and diplomatic options – and, of course, military action. Should a meeting between Trump and Kim take place, the United States will be well prepared.
The anti-Trump politicians, press and pundits claim that meetings between heads-of-state only come after agreements have been reached. That is utter nonsense and disproven by the many summit meetings that occurred between President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev before agreements were negotiated and reached on such matters as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty – the so-called SALT talks. The elitist media gives the impression that success in talks between Trump and Kim will result in a deal. Not likely. They will more likely set parameters for follow-up negotiations. They will explore the “non-negotiables” to see if there is even any basis to negotiate.
This is a summit meeting – a common diplomatic event – not a signing ceremony. If Kim insists on maintaining a nuclear arsenal or demands that US troops leave the Korean peninsula, the summit meeting may be the end of diplomatic options, not the beginning. If Trump is totally successful – and that is largely up to Kim’s seriousness to engage – the two heads-of-state will go back to their respective capitals and put together the negotiating teams. These are not likely to be prolonged, as in the past, since Trump will continue to impose sanctions and will not remove the threat of a surgical strike.
Based on Trump’s kinder and gentler remarks about Kim, the left claims he is selling out to a brutal despot – the same despot they fawned over during the Olympics, by the way. If they were not so hell-bent on criticizing Trump at every turn, they would understand that during this ramp up to possible talks Kim will stop shooting off missiles and Trump will stop shooting off his mouth. Good judgment on both sides.
What can be expected of these talks and any subsequent negotiations?
The U.S. demands are fairly straightforward. First, the release of American prisoners held in North Korea. This can be pushed even as a condition of meeting.
The big demand is the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the means to produce them – and such a commitment must be verifiable through international inspections. In addition, we should demand that North Korea cease providing weapons and weapon technology to rogue regimes and terrorist groups. This is almost as important as the first requirement.
A more difficult matter is our historical interest in democracy. We will want to pressure the Kim regime to end their oppressive policies and their self-imposed isolations from the world community. This may seem to be a stretch, but both China and Vietnam serve as successful models in which liberalization took place with perceived enemy regimes without war or after war.
In the spirit of those examples, talks with the Kim regime can at least touch upon future trades. The once isolated China and the once military enemy Vietnam are today major trading partners with great benefits to their nations. What is significant is that these transformations came without regime changes.
Ironically, conceding on every point could give Kim exactly what he wants. He would be held in higher esteem by the world community, his national economy would prosper, his popularity would rise among his people and, above all, his regime would be safe. It could eventually lead to a negotiated reunification of North and South Korea as was the case in East and West Germany.
Conversely, should Kim reject all options or renege on agreements, there is little doubt that the military option will become the only option and his regime will be condemned to the dustpan of history. This could also result in the reunification of the Korean peninsula under South Korean governance – something China should consider very seriously if it fails to play its formidable role in bringing about an agreement.
If these ambitious goals seem a bridge too far, we only need to recall Nixon going to China and the Reagan goal of breaking up the old Soviet Union. These accomplishments were shocking because they seemed so utterly impossible in the times they were achieved.
If there is any reason for optimism in the face of all those past failures, it is Donald Trump. For the first time, Kim Jong Un has real reason to fear the military might of the United States. What military action would be deployed and how many innocent lives would be lost can be considered and debated, but one thing is certain. The Kim regime, and most likely Kim himself, would no longer exist. That is what he must fully understand when he sits across the table from the President of the United States.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.