Some Notes on North Korea

It’s sufficiently difficult to find insightful coverage on the Trump-Kim summit that I thought I’d throw out some informational tidbits and see if readers (hopefully ones who follow China and Asian politics) would pipe up.

On the one hand, Trump’s conduct in the runup to the meeting served to set up many of the criticisms he is getting. Before the two sides agreed to talk, Trump turned the threat dial up against the rogue regime up to 11 more than once, raising the specter that the volatile Trump really might hit the nuclear red button. He also issued ultimatums that Kim Jong Un would only have this one chance to denuclearize, that There Would Be Consequences if the didn’t, and other Trumpian ritual displays of badassery.

So Trump raised expectations high, when experts were warning that the US had been here before, meaning had entered into negotiations with North Korea, and little had come of them. Moreover, given the short time between the announcement of the summit and the event, there was little time to do any groundwork. So Trump, as he has done before, promised more than he could deliver, and is trying to sell his inflated assessment of his achievements.

Having said that, the outrage in some circles about the talks not having produced much seems overdone, particularly the “OMG Trump talked to a dictator!” tripe. The US is regularly allies with dictators, like Saudi Arabia, which is currently engaging in genocide in Yemen. North Korea may have a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the US. Talking is better than the alternatives.

Similarly, the fulmination over Trump cancelling war games in North Korea’s neighborhood also seems overdone. Yes, this has the appearance of being a big concession….but these exercises were mainly a big ticket provocation. But they were also implicitly a threat to China. The Trump critics might consider whether the US wound up giving China a free concession, which is generally a big no-no in negotiations.

However, it has not been sufficiently recognized that North Korea has declared a moratorium on its own provocation, that of its missile tests. That’s not part of the thin summit agreement, so Kim Jong Un could reverse it, but it’s a meaningful concession.

AsMoon of Alabama summed up the deal as a handshake:

This is not a deal, just a declaration. The ‘denuclearization’ commitment by the DPRK is aspirational. There is no equal commitment from the U.S. side. There is no time frame. As predicted the DPRK will not give up its nukes. It had good reasons to build them and the same reasons will let it keep them.

As long as talks are ongoing the DPRK will likely hold off on further nuclear and long range missile tests. The U.S. will likely stop large scale maneuvers in and around Korea. This is the ‘freeze for freeze’ which North Korea long wanted and which China and Russia actively supported.

Further talks between the U.S. and North Korea will be slow walked and may not lead to significant progress in nuclear disarmament. Their main purpose is to hold off the U.S. while the real talks that between North and South Korea continue. This is what the “efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” are really about.

What has not been as well reported as it might have been is the degree to which North Korea has made itself a credible threat to the US. If you read a history of North Korea’s missile launches, not all that long ago, most were failures. In the last couple of years, most look to have been successful or at least partially successful. And North Korea has been launching longer-range missiles. From the Wikipedia write-up of a November 2017 test:

Its potential range appears to be more than 8,000 miles (13,000 km), able to reach Washington and the rest of the continental United States. Much about the missile is unknown. The missile might have been fitted with a mock warhead to increase its range, in which case the maximum missile range while carrying a heavy warhead might be shorter than 13,000 km.

Missile tests also escalated considerably under Kim Jong Un. Per Wikipedia, the 117 tests by North Korea since 1984, 80 have occurred during Kim Jong Un’s rule. CNBC put the number of tests during Kim Jong Un’s tenure at 85 as of March. From its story:

Under third-generation North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the reclusive state has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, launched its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile and threatened to send missiles into the waters near Guam.

Since 2011, Kim has fired more than 85 missiles and four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

And while it remains to be seen whether the unprecedented summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will actually take place, it is clear that North Korea, the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century, has been very busy perfecting its missile arsenal.

With that as background, the Australian defense establishment think tank, the Lowy Institute, argues that the US came to the negotiating table with a weak hand:

You would think, from the tone of these criticisms, that Trump was travelling to Singapore to negotiate the terms of Pyongyang’s surrender. But these critiques belie the weakness of America’s negotiating position…..America’s position on the Korean Peninsula is under unprecedented strain because North Korea now has a missile that can place a nuclear warhead on a US city.

But that’s not even the biggest challenge the US faces in Asia. China is an economic behemoth that wants to displace the US as the leading strategic power in the region, and maybe even push the US out of Asia altogether.

Does the US have the will and resources to resist these twin pressures? It seems unlikely when you consider the scale of the China challenge (much bigger than the Soviet Union) and the fact that there’s no reason vital to the US national interest to fight China or North Korea. Nor is there a compelling reason for the US to keep its troops in South Korea indefinitely; South Korea can defend itself.

Altogether, this means the US needs a deal with North Korea more than North Korea needs a deal with the US.

It’s not that the US is totally without leverage. But sanctions will always have limits because ultimately China can open and close the border with North Korea as and when it chooses. The other option is to threaten war, but is that realistic when North Korea can retaliate to US strikes with nuclear weapons?

Joel Mathis offers a simpler contrarian view in Trump is a lousy president. He still deserves a victory lap on North Korea. His argument is that Trump had only two choices, go to war or de-escalate, and he chose the latter:

Yes, the smart betting today is that the results of the Singapore summit will prove to be hollow. North Korea made vague commitments to denuclearization — haven’t we heard that before? — and President Trump made somewhat-more-specific promises to ratchet down America’s military involvement on the peninsula….

North Korea is probably not going to actually give up its nuclear weapons under this agreement. It was never going to give up its nukes, no matter how much huffing and puffing American officials did on the international stage — particularly after John Bolton oh-so-wisely reminded the world of the Libyan precedent for such deals. Which left President Trump with two choices: Go to war, or do something to save face.

He chose to save face. Thank God…

The second-best scenario in North Korea was always this: The country would keep its weapons, and the U.S. would decide that war over those weapons wasn’t worth it. This is the scenario the Trump administration — whether the president realizes it or not — has apparently decided to implement.

War on the Korean peninsula would be an unfathomable disaster. Civilian populations in both North and South Korea would probably be slaughtered; American officials believe 10,000 U.S. troops would die just in the opening days of the conflict. And if Kim Jong Un believed he was about to lose power, he’d probably unleash his nukes. That would mean more death, possibly on America’s West Coast.

There is no “best-case” scenario for the next Korean War.

In fact, if one were to attribute planning and design to Trump, one could argue that he fanned the war threat to make the dialing-down seem even more important than it is, sort of like an arsonist whose motivation is to be seen as a hero who puts out fires.

But this part of the dynamic was probably happenstance. Trump lashes out almost reflexively, so his verbal attacks against an ever-more-powerful North Korea look like a manifestation of his usual pattern. And one has to think that given his weird obsession with Obama (Trump is unduly focused on undoing his legacy) that Trump’s too-obvious desire to get a Nobel Peace Prize, like Obama, had a salutary effect.

It would be good to get a reading from the South Korean press, but the coverage I’ve been able to find in English is skewed. Conservative-leaning, meaning hard core anti-communist venues, of which I infer the Korea Times, are foaming at the mouth about how bad a deal Trump cut. whose lead story fulminates that Trump deserves a D for his performance, but not to worry, North Korea will wind up in the dustbin of history:

Kim, a king of a pariah state, is comparable to a bettor, if the wealth U.S. together with the rest of the world is a Las Vegas casino. Given time, no bettor can beat the house. Trump has been saying the North’s denuclearization is a process that may take long. That means he is opting for a long game rather than quick fix.

So it has just started so it is too early to call anyone’s victory.

In other words, Trump’s end appears lean on beef for now but, if we follow through his long game, we may find ourselves with cattle at the end.

Some foreign commentators claim the US left South Korea in lurch by canceling the war games, but you’d never guess that from the statement of President Moon. From Korea JoognAng Daily:

Moon had placed concerted efforts into mediating between the two leaders and making the summit happen. In a statement on Tuesday, he did not hold back his elation and sense of relief that the meeting, which at times seemed like it wouldn’t happen, concluded amicably with an agreement between both sides.

“The June 12 Sentosa Agreement will be recorded as a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth,” Moon said, referring to the resort island where the agreement was signed. “It is a great victory achieved by both the United States and the two Koreas, and a huge step forward for people across the world who long for peace.”

Moon characterized the summit as a turning point. The meeting between the two mercurial and headstrong leaders was almost unimaginable just a year earlier, when they were trading taunts and threats that many thought would erupt into a full-fledged war on the Korean Peninsula.

Other stories in South Korea report that “conservative pundits were unimpressed” and that readings from South Korean citizens were mixed, with some feeling relief that the talks had occurred, while others remained “cautious and skeptical.”

Let’s return to the idea that the main purpose of the summit was to achieve a standstill for North Korean missile and nuclear development while the North and South talked. In reality, North Korea will probably continue with R&D, but if they don’t test, they’d presumably limited confidence in anything that would add to their capabilities to a meaningful degree, but they might still be able to do a lot to increase the reliability of existing weapons.

However, what could prove to be a vast stumbling block is that the two countries are so far apart in their degree of development that it is hard to see how they could become more integrated. North Korea has a GDP per head of $600, versus over $27,000 for South Korea. It would take a massive development program to bring North Korea even up to normal emerging economy levels (Vietnam had a GDP per capita of roughly $2,200, and India, $1,700). Who is going to write those checks?

Finally, it appears Japan was very much left on the wayside, and its government is not likely to be happy about the cancellation of the war games either.

As indicated earlier, any insightful or revealing commentary from the media in Asia would be welcome (Clive, if you are having a slow day at work, perhaps a recap of headlines from the big Japanese papers?)

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    A few points:

    More sober minded NK watchers have always maintained that the ‘long game’ for NK was to develop a credible nuclear deterrent, so it could then go to ‘phase II’ of their Revolution, as they see it – developing a fast growing authoritarian capitalist/communist hybrid economy following the model of China and Vietnam. What matters in this determination is whether the NK leadership themselves believe they have now that weapon. They know they can neither afford nor need nuclear overkill – they just need to demonstrate they can lob a crude warhead within a dozen miles or so of LA, Tokyo or Beijing, and they are safe, as they see it. It seems from their behaviour that they believe that they have achieved this target, and seem content not to waste more resources in building more.

    They also know that while the US is a threat, they have to live together with their three bordering neighbours, all bigger, richer, and more powerful. Of these, the most important is SK, so any deal has to centre on good relations with Seoul, with Beijing a close second. They know that the US will not always be able to focus on them long term. However, they know that they can never have trade relations with the US unless they at least maintain the ‘myth’ that they are denuclearising and ‘democratising’ in some form.

    So the essence of a long term deal for NK has always been a controlled opening up of trade and capital from South Korea and China. To achieve this, they need de-escalation of conflict, while maintaining firm control of their own country.

    From Trumps point of view, I am in two minds over whether this is all part of a deliberate strategy to force NK into doing something reckless, like doing more tests, so he can attack (and I’m pretty sure most of the remaining sensible military advisors have been telling him it could be a potential disaster), or whether he wants to simply declare victory and go home, and concentrate on other matters. I’m becoming more inclined to the latter view. In this scenario, the following deal looks viable:

    1. Trump and Kim make glowing public statements of their determination to seek peace and prosperity. The US backs off its most obvious provocations (most obviously the annual military exercises), while NK commits to the principle of denuclearisation. However, all parties recognise that the US is not independently going to leave the Korean peninsula, and the issue of denuclearisation is placed in the hands of a toothless ongoing independent body, which will meet once a month and talk without actually agreeing or doing anything in perpetuity. NK will, however, refrain from any more missile/warhead tests.

    2. Trump boasts about how he could do what Obama never could and he goes for his Nobel in time for the next election. NK, SK and China then take over and agree the more complex real world aspects of gradually opening up NK on Kims terms.

    Of course, the wild card in all this is that Trump is so unpredictable, and so surrounded by sociopathic neocons that he could easily change his mind in a few weeks, even if this is his plan.

    1. Lee

      More sober minded NK watchers have always maintained that the ‘long game’ for NK was to develop a credible nuclear deterrent, so it could then go to ‘phase II’ of their Revolution, as they see it – developing a fast growing authoritarian capitalist/communist hybrid economy following the model of China and Vietnam.

      This seem eminently plausible. Capitalism without democracy is a capitalist wet dream that can also serve to bolster existing authoritarian elites, provided the material benefits are broadly enough shared.

      I look forward to seeing the Made in North Korea label soon in a store near me. But is there a long, long game at work here—an understanding that capitalist development, not peasant revolutions, is the better path to socialism, or at least to a halfway decent welfare state? One can hardly blame much of the world for concluding that as allies and role models that western democracies are unreliable and hypocritical. Particularly given that the west’s shiny, bright economic success has been largely attributable to the super-exploitation of indigenous populations and their resources the world over for centuries. North Korea has good reason to keep their nukes. As does Iran.

      1. False Solace

        That kind of shiny, bright economic success has little relation to exploiting colonies. How do you explain the immense gains in post-war Germany and Japan? It’s clear that “shiny, bright economic success” is NOT largely attributable to such exploitation. It has a lot more to do with debt forgiveness, managed trade, and splitting productivity increases with labor. Exploitation enriches the .01%, it does not create the widely shared prosperity we occasionally see in Western countries. Check out the 19th Century: exploitation overseas went hand in hand with an exploited, immiserated working class at home.

        1. Lee

          Why does it have to be one or the other and not both? The role of conquering or controlling through compradors whole continents of other peoples’ lands, their resources and their labor for centuries cannot be simply dismissed as necessary to the development of the Euro-American advantage in wealth and power. As to the development of progressive working class power, I am ever hopeful and on good days even cautiously optimistic.

    2. Synoia

      The US is regularly allies with dictators, like Saudi Arabia, which is currently engaging in genocide in Yemen.


      The US almost seem to prefer being allies with dictators, like Saudi Arabia…

      1. Skip Intro

        And having a crop of dictators around has proven very useful when one suddenly needs a new supervillain… But after Noriega and Hussein, I imagine our S.O.B.s must be a tad antsy.

  2. vlade

    I had been looking at this, and mostly concur with your analysis. I’d like to throw in a few more things:

    – The NK nuclear test site collapsed. There were signs of this likely happening even before (the reports of partial colapses including killed workers). That means the Kim cannot test right now, even if he wanted – getting up a new facility is expensive in time and money. For him to “trade” this is a no-brainer, it doesn’t cost him anything, and it does not stop him from secretly building another one somewhere.

    – Kim was a pariah before, now is a “rock star” (to borrow some of the headlines). The important question on this is, wheher it will or won’t have impact on sanctions. If sanctions get weakened, he won this round, as there were no NK concessions at all.

    – The exercises with SK. As you say, it’s mostly about threatening NK and China, not a real stuff. It can be brought back online pretty quick, if needed. It’s an important symbolic gesture though, and IMO I always thought it should be the first step done by the US in any serious talks – as it is really no more than a symbolic stuff with little practical repercussions.

    – It was not mentioned much that Trump also suggested withdrawing US forces from SK. I do not know what are the real capabilities of US in Korea, but SK has quite a large army so that this again may be more symbolic (and a welcome move in the US) than substantial – especially if the US keeps it large presence in Japan (and say if the troops are just moved from SK to Japan).

    My feeling is that if there is a winner of the first round, it’s NK as a state, and Trump as a president. So it remains to be seen what NK makes of it (we all can guess what Trump will do – I can just see a tweet asking for Nobel peace prize showing up anytime now – and a massive tweetstorm if he’s nominated but doesn’t get it).

    1. Thuto

      From reality tv star to US president to Nobel Peace Laureate, all against heavily stacked popular opinion odds, no one would begrudge Trump a cocky smile and a “I told you so” wink on his deathbed if this were to happen. A generation of would-be “leaders” will be inspired to remove the shackles from their own ability to dream, and dream big they will. Just another day here on mothership Earth, surreal stuff indeed.

      As for NK giving up the nukes, I don’t see any tactical or strategic leverage they’d gain from doing this. Much of the west believes NK as a country is beneath contempt, it’s the nukes that extract a not insignificant level of respect from anybody dealing with them. In matters of warfare, NK is treated as an equal worthy of being taken seriously, take away the nukes and all that goes away. Nukes extract respect, this is a reality of the world we live in. I’ve heard people wonder out loud whether our voice in world affairs as south africa would be bigger if we hadn’t given up the nukes. Denuclearization should be an aspiration for all, not just for countries (i.e. Iran, NK) deemed morally inferior and incapable of keeping in check, without “adult” (read US) supervision, their proclivity to “blow it all up” like a petulant child.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Thuto.

        I am glad that you have chimed in.

        My dad worked in Free State, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1991 – 2. I visited him regularly and return to SA every few years. None of us understood, even before 1994, WTF Mandela was playing at. We have often wondered what might have been. Iran and North Korea have the strategy exactly right.

        It’s interesting to observe what passes for analysis and debate in the western MSM. It’s very clear that from the hacks and talking heads that only Europeans and Americans and Israel, playing the role of Taiwanese in apartheid South Africa, should have such weapons.

        1. Thuto

          Thank you Colonel Smithers. I will say this without fear of contradiction: in cementing his status as a global icon, Nelson Mandela cost SA a fair bit in terms of misjudging the intentions of those to whom he extended his gracious and forgiving heart, both internally and externally, most of whom never reciprocated. By the time he woke up to this realisation, any attempt to remedy the situation would have “soiled” his legacy.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Thuto.

            I would just amend “most of whom never reciprocated” to “had no intention of reciprocating” and “a fair bit” to “a lot”.

            Did he wake up to that realisation?

            1. Thuto

              Given what I see, a quarter of a century later, as the aftermath of his unrequited “wiping the slate clean”, I have no qualms with your amendments. He’s said to have woken up to the realisation but it was too late as the management of his legacy was no longer in his hands, outsourced as it was to a cast of hangers-on who’d profit heavily from said legacy once he shed his mortal coil.

              1. James T. Crickets

                Did you really mean any compliment to Trump? As original post says:
                “In fact, if one were to attribute planning and design to Trump, one could argue that he fanned the war threat to make the dialing-down seem even more important than it is, sort of like an arsonist whose motivation is to be seen as a hero who puts out fires.”

                Whereas your Trump dreams, big, in which he provokes dangerous actions and words from the North Koreans with his own, allowing himself to jump in, cape fluttering to end the crisis–his own creation–within his own dreamscape, and restoring the world to safety and rights … or the same amount of those it had before he started.

                At the end of the dream Donnie wakes up with a ‘Best President Ever’ medal around his neck, his body otherwise naked and wet and clammy within the sheets. Perhaps other leaders can dream of being Superman from the fourth, original movie. And knock an enemy or two out a multi-storey window.

      2. Synoia

        I’ve heard people wonder out loud whether our voice in world affairs as south africa would be bigger if we hadn’t given up the nukes.

        I always got the impression that keeping ZA nukes would never have survived the change to majority rule. Somewhere in the back rooms there was an agreement…

    2. Andrew Watts

      Facts devoid of any context are without meaning.

      – The NK nuclear test site collapsed. There were signs of this likely happening even before (the reports of partial colapses including killed workers). That means the Kim cannot test right now, even if he wanted

      No, only a single tunnel at the nuclear test site collapsed. There is no evidence that any of the other tunnels were affected or that the one that did collapse would prevent any further testing.

      – Kim was a pariah before, now is a “rock star” (to borrow some of the headlines). The important question on this is, wheher it will or won’t have impact on sanctions. If sanctions get weakened, he won this round, as there were no NK concessions at all.

      It doesn’t matter whether sanctions are removed or not. The issue was always enforcement and the Chinese aren’t going to indefinitely support them at the insistence of the US. To do so would be to sacrifice major leverage over the North Koreans.

      – The exercises with SK. As you say, it’s mostly about threatening NK and China, not a real stuff. It can be brought back online pretty quick, if needed. It’s an important symbolic gesture though, and IMO I always thought it should be the first step done by the US in any serious talks – as it is really no more than a symbolic stuff with little practical repercussions.

      I’d agree that the cessation of the military exercises are purely symbolic at this point. The South Koreans already pulled out of joint exercises with Japan and the US. Furthermore, President Moon has significant leverage over the US in the form of yanking support for the presence of American troops stationed in South Korea. Trump has long complained that our allies pay too little for the collective security of our countries and if Moon threatens to cease contributions it’ll complicate matters. Perhaps even putting the US-SK alliance at risk.

      1. vlade

        I’d argue differently on the test site as there’s long list of research, mostly based on the Soviet underground test, on what such explosions do to a geology, and it’s pretty bad. There may not be any hard evidence, but the science around it suggest that (especially given the four after-quakes after the last test + the large cave-in), the testing site is highly unstable.

        Sanctions that hurt NK most are financial sanctions – with the inability to pay for anything, NK is reduced to a barter trade with China.

        China has relatively little leverage on the financial sanctions, short of acting as a clearing agent for NK with company fronts – which was happening, but TBH, to an extent it suited the US as well, as they had lever over anyone who dealt with those. My understanding was that in the last year this got clamped down on a lot (compred to previous years). If this is again relaxed, it would show the overall relaxation of sanctions.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Vlade.

      I hope and pray that Trump and Kim get that Nobel Prize. It’s not as if I has any value after Kissinger, Obama and the EU got theirs. The apoplexy it will provoke from the Obama and Clinton cults will be wonderful to watch.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I was just thinking that! The hyperbole from mainstream commentators about the ‘deal’ is hilarious given how we know they’d have reacted if the sainted Obama had done the exact same thing. The Nobel of course has been hopelessly compromised since the Kissenger days, not least by the Obama award (althugh he had the good grace to look embarrassed by it), but it would be quite funny to see Trump get it.

      2. Synoia

        The apoplexy it will provoke from the Obama and Clinton cults will be wonderful to watch.

        True. Pity Apoplexy in not a terminal disease.

  3. Kk

    N.Korea is a creature of the Chinese, and all of these things are the little waves in the emergence of China as a super power of standing with the only other superpower ….

  4. David

    It’s a declaration, not a Treaty, and as such establishes a political momentum, rather than promising any actual changes.
    But it’s important, because NK comes under the heading of problems which are actually insoluble in current circumstances, but can at least be managed to they don’t get out of control. Consider.
    Pyongyang would certainly like reunification of the peninsula under its control, but its conventional forces are pitiful, and any attempt would be rapidly stopped by the SK forces, which are much more modern and better equipped. (For some time Seoul has been discreetly increasing its ability to fight independently. They don’t need the US, except possibly for extra air power.)
    But NK is much too tough a target to attack, because its long-range artillery and missiles could devastate the South and much of Japan. The nuclear program extends this deterrence to the US, in the sense that it is now theoretically possible to meet an attack with a nuclear response against the US mainland . Although there are severe doubts about the accuracy of the missiles, or even whether the warheads would explode, NK judges, probably rightly, that the US would not take such a risk. So the situation is now one of stalemate.
    A unified Korea in practical terms would cause problems for a lot of people. There was a time in the 90s when “soft unifications” were being discussed, involving investment by the Chaebol in the North. This fell apart for several reasons but one was the horrific bill the South realized it would have to pay as it watched German unification taking place. China would only accept a unified Korea if there were no US troops there. But no US troops in Korea means that justification for US troops in Japan goes away, and the US would effectively be out of Asia. That might please a lot of ordinary Japanese people, but the political elite, which has taken its orders from Washington for generations, would be completely lost, and fearful of a unified Korea but also of China.
    So don’t expect dramatic deliberate change soon. But of course unintended change is perfectly possible.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      You make a good point about Seoul and its quiet strengthening of its military abilities. Despite pressure from the US not to, its developed a very strong domestic arms industry including tanks and combat aircraft. And many of its weapons are very capable.

      Its an important thing to remember of course that for the Koreans, north and south, the US may loom large for them now, but for almost all of history their ‘issues’ have been primarily with Japan and China and there is no reason to think that this history will not revert in the future. Like the Poles, they know their long term history is bound up by being a mid level power stuck between two greater (and more aggressive) powers. Maintaining an equilibrium between China and Japan is, in the long term, a far greater strategic priority for both.

      You are also right of course that SK, despite its rhetoric, knows unification is not in its interest, its far too big a step to take. Moon seems a very sensible and pragmatic leader, but as Yves points out, there is a substantial and very powerful right wing conservative political force in Korea which is irredeemably hostile to any concept of playing nice with the North Koreans. So while they are doing the right thing now, there is no guarantee that they won’t rock the boat in the longer term.

      The Chinese of course have their own strategic interest, which can be summed up by saying that if they can’t control the Korean peninsula, their next best option is a stable divided Korea. They don’t like Kim having nukes, but I think they would reluctantly live with it if the current equilibrium stays stable and NK gets a chance to grow economically and so ‘converge’ with the other authoritarian ex communist states of Asia.

    2. Andrew Watts

      North Korea isn’t going to impose unification on the South by force. Nor would South Korea attempt to invade the North to force the reunification of the Korean peninsula. This isn’t the 1940s / 50s and Moon has little in common with Syngman Rhee whom the US didn’t want to give arms to due to the fear he would ignite a war.

      As for the reunification of Korea under other circumstances the constitution of South Korea states that the president is required to “work for the peaceful reunification of Korea, typically act as the Chairperson of the National Unification Advisory Council”.

      The South Koreans have had time and made advanced preparations since the 90s to unite the country economically. They’re not going into this process ignorant of the time it will take or blind to the actual cost.

    3. Katsue

      On what basis do you assert that the DPRK’s conventional forces are pitiful? As far as I can tell this is essentially unknowable without seeing their performance in actual combat.

  5. voteforno6

    I’ve wondered whether North Korea is trying to seek a counter-balance to China. It seems that the U.S. is the logical fit. In that regard, it could be that South Korea shares the same goal.

  6. clarky90

    We just had a Steam Punk Festival in Oamaru, NZ. Steam punk is “The Future as it used to be”- Steam powered Heath Robinson machines; a materialistic, Newtonian (Not Einsteinian), mechanical view of existence. Reality is a big, cast iron machine, with bronze bearings. Money is the grease (or fuel)? power is the steering wheel?, sex, suits, real-estate, politics, arguments, spin….

    Life is a logical contraption that a team of engineers, research scientists, billionaires, economists, celebrities, can easily guide us through..(dialectical materialism?)

    However, this is wrong. Pelosi and McCain are being leisurely masticated by time, as we watch. Power and money are ephemeral, will o wisps. Obvious

    Miracles happen all the time. There is no order of difficulty for miracles. ie, Peace in the Korean Peninsula is the same difficulty as having a friendly fantail bird following me around in my garden. (True story. She/he even comes in and out of my house!).

    Kim Jong Un is a NBL Fan (basketball). Kim became friends with Dennis Rodman, a former NBL star, who is also friends with Donald Trump.


    The profoundest commentary IMO, is from Dennis Rodman. Watch the entire 16 minutes. (I am re-posting this. Watch the CNN interviewer’s facial expressions)

    Dennis Rodman gets emotional after Trump-Kim summit

    Some wit said, “if Donald Trump walked on water, the MSM would be howling that he could not swim.”

    Peace, I have prayed for peace. I am an old man.and have never lived in a peaceful World.

    The “pundits and brainiacs” will try and sabotage this. They are kidding themselves.

  7. The Rev Kev

    Haven’t really read or watched the stuff that has come out of Singapore as most of it is pretty bad analysis. I have seen stories on the significance of Trump and Kim’s signatures, the story of the pens and any other number of such rubbish but I am only interested in results. In fact, I am like the man from Missouri in that I want to be shown!
    I think that a litmus test for these talk’s success for the US is the subject of American MIAs in Korea. There are about 5,300 of them, most of whom the North Koreans already have. In fact, “In October 2014, North Korea announced it was going to move the remains of about 5,000 U.S. combatants en masse in an apparent attempt to force the U.S. to restart MIA recovery.”
    So obviously official Washington doesn’t give a rats about them but there are plenty of families in the rest of America who do care. If something happens on this easy front, then I will start paying attention to this agreement. I only wonder about those secret protocols that were also agreed on that were not published. Guaranteed that there would be some, such as ‘Kim promises to do nothing controversial until the US mid-terms are over.’
    Oh, one last comment. It has been commentated that N.Korea is a creature of the Chinese. I think that the historical record speaks different on this subject but I would be rather be found kicking over motorcycles outside a biker’s bar than to say something like this in Korea – North or South.

  8. Eudora Welty

    Call me naive, but it seems like NK would be a great place for all this excess capital to land: investors in search of ROI. If not a Trump Hotel, rhen a lot of other capital improvement projects.

    1. notabanker

      I’m not so sure NK would be the actual landing place, but making friends in the region is good for the hotel and resort business. Nuclear war is bad for the hotel and resort business. Trying to go below the surface with Trump is interesting, but really nothing more than a guess. It’s 50/50 that there is anything below the surface.

      In the grand scheme of things, the Asian’s, led by the Chinese, have won the global war. I wouldn’t give Trump enough credit to acknowledge this, but do see him as a short term opportunist that sees an opening he wouldn’t have if he wasn’t President. What real estate mogul wouldn’t find this an attractive ground floor opportunity? Reality TV stars are always looking for the next over the top spotlight. A summit with Kim? Gold, pure gold.

  9. der

    That North Korea has the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S. is not a settled fact.

    – That sounds scary, but there’s a pretty big caveat, according to the analysis in the Bulletin: The missile could only ever get that far if North Korea stripped it of any actual working warhead. Adding even the small weight of a warhead would likely limit the range of such a missile so that it couldn’t reach Alaska, let alone the lower 48.

    – As the analysis explains, estimating the range of North Korea’s missiles relies on studying their flightpaths — which typically achieve high vertical altitudes but don’t travel very far horizontally — and extrapolating how far said missiles could reach if they had an almost entirely horizontal trajectory. Missile tests in July suggest North Korea has missiles that could reach as far as Anchorage, Alaska, or perhaps even Seattle, Washington.

    – “In reality, the North Korean rocket fired twice last month — the Hwasong-14 — is a “sub-level” ICBM that will not be able to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States,” the physicists write. “Our analysis shows that the current variant of the Hwasong-14 may not even be capable of delivering a first-generation nuclear warhead to Anchorage, Alaska, although such a possibility cannot be categorically ruled out. But even if North Korea is now capable of fabricating a relatively light-weight, ‘miniaturized’ atomic bomb that can survive the extreme reentry environments of long-range rocket delivery, it will, with certainty, not be able to deliver such an atomic bomb to the lower 48 states of the United States with the rocket tested on July 3 and July 28.”

    – In assessing what North Korea’s nuclear strike capabilities actually are, we are fundamentally limited by all we don’t know, according to an analysis published in Mecklin’s publication this August. As such, skepticism is generally warranted when either North Korea or the United States make claims about the former’s nuclear program.
    By Alasdair Wilkins on November 9, 2017

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please do not straw man the article. Straw manning is a violation of our written Policies.

      I never said North Korea could deliver a nuclear payload to the US. I quoted various assessments, most of which were considerably hedged; the most definitive claim came from the Lowy Institute, which has some real chops in this area; it’s very plugged into Australian defense insiders, which in turn share intel actively with the US.

      That is risk enough for the US to have to treat North Korea differently than before this was a real possibility.

      1. Bill Smith

        “That is risk enough for the US to have to treat North Korea differently than before this was a real possibility.”

        Trump was smart enough to do that or it is just a coincidence?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The Hwasong-14 is not the only, or largest ballistic missle NK possesses. They have also launched two satellites into orbit using the Unha system, which is likely to be capable of carrying a compact nuke. The Unha system is however not mobile or compact, so it wouldn’t likely survive a first strike. However, it is at least a theoretically capable launch system to hit anywhere on earth.

  10. Kokuanani

    I am worried about the effect this little drama will have on the US elections — both 2018 and 2020. It doesn’t take a large amount of imagination to picture the ads Trump’s team is already putting together. In their minds, the economy is buzzing, and now we’ve got “progress” internationally —> Our Great Leader.

    I am reluctant to dump on the sophistication of the fly-over country folks, Trump’s tweets — which really are on a sixth grade level of “discourse” — appear to continue to win over a large percentage of these folks.

    While it’s comforting to see the few races that Dems turned last night, the reports of their continuing their failed strategy, their stomping of the Bernie folks, their “thumb on the scale” in so many primaries, and their retention of the same incompetent boobs who brought us Hillary all are really discouraging.

    The thought of Trump trolling around this fall’s elections with his “Look at me; I’m the peacemaker” is just more than I can bear.

    1. John Wright

      I pitch to people that Trump is so bad that he is good.

      Obama provided a sugar high of hope from the left and Trump may be doing the same from the right.

      The election of Trump over HRC could still be a better choice if one can extrapolate how HRC’s unconcern for the great unwashed and her desire for military action in foreign lands could have manifested itself.

      Now the Democrats might have to offer some credible candidates for election and actually show that they can do more than promise, in the distant future, to get good legislation done.

      One concern I have is that many STILL believe Obama was a good man who did all that was possible (while quietly doing all that was possible to take care of the donor class/elite and himself).

      I suspect that residual goodwill feeling will never be true for Trump.

      If one is down about Trump, imagine how a President HRC might be governing right now (US military in the Ukraine? even more involvement with Syria?)

      An additional concern is that a financial crisis abetted by Obama’s lack of reform blows up on Trump and the Democrats promote another HRC clone who can win.

      The “we are hosed” interval continues for another 4 years.

    2. bronco

      why worry? as long as the corporate wing of the democrats don’t make any gains we look pretty good. If they can be seen to impeding actual progressives then all the better.

      A tree can be rotted inside for decades before it finally topples over.

  11. tc10021

    You’re all splitting hairs as is the status quo MO. You need to go look at how much artillery and surface to surface firepower NK has aimed at SK. Any ‘war’ would reduce Seoul to ashes quickly and result in a US airstrike to cripple NK. MAD doctrine all around – if not a second Korean War.

    All Trump has done is lift the thinly nuanced veil and said, there’s a better way. Get rich, be happy by manufacturing cheaper than China can. Not really a win for China.

    And even if I’m 200% wrong, at least no one is sending C-130s with billions of USD shrink-wrapped on pallets to NK as Obama did to Iran.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I did not mention it here, but I pointed out earlier in Links when Trump suggested a cash for denuclearlization deal, North Korea rejected it with considerable umbrage. They have always demanded security guarantees, which at a bare minimum means the US out of South Korea. They may want cash too, but they aren’t going to consider that as a (big) sweetener unless the basics are in place, particularly after Bolton made that embarrassing Libya threat. That gave North Korea an easy excuse to insist on tough terms.

      1. Synoia

        particularly after Bolton made that embarrassing Libya threat.

        It’s nice to see the aftermath of properly diagnosed foot in mouth disease. I wonder if there is a cure?

    2. Phillip Allen

      For all the possible faults in Obama’s implementation of the JCPOA, it is false to imply that the money transferred to Iran was any kind of gift or bribe, or that the money belonged to the United States in the first place. It was a part of Iranian government money embargoed by the United States after the Islamic Revolution (the US continues to hold significant Iranian funds). The repatriation of that money was one of the few US obligations under the JCPOA actually carried out.

    3. marym

      The Iran deal, including the return of Iranian assets, was an internationally negotiated deal, with a country that is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty; had not developed nuclear weapons; and had been declaring since 2003 that it didn’t intend to do so. The deal resulted in an internationally recognized inspection and verification regime to prevent future development, which was working.

      For the reasons you state – the vulnerability of SK to NK, and NK to the US – there was no threat of war with NK until Trump decided to threaten it. Then, thanks to Moon intervening twice, and getting Trump and his followers to dream of a Nobel prize, there was a friendly chat between a flamboyant despot, and a flamboyant would-be-despot, and a page of generalities with no commitments from NK to do anything.

      Sure, hope the gulags in NK will be replaced by sweat shops for Ivanka’s brand and beach resorts for Trump’s, if you see that as an aspiration. But let’s not confuse an internationally negotiated deal, with which Iran was complying, with a hope.

    4. Rob

      Those billions on pallets were Iranian assets seized by the US after the 1979 revolution.
      The US was legally required to return them at some point.
      Not that international law is ever that important to any US administration.

      1. tc10021

        Status quo continues !

        LOL at US required to return their cash. US seizes assets from criminals who do a lot less damage than Iran has done. Draw some concentric circles and see how close Europe is to Iranian missiles, and the Euro’s begging makes sense. If Euros are open to Iran’s blackmail they should pay it.

        NK is little more than a 1950s drunk stumbling along CPS mumbling vague threats and all of us avoid as we’re not sure how serious the threat is. US out of SK is a win for Americans and doesn’t lessen the US ability to cripple NK. Any strike would most likely be from B52s, B1s and the ever popular Tomahawk in all its variations and launching platforms.

        Unless you’re a mil vendor, not sure who wants US troops in SK. The argument that no one attacks US troops for fear of the repercussions is laughable as US troops are attacked daily by armed militias who have shown repeatedly that the US lacks the will and ability to retaliate effectively and decisively.

        1. James T. Cricket

          Yes. We’d like to see that principle adopted universally. Cash confiscated from countries that do damage to others’ countries, regions, peoples or culture.

          Now, so let us calculate the balance of payments of country and country to see who owes that money to whom…

    5. oh

      I remember the pallets of cash (billions) sent to Afghanisthan by Bush and Obama that many sticky fingers took care of. I thought the money to Iran was the return of their funds.

      1. RUKidding

        I’m having trouble locating information on Obama sending cash to Afghanistan. Do you have a link for that?

        It is well known that the GW Bush Admin sent pallets of cash – about $12billion – to Iraq:

        I’m also not seeing links for the Bush Admin sending cash to Afghanistan.

        Not saying it didn’t happen; just not finding information on it.

          1. RUKidding

            Thanks! Good to know. I did look but didn’t find these.

            I knew 2 people who worked in Afghanistan about 6 years ago or so. Govt workers, not military. I’m given to understand that, at least at that time, it was flaming mess there. Tons of money being spent but not with any really useful outcomes.

            our tax dollar$ at work…

    6. Bill Smith

      “You need to go look at how much artillery”

      The story line about artillery while serious is not as big as the news media makes it. The North could certainly do a lot of damage but it not as apoplectic as is usually heard.

      But either way, huge damage or large damage it would certainly start a war.

  12. Edward

    I think what this summit needed was an orb like the one used in Saudi Arabia.

    I think the question here is what changes in the status quo will the U.S. accept? From the Korean viewpoint they may want the eventual departure of U.S. troops and a reunification process. Is this acceptable to America? I thought it was pretty interesting that Trump talked about removing our troops from Korea.

  13. Andrew Watts

    I’m not inclined to pay attention to the universally hawkish views of the American media. Their consistent view that the South Koreans are America’s meatshields to be gambled with and expended at will is offensive and downright racist. Especially while the majority of the US troops in South Korea are cowering to the south of Seoul. It’s that imperial attitude of belligerent arrogance that alienates potential friends and enables rival powers like China to present themselves as a viable alternative. Washington has never really understood anything outside it’s bubble much less how Asians think and operate. With a few historical exceptions like Ambassador Joseph Grew.

    The only English-speaking journalist I have any degree of trust in is Tim Shorrock. Judging from his reporting and individual Asians on the ground most people are brimming with enthusiasm that the summit ended nicely and that this is the first step on the road to peace. Anybody who thought that North Koreans were going to walk into the summit and surrender their nukes without any conditions or plans is insanely moronic.

    I’m still optimistic that a peace treaty which ends the Korean War will be the fruit of the summit. However, I think the Democratic Party will do it’s best to misrepresent and downplay the summit for no other reason than the prestige it gives Trump. The other significant reason is that they are beholden to the same interests which profit from the threat of a major war. This development will necessarily entail risks that our domestic politics will sabotage any attempt at a successful foreign policy.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Andrew.

      Daily, due to a project with APAC, I speak to colleagues based in the Far East, all local, not expatriates. They echo what you report and fear.

  14. Andreas

    David Leonhardt opine piece in the NYT makes a strong case for how Trump’s actions have advanced the strategic interests of Russia.

    Hasn’t China joined the game to manipulate Trump to advance China’s interest?

    I found the extraordinary image of China flying its vassal, Kim Jong-un, to Singapore to meet with Trump revealing. Kim doesn’t have the capacity to travel in his own hemisphere without China’s help. Kim can’t feed his people without China’s help. Imagining Kim can proceed with anything without China’s support and endorsement sees daft.

    Can any rational assessment see Kim as an independent actor?

    Hasn’t China raised Kim’s profile at the expense of the US’s?

    Certainly a subtler move than Russia’s way of doing things, but it seems the result advances China’s strategic interests in the region and globally and weakens the Western alliance (although one could argue that after the G7, we can now regard this as the “former” Western Alliance).

    China and Russia win. Trump loses. The U.S. loses.

  15. EoH

    Trump does not deserve a victory lap any more than a stopped clock deserves praise for being right twice a day. That some good came from this opening to North Korea is happenstance. That more could have been done with less effort is never considered.

    Stopping the “war games”, for example, is a good thing. They are highly provocative exercises designed to impress on the North how readily and easily the South and the US could topple it. But Trump harmed his own cause by calling them war games. Among other negative consequences, he gave himself no room to maneuver for when he needs to start them up again. He torched the usual give and take process of establishing a working relationship out of one built on generations of fear and anger by tossing concessions around as if they were rolls of paper towels.

    Trump dangerously accelerated tensions for a year, then pretended “that” was nothing. He heightened expectations over what any novel, single meeting could possibly achieve, then pretended he achieved them. “His” preparation was to have his NSC prepare an absurd video, to sell Kim as if he were the prospective buyer of a Trump condo in Panama. He compounded this error by framing his interest in peace with North Korea as an opportunity to build condos on its fantastic beaches.

    He praised Kim in the way Trump himself expects to be praised, assuming, with unusual self-knowledge, that it would work just as well as it does on Trump. He laid a trail of bread crumbs the size of fresh loaves on how to bamboozle him in the next go round.

    1. EoH

      Trump of course, while he “hated to do it,” credits his year of inflammatory language with bringing the summit about. I guess self-promotion always trumps self-knowledge.

  16. Carolinian

    I think the Democratic Party will do it’s best to misrepresent and downplay the summit for no other reason than the prestige it gives Trump.

    Indeed. And the fact that the summit pokes the Dems in the eye with a stick may be a big reason for Trump to stay with it. It may also explain why the widely bruited notion that Bolton would sabotage didn’t happen.

    And just a word about the “we’ve been here before” line: my understanding is that those past agreements failed because the US didn’t keep their part of the bargain. There was a strong move toward reunification in the early 2000s–that was torpedoed by Bush–and Obama preferred to ignore NK completely. One article I’ve seen says that the resumption of North Korea’s nuclear program and the new ICBMs were mostly a deliberate attempt to force the US to pay attention. Surely it is time to finally end the Korean war and let north and south work out their own preferred fate. Trump may be a boob, but some of us believe his “America first” rhetoric is long overdue. As a nation we are not very good at empire and the world would be better off without a “hegemon.”

    1. Carolinian

      Must have hit the wrong button….intended as reply to Andrew Watts.

      Meanwhile two Norwegians have now nominated the Trumpster for Nobel Peace Prize. Should it ever happen the Dem angst will be delicious.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Carolinian.

        PK and I are also relishing the prospect. To quote, W, “Bring it on!”

        If the Donald does get, let’s party like it’s 1999.

  17. Daniel JB Mitchell

    In the end, having the “summit” gave N Korea leverage. The “deal” is that Trump should be made to look good to the US electorate and that N Korea will not do things that make him look bad, like testing bombs and missiles. So at any time, particularly shortly before the 2018 or 2020 elections, N Korea can upend the deal by testing and missile launches. Anything it wants from the US, given that potential threat, it is likely to get. That could be lifting of sanctions, direct cash payments, etc. And, of course, it remains free to continue to run its nation as an oversize concentration camp. What is most surprising is that apparently the leadership of S Korea – which encouraged the summit – didn’t foresee that Trump would concede on joint “war games” and set the stage for a general decrease in military support for S Korea. What did they think would happen?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      It works both ways. You can just as well say that NK has given Trump a face saving way of walking back on his previous belligerance, given that nearly all reputable military advice is that unilateral action against NK is likely to be enormously costly and dangerous.

      Its also been pointed out that if Trumps real aim is to attack NK, by engaging now he can more easily set up impossible demands for them within the agreed structures, knowing that if they walk out he can say to the world ‘I tried negotiation, they didn’t play ball’.

  18. Winston Smith

    Let me get this straight. Trump attends the G7, publicly declares it is worthless without Russia and demands its reintegration in the organization. He then proceeds to grandiosely insult the prime minister of Canada, a country that is a steadfast ally and yuge trading partner. His attack dogs then double down on the insults.

    Now there are hints from this thread and post that maybe Trump did some clever things with NK that needed doing….

    I think he is a disaster period

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its entirely possible to assert that Trump, or anyone else, is a disaster in one theatre of foreign affairs, but has done well in another.

      Trump is a bull in a China shop, but he didn’t beat the entire Republican and Dem establishments by lacking some skills, even if they are instinctive rather than intellectual. Time will tell, but its entirely possible that his approach has helped break the long term logjam for negotiations in the Korean peninsula and set a course for peace. If he does that, he deserves credit, without undermining critical examination of the disasters he is fomenting elsewhere. Only history can make a definitive judgement.

      1. Winston Smith

        I think that is a fair comment and would like to give anyone tackling an attempt at peace on the korean peninsula the benefit of the doubt. However, on the matter of his behavior towards Canada and its PM, there is no reason/excuse for it.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Your comment is a textbook case of the cognitive bias called halo effect, of needing to see people as all good or all bad. In keeping, you simply brush off the idea that as the Lowy Institute points out, the US was in a weak bargaining position and the summit should be assessed in light of that. In other words, Trump didn’t get much but he wasn’t in a position to get much.

      And you also straw man the post. Please tell me where it says Trump did some clever things?

      1. James T. Crickets

        “In fact, if one were to attribute planning and design to Trump, one could argue that he fanned the war threat to make the dialing-down seem even more important than it is, sort of like an arsonist whose motivation is to be seen as a hero who puts out fires.”

        Yes, I find your post gives Trump the right amount of credit, ie. similar to what I do. Which is not a lot. Trump didn’t create the NK vs US situation but he did make it worse, less safe before restoring it to the same level as before, or perhaps slightly better. Maybe. Possibly.

        In doing so, as others have mentioned, Trump repeated the pattern:
        Tensions rise, ‘you doing the wrong thing!’, ‘no you are!’
        Annihilation’s traded, ‘we’ll annihilate you fat-boy’, no ‘we-you four-eyes!’
        Not-yet-annihilation pact, ‘let’s do a deal’, ‘no’, ‘no?’, ‘yes!’,’yes?’, ‘nuke us next time’, ‘all right then’
        The dealing makes unhappy
        Tensions rise

        Some Prezz’s/Admins were better than others but is the pattern broken then? That Trump managed to avoid destroying us all (so far) through using a diseased mind is seen as a bigger credit than it is.

  19. Terence callachan

    As usual USA asks other nations to demilitarise and denuclearise .
    North Korea has never gone to war or attacked another country
    USA is at war with one or more countries or attacking one or more countries around the world perpetually
    USA has army navy airforce bases in dozens and dozens of countries around the world
    North Korea has none
    USA supplies arms to many many countries around the world especially countries that attack other countries that USA wants to go to war with in other words USA uses one country to attack another or others Israel is of course the perfect example of this.
    USA like any other country that possesses nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers intends to attack and bully countries a long distance away that is the purpose of these types of weapons they are not close range weapons.
    I am Scottish I hope soon that Scotland will be independent and will leave UK because UK is the same as USA a worldwide bully with the same kind of weapons of mass destruction and the politicians of mass destruction that are much worse.
    USA and UK are global bullies allies in the theft of assets from other countries and the destruction of of other countries economies if they dare to complain.
    USA and UK set their aircraft carriers off the coast of other countries and have nuclear weapons tucked away in hidden submarines doing the same.
    I hate USA and UK as countries the sad the no is that the people of these countries have no control over their governments global bullying theft and warmongering

    1. Matt

      “North Korea has never gone to war or attacked another country”

      This is untrue. Yes, there were provocations and people itching to go to battle on both sides, but it was the North that started the invasion that began the Korean War.

  20. Louis Fyne

    “Yes, the smart betting today is that the results of the Singapore summit will prove to be hollow.”

    Smart money has been sooooo right about Trump ever since Trump walked down that Trump Tower escalator in 2016 (or was it 2015?)

    Just throwing out the opinion that no “idiot” can still together so many victories in 2 years. And the sooner the #Resistance admits that they are dealing with a savvy, formidable, intelligent opponent with clear policy goals (but non-conventional strategies), maybe the sooner they’re start #winning

    1. danpaco

      Without a clear definition of what “winning” means, one could easily win at everything.

  21. oh

    We’re exceptional and therefore we can have a huge nuclear arsenal; others, especially in the third world, don’t rate. What if Kim were to demand that the US denuclearize?

    As far as the meeting is concerned it gave Trump and Kim priceless PR. I wonder if it’s time for a Nobel prize for Kim too! ven if Trump is nominated for one, Obama would seethe, narcissist that he is.

    The right wing nationalists (LDP) in Japan will use this opportunity to scream for for further armmaments of the nuclear kind.

  22. Louis Fyne

    if anyone wants to read: the english edition of Korea news. (daily newspaper) (daily newspaper) (Korea’s Reuters) (Korea’s public broadcaster)

    –Who is going to write those checks?

    China, Korea, Europe, Japan can do it even if the US stays on the sidelines.

    perhaps ironically, it’s easier to start building infrastructure with a clean slate. As an example, any building project in Manhattan is a total mess given the maze of IT, water, power, gas, subway lines (that can’t be interrupted) underground.

    1. Grass is green

      Instead of seeing it as “writing checks”, NKorea should be viewed as a new economic frontier. Investments will pay off handsomely in a world devoid of returns.

      If the US is smart, it won’t stay on the sidelines but become an active player. NKorea should be a boon for US farmers and other industries.

      1. oh

        The new economic frontier will be a boon all right – for our huge corporations who’ll be quick to exploit the cheap labor while charging high prices to those who’ll drink coke/pepsi, eat our unhealthy fast food and buy our GMO grain and pesticide infused meat and poultry.

        1. Grass is green

          In the end, I think that will be up to the Chairman. Let’s hope he makes smart decisions for his people.

  23. Grass is green

    I disagree with most of the experts. NKorea will denuclearize if the US demonstrates that they have turned over a new leaf on US/DPRK relations.

    NKorea’s goal was never nuclearization for its own sake but nuclearization to force Washington to the table and to hammer out the grand bargain: Nukes in exchange for permanent peace and normalization.

    It is not in NKorea’s interest to “drag out” the peace proces. NKorea went down that road before and warmongers/neocons/hawks like Bolton figured out ways to undercut negotiations and trash prior agreements.

    I believe both Moon and Kim understand that alacrity is their friend and procrastination will destroy them both. For the South and North, a permanent peace regime must be established during Trump’s term. And within the next 4 years while Moon presides over the presidency. They must create a momentum that no future leader in SKorea or US can stop and reverse.

    Trump’s behavior throughout the past year was as exasperating as it was genius. It’s hard to know whether his provocations were meant for NKorea or hawks in Washington. From my vantage point, the bluster changed nothing for NKorea. They wanted talks for decades. They wanted peace for decades. They were not the unwilling partner. It was Washington that was the recalcitrant side. Washington wanted NKorea to disarm, to be sure, but it loved the status quo. However, by threatening nuclear war, Trump may have forced the warmongers to blink. The status quo could no longer be viewed as tenable. The end game had arrived.

    China’s hegemony in E. Asia is a foregone conclusion. They are already the regional behemoth. For many economies, including NKorea, SKorea, Taiwan and Japan, China is the #1 trading partner. Military bases in SKorea, isolating NKorea and occasional needling by US forces will not reverse these facts. Washington must pave a new strategy of cooperation that accepts new realities. That, or WW3.

    1. Louis Fyne

      ^^those points. The Japanese Establishment would be happy to be a US colony/have the US nuke umbrella. Korea? it seems that they’re ambivalent and would be content to be more non-aligned like Sweden.

      The irony is that given the Koreans’ cost-sharing of US troops, it’ll be more expensive to keep those 30,000+ presence in the US.

      But it’s a great PR move for Trump in 2020 or 2023 should he mimic Bezos’ HQ2—-and announce that toss-up state Fort X and toss-up state Y Air Force Base are getting expansions to house to relocated ex-Korea troops and the associated civilian support jobs.

  24. danpaco

    I’m having a difficult time containing my cynicism regarding this whole summit.
    Trump has once again set the bar for success so low it would be impossible not to have a win. “At least we’re talking and not blowing each other up” seems to be the common refrain. How could one possibly criticize dialogue? Beyond talking there is nothing else to celebrate. This entire summit has been engineered for domestic audiences we just haven’t seen the NK version yet.

    1. RUKidding

      Trump went in saying that perhaps nothing would be accomplished and said other dumb (imo) things about how he could know how things would go with Kim within ONE minute of meeting Kim – because he (Trump) is such a “master” at figuring people out.

      Then we get what we got, and it’s declared by the US media machine as huge success.

      Yeah: count me as utterly cynical myself.

      We’ll see.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Huh? The US media has been close to universally declaring that the summit was a failure, that Trump met with and therefore legitimated a dictator, that the US gave up its oh so important war games precipitously for nothing and pissed off SK (no evidence of that from Moon but you’d never learn that from the US media).

  25. RUKidding

    I’m of two minds on this. For one thing, when Obama (disclaimer: I’m no huge Obama fan, and I didn’t vote for him in 2012) proposed talks with NK, the rightwing media (pretty much all of it) severely criticized him, as usual. Just one example:

    Obama was criticized for, among other things, his lack of foreign policy experience. Perhaps true, but, er, these same “news” organizations are praising Trump to the skies for all of his mad foreign policy skillz.

    What I witnessed is Trump punching down on our (now former?) allies at the G6+1 for not very good reasons. And then whisking away to Sentosa Island (where General Percival surrendered to Japan in 1942) to have this “Historic Summit” with Kim. How prepared was Trump? What foreign policy expertise does he have in his portfolio? His preparation seemed to me (jmho) to consist of bullying our allies in a very public way as some sort show of his “strength.” I get it that Trump’s fans really LOVE this bullying stuff that he indulges himself in, but I see it as a sign of weakness. And one that could easily come back to bite us all in the hind quarters at some point.

    I’m not sad if the War Games (or whatever you want to call them) with SK go away. My understanding is that often these were held during the NK harvest time, which resulted in an inability to harvest enough food for the populace. We’re all well aware of the privations that NK citizens have had to endure, so if this means that they might not be so malnourished, I count it as good thing.

    However, for all the crowing, I’m not so sure how much has been accomplished. I’m taking a wait and see approach, but from where I sit, this just looks the same old, same old. The US media thrives and fawns on Trump because he makes them money. They and the GOP go along with his petty, vindictive, boorish ways, and both the media and the GOP are heavily engaged in normalizing Trump’s behavior and pretending that he’s rational and knowledgeable. It’s just typical.

    Agree that the feckless Democrats are, indeed, feckless and probably anything they actually DO (as opposed to mouthing whatever) will amount to a hill of beans. But that said, I simply don’t see Trump as some sort of master statesman. Trump calls himself a Republican, so he gets loads and bundles and miles of support, plus syocophantic praise from many quarters, and, frankly, that would never happen for a Democratic politician doing the same thing. Guaranteed that Republicans and most of the media would be shrieking bloody murder if some Democrat had behaved in exactly the same way that Trump has done over the past 5 or 6 days.

    Again: if something good comes from all of this, then I’m happy for it. But how this was all accomplished does not sit well with me, and I’m not going to pretend that Trump is “ably” representing the USA’s interests and concerns.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Help me. You are straw manning the post and exhibiting a case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. It baffles me that you read a piece that basically says that criticisms of Trump are overdone because the US was in weak negotiating position as praise, particularly when I compared him to an arsonist.

      Trump didn’t get much but he wasn’t in a position to get much either.

  26. John Day

    I am baffled as to why there is not more vision of the flow of historical trends here. Korea is an ancient country, temporarily divided. Both Kim and Moon aspire to reunification, and openly so. As long as the map to a unified and non-nuclear Korea is laid out, all parties, including US, China, and Russia can be satisfied and claim various victories. How can this be invisible?

  27. Clive

    The Japanese press has been deadly dull on this subject, but that in itself is, perversely, interesting.

    The vast majority of coverage in Japanese from the “respectable” outlets (Nihon Keizai (Nikkei), NHK the state broadcaster) have done the usual Japanese thing of verbatim quotes, translating the Joint Declaration and some follow ups on what is expected next. Very little opinionizing. Which usually means that Japan’s officialdom is still making up its mind about the subject — and the fact that there’s nothing yet emerged which would constitute a “Japan’s reaction” to the summit means that everyone is a little unsure what to make of it all. So the introduction of this new, or new-looking, dynamic has certainly broken the ossified, decades-old comfy-uncomfortable stand-off.

    Two fairly consistent themes which have emerged from the Japanese (in amongst an awful lot of blandness) is that a) we’ve all seen this before from the DPRK and b) the DPRK have (as Yves covered in the piece) already largely developed and perhaps even perfected their ballistic missile capability. For Japan, the medium range missiles, which could hit any part of mainland Japan, exist in large quantities. There’s no proposal for these to go anywhere, anytime soon. And even without a nuclear payload, conventional ordinance detonations from 1000 (the estimate I read in the Japanese press) medium range missiles alone would be fairly devastating to Japan.

    This last point is, unsurprisingly but no less depressingly, largely lost on the US. Keep in view that, while in WWII the German V2 rockets dropped on London were not strategically useful in terms of lessening the ability of the Allies to fight the war, the devastation on civilian populations from V2 strikes in particular was considerable. The DPRK’s missile capability in terms of medium range capable devices is superior in terms of payload capacity to that of a V2, so an all-out missile launch by the DPRK on densely populated Japanese cities and key infrastructure would bring huge casualties and major impacts. Implied in the Japanese coverage is that the denuclearisation is all very well, but that’s mainly for the US’ benefit. Making the DPRK a better neighbour is more important to Japan. And if the Japanese are cautious and giving this particular gift horse a good look in the mouth, it’s because their history of dealing with the DPRK over the past 40 years has taught them to be. Improving the DPRK’s economy, though, is new (or at least, new to the US in terms of it being a strategy) so it does have some possibilities — the Japanese press has put a lot of detail on this angle, so it’s something that’s piqued their interest.

    On that latter point, the Japanese press is also asking — asking is putting to too strongly, but that’s the best word I can come up with for the tone and comments I’ve read — what is proposed to allow the economic development of the DPRK. It’s implied that the Japanese also see the process of making the DPRK less of an economic basket case as both necessary and apparently what they think Trump is aiming at as a long-term solution. But without some ground rules, which the US will now need to establish, how is that going to be brought about?

    In short, the take-away from the Japanese media which has so far emerged (and this is a slow-burn story which will get more detail added over time, but in Japan, these things do take time, you don’t get the equivalent of CNN with various talking heads sounding off with from-the-hip reactions) is, yes, this is all fine in theory, but the devil is in the detail. Japan is looking to the US to supply that detail.

    As an aside, it was refreshing to read the Japanese press (in Japanese) in respect of their coverage of Trump. I’m so inured to reading can’t-even-be-bothered-to-hide-it-anymore diatribes about Trump from western media, the “Just the facts, ma’am” approach from the Japanese was a much needed change. The MSM in the West may hate Trump and they might well be right to do so. But that shouldn’t stop them doing their primary job, which is covering events. Which is a lot easier if you don’t need to wade through paragraph after paragraph of how awful they think Trump is, how dare he Tweet this- or how dare he say that-, in order to get an understanding of what’s transpired.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks for that Clive. I think one dynamic in the region that isn’t always appreciated is the very deep mutual distrust between both Koreas and Japan, mostly thanks to the bad treatment by Japan of its Korean minority, not to mention what they did when they occupied the peninsula. Bad and all as the Korean War was, what happened before is a very strong memory in both Koreas, but for different reasons. Its a constant shadow over those countries relationships, one I think the Japanese don’t fully comprehend.

      The issue of development in NK is bound to raise its head. I’m pretty sure that the endgame for Kim is a controlled opening of its economy to investment once he feels militarily secure and then follow the China/Vietnam model. For South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese capitalists, they will immediately perk up at the prospect of several million docile cheap workers suddenly available, not to mention lots of minerals, virgin lands, unspoilt beaches, not to mention a new market for geegaws and whatsnots. This is what will drive the process hard if Moon (and Trump) set the ground right.

      And yes, the nice thing about the non Anglo press is that it does actually deal with Trump at face value. The near lunatic hysteria from the mainstream ‘liberal’ press about this deal is exactly the mirror image of the crazed right wing attacks on every little move Obama, and before him Clinton, made, proving they really are the exact same thing, and both deserve the same respect (i.e. none).

      1. Clive

        I’m glad you mentioned Obama. I meant to add this point. With Trump, you get in the media so much pearl-clutching that you have to plough through to get to the nub of the story (if indeed there is a story there to get a nub of).

        With Obama, you got hagiography.

        Both are extreme reactions. Neither are helpful to the reader, when what the reader wants is to get an understanding of events and, perhaps, some speculation and conjecture about what it might all mean.

        With the Japanese media, yes, the past Japanese atrocities are never far from the surface. Japan is still very prickly about its conduct while an occupying power (a too big a subject to go into here about why the Japanese think, some of them anyway, they get an overly-harsh judgement heaped on them, they’re wrong, but like many people who are wrong about something, you try explaining it to them). I spared readers the reams and reams in the local press about the Japanese abducted by the DPRK. I can understand why this is a very sore point. But the Japanese press coverage (this is a mild English language version of it) was way out of proportion to the materiality of it.

        The past still does, as you say, colour so much of Japan and the relationship (both current and the sort of one potentially possible in the future) it has to the Korean peninsula.

    2. David

      Yes, it’s important to remind people that NK has the capacity to destroy a great deal of Japanese infrastructure with missiles that have been in its inventory for a good twenty years, and which nobody is talking about getting rid of. Given how densely populated Japan is (the population largely crowded into about 5% of the territory) an attack on the Tokyo-Osaka conurbation basically couldn’t avoid doing massive damage. I suspect the 1000 missile figure is for their total holdings (including short-range ones) rather than the number aimed at Japan, but even, say, a fifth or a tenth of that figure would do enormous and unacceptable damage. The Japanese have a number of Aegis-equipped destroyers (really cruisers) but it’s doubtful if they could do much to stop a large-scale attack.
      Incidentally, and reverting to nuclear missiles, the argument about whether NK has the capacity to drop one on US territory probably doesn’t have an answer, in the sense that even the NKs probably don’t really know. As PK notes above, NK may have a capability send a missile that far, but it’s not clear if it could carry a useful warhead, whether the re-entry vehicle would survive, whether the firing mechanism would work, and even whether the guidance system would be accurate to kilometers, or tens or even hundreds of kilometers. On the other hand for deterrence you don’t need certainty, just a possibility that the other side can’t discount.

      1. bronco

        If I was North Korea and I felt like attacking Japan I’d lob a missile at Fukishima . In fact drop a missile in the body of water near any nuke plant is the gift that keeps giving.

        The Pilgrim plant in plymouth Mass , 10 miles from my house for example, a pile of spent fuel supposedly bigger than is at Fukishima sitting 50 feet from the atlantic ocean .

  28. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thanks for your comment, Clive. Have been interested in Japan’s reaction to the Singapore meeting. After seeing a photo of Shinzo Abe’s face in reaction to Trump’s posture in that infamous photo of Angela Merkel addressing him at last week’s G7, would also welcome your view of the Japanese response to that G7 meeting. We are indeed living in interesting times.

  29. steven

    The extensive catalogue of US foreign policy disasters – from Korea to Iraq, Libya and Syria –are a result of this country’s pursuit of global hegemony, or what these days is officially termed the strategy of “full spectrum dominance”. I’ve been (re)reading Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (HoS). This strategy did not originate with the likes of John Bolton and G.W. Bush. And it has little, if anything, to do with legitimate national security concerns.

    In the aftermath of WWII, the US did indeed possess a de facto global hegemony, economically and militarily. However, it used that hegemony to attempt to organize the global economy to serve the interests of US businesses and investors – not to “make the world safe for democracy” or even construct a lasting framework for the implementation of collective security. The ‘crimes’ of the leaders of countries like Kim Jong Un’s predecessors (however real within their borders) were their resistance in assuming the roles assigned to them by post-WWII U.S. policy makers.

    Published in 2003, Chomsky’s HoS pretty much summarizes the state of things today:

    Eastern Russia is rich in natural resources, for which the industrial centers of Northeast Asia are the natural market. Integration would be enhanced by the economic unification of the two Koreas with gas lines passing through North Korea and extension of the trans-Siberian railroad on the same course.

    North Korea was the most dangerous and ugly member of the “axis of evil,” but lowest on the target list. Like Iran, but unlike Iraq, it failed the first of the criteria for a legitimate target: it was not defenseless. p. 151

  30. Jim A.

    The thing is, the fact that we didn’t attack NK to prevent them from developing nukes shows that they have sufficient forces to deter us without nukes. They don’t need nukes to prevent us from attacking.

  31. nilys

    When Soviet Union collapsed, Germany united; it’s USA’s turn and unification of Korea. Trump = Gorbachov, make America great again (MAGA) = perestroyca. Some say (in particular Chinese analysis), Gorbachov & Co stopped wanting to be communist and purposefully destroyed USSR, which could’ve carried on with some reforms. Question is then, 10-20 years from now, will we conclude the same for USA, ie., no MAGA was required and the USA could carry on with minor reforms, or indeed the USA could not exist anymore and had to go through MAGA.

  32. marym


    On Assignment with Richard Engel @OARichardEngel

    On a trip to Seoul after #TrumpKimSummit, @SecPompeo tells reporters the US wants “major steps” on #NorthKorea disarmament in the next 2-2.5 years. Says engagement will begin “some time in the next week or so” to drive the process forward (Link)

    On the omission of CVID from Joint Declaration, @SecPompeo said the use of the word “complete” encompassed both terms (verifiable & irreversible) “in the minds of everyone concerned.” Said he was “confident [the North Koreans] understand that there will be in-depth verification.” (Link)


    Trump Proclaims: ‘There Is No Longer A Nuclear Threat From North Korea’ that “everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.”


  33. bronco

    The pearl clutching in here is almost as bad as on cable news .

    Who cares if nothing comes of the summit , meeting , whatever its called? What did we get on the Korea front from the last 38 continous years of presidents? Bupkis .

    Obama was a fraud , Bush 2 was an idiot , Clinton was a violent rapist , bush one was a spook and Reagan was a potted plant.

    How many dead koreans , is a partisan victory du jour worth?

    Oh no what if this doesn’t work?? meh same old same old

  34. Scott1

    Post WWII the UN was created to ensure there would not be WWIII. The UN was effective during the Cold War, but has not been reinvented well enough that the Apocalyptic Riot will be deterred by it. A major example of late is the UN international banning of all nuclear weapons.

    Stalinist style propagandist & censored governments seem to all produce for their people great famines. Such has been the case for China, the USSR, and the DPRK.

    Food is the number one weapon for peace.

    It would appear that North Korea has developed for itself food security. For China to be able to reduce its own Eastern food insecurity it has an interest in greater agricultural achievements in the DPRK.

    Nations do not want to lose wars. While nuclear weapons do not mean they will necessarily win, they do mean they won’t flat out lose.
    A non nuclear world means smaller nations will lose if there is no Big Dog enforcing International Laws that censure “Wars of Aggression”.

    I judge that the world requires a New UN with an Armed Forces of its own capable and willing to enforce the Rules of War.

    As the US withdraws as an ethical beacon and supporter of a Free Press and Free Speech, for the world, it is still successful at feeding its own population and able to provide food security for those with whom it has good relations.

    It is the weapon of food it is wisest to use in the interests of peace. What you do not want is any replication of Clinton food policies as demonstrated in Haiti. No matter what the Clinton Unit says, that Administration did more to advance mobster financial engineering that has led to despicable triumphs of Finance and poverty, desperation and wage slavery.

    Instead of demanding inspections of nuclear weapons development and delivery sites in the DPRK, I suggest approaching Kim Jong un with the means and systems that would turn it into an exporter of food to Eastern China.
    P.S. I try to honor the memory and work of the late Chairman of the French UN Association and career French Diplomat Andre` Lewin. His plans for the Reinvention of the UN are the very best. Before his death in 2012 he argued that it was wiser to reinvent the UN than attempt to build another Institution of Peace. I have come to judge it so that now demands the invention of a second UN built along the lines laid down in Ambassador Lewin` points as condensed in the March 15 2003 NYTs. I have his complete White Paper “Improve the UN or Build another Institution”.
    When we ban Nuclear Weapons, or make the attempt to do so, we must address the reason for them. The reason to have nukes is to kill tank crews. The implication is clearly that regulating both is required in the pursuit of a peace that is not broken so much as to be the Apocalyptic Riot.

    1. bronco

      Create a group , put it in charge of something , give it no actual authority or power over anything and stuff it full of useless eaters and charlatans . Then let it provide cover for all sorts of looting by the usual suspects. Its real mission is merely to exist and siphon money and accomplish nothing.

      Remember when people thought the olympics were some sort of noble enterprise ? Then we discovered that there was doping , and cronyism , and crooked judging of events , and dueling boycotts , and the cities that hosted the games had to bribe the hell out of everyone involved and still wound up bankrupt afterwards?

      Remember how the american skier who came in in 43rd out of 45 was doing everything for his sisters daughters ex-roomate who had the cancer? It was heartbreaking and probably all a lie, like the UN pretty much.

      But then I remember all those african genocides the UN prevented…… oh wait nope

    2. bronco

      when you say the reason we have nuclear weapons is to kill tank crews , thats silly. The only nukes designed to merely kill tank crews were the neutron bomb or “enhanced radiation” warheads.

      They are a nonsensical weapon that no one has deployed except in anti ballistic missiles because the theory makes no sense.

      A dying crew inside a newly radioactive tank if anything would probably fight harder.

  35. Altandmain

    There is one other thing that folks here on NC should remember – during the Korean War, the US completely destroyed North Korea.

    This is how the North Koreans see the US.

    At this point, some type of negotiation is the only thing. I think as well that some form of apology should be in order.

    Not saying that the North Koreans are perfect (far from it – they are an authoritarian regime and I doubt Kim cares about his citizens’ well-being), but the US has a lot of blood on its hands.

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