Thursday, May 24, 2018
When Trump Cancelled the June 12 Summit, He Started a Walk Down a Longer, More Winding, but Potentially More successful Road to a North Korea Accord
THE NEWS TODAY IS PRESIDENT TRUMP'S CANCELLATION OF THE NORTH KOREA SUMMIT. It was the right thing to do. • • • THE PRESIDENT CALLS THE SUMMIT "INAPPROPRIATE." At this time. Fox News reported the cancellation : "President Trump on Thursday canceled the highly anticipated summit with North Korea that had been set for next month, calling the talks “inappropriate” following the “hostility” displayed in the latest comments from dictator Kim Jong-un. The move to pull out of the summit, slated to take place in Singapore on June 12, came after threats from Kim to call off the talks. In a letter to Kim on Thursday, Trump said the world, and North Korea, had lost a "great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity." • In his letter to Kim, President Trump wrote : “Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.” • President Trump's pull-out follows the antics of North Korea senior leaders and Kim himself in recent weeks, questioning from their side whether the summit would go forward. The last straw may have come on Thursday when Vice Minister of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, Choe Son Hui, also said that whether the US "will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States," according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. Choe also insulted Vice President Pence after he said North Korea had asked for the meeting, reportedly saying : "As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice president." • But, Trump officials told Fox News that it was the threat of nuclear war -- not the insult to Pence -- that led to the summit pullout. Trump himself tweeted : "Sadly, I was forced to cancel the Summit Meeting in Singapore with Kim Jung-un. In the letter to Kim, the President wrote : "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used. If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is truly a sad moment in history.” In the letter ,President trump also expressed his gratitude for the release of the three American hostages from North Korea earlier this month : “I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated.” • Secretary Pompeo, who had met with Kim in North Korea, testified on Capitol Hill Thursday before the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committe, to discuss the State Department's budget as the news from the White House broke. Pompeo said : "I can add, over past many days, that we have endeavored to do what Kim and I agreed, put teams together in advance of the summit, and we received no response from North Korea. The American team was rocking, were ready, and fully prepared for this meeting." Pompeo added that there was "little doubt" that Kim understood "the scope" of what the US was requesting : "We made this abundantly clear through multiple channels. I regreat statements North Korea made over the past few days, and that we haven't been able to conduct prep necessary for a successful summit." • The summit was going to come after the “historic meeting” between North and South Korea last month, as leaders from the two nations pledged to clear the peninsula of nuclear weapons, with Moon and Kim saying they would work to achieve a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” and also expressed hope to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War by the end of the year. It is not clear now what steps the leaders will take to achieve denuclearization. • Not only has Kim been harassing Vice President Pence and the US, Kim also canceling a high-level summit with Moon, following US-South Korean military exercises, which the state-run Korean media outlet suggested were a rehearsal for a potential invasion of the North. • Speaking like a normal person and not a diplomat, President Trump said : "In the end, it will work out. I can't tell you how or why, but in the end it will work out. It always does." • That comment does nto mean that the President is sitting back waiting. Immediately after the announcement of the cancellation, Trump that the US would continue its "maximum pressure campaign," and warned that the military was "ready if necessary" -- but made clear that a summit could still go forward if Kim Jong-un is willing to engage constructively. The President reminded Kim that : "Our military, which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world..is ready if necessary. Likewise, I’ve spoken with South Korea and Japan, and they are not only ready should foolish or reckless acts be taken by North Korea, but they’re willing to shoulder much of the costs associated by operations if such an unfortunate situation is forced upon us.” The President added that the “very strong sanctions” and the “maximum pressure campaign will continue.” • South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Trump at the White House on Monday, convened an emergency meeting with top security aides on Thursday following Trump's announcement, and expressed “deep regret” over the canceled US-North Korea summit. Fox News says that SK's Yonhap news agency has reported that Moon urged the two leaders to engage in direct talks. Moon said the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula should not be delayed. • • • KIM DISMANTLES THE NUCLEAR TEST SITE. The National Review's Jack Crowe reported on Thursady that : "North Korea demolished its nuclear-testing site Thursday, following through on an April pledge by Kim Jong-un that came amid renewed relations between the South and North. Roughly two-dozen journalists from five nations witnessed the explosive demolition at the Punggye-ri nuclear-test site, though no experts, investigators, or South Korean media were permitted to attend....The North maintains that it no longer needs the test site because it has completed its nuclear development. But the gesture has been widely interpreted as a show of good faith made amid a series of conciliatory gestures, including the release of three American hostages held in North Korea earlier this month. The lack of experts present at the demolition obscured its overall impact on North Korean capabilities, but the Associated Press, which had reporters on the ground, suggested that the demolition could likely be reversed if the Kim regime wanted to begin testing missiles at the site again." • Crowe says : "The Punggye-ri site has seen six nuclear tests since 2006, the most recent of which took place in September and featured a two-stage thermonuclear bomb vastly more powerful than anything previously tested by North Korea." • Now we have to consider why Kim went ahead with the "demolition" of the Punggye-ri nuclear tezst site. Was it becausehte site was so badly damaged by the earthquake precipitated by NK's las nuclear test that it would have been demolished in any case -- and so Kim was simply making a propaganda silk purse out of the pig's ear that Punggye-ri had become? Has Kim built another underground site that, like Iran's, would be harder to detect or destroy by bombing -- it seems likely that such a move would have been detected by satellite imaging, but perhaps it's possible. Or, more ominously, has China or Russia agreed to take over the nuclear testing for Kim, so that he could posture that NK's nuclear test capacity was destroyed, all the while contniuing the work in China or Russia? I have no idea, but it seems that with all the renewed blustering NK is engaged in now, it would not be demolishing a nuclear test facility wihtout having cover for testing elsewhere -- unless, of course, Kim is telling the truth when he says hte test site is no longer needed because hte nuclear tests are complete and the nuclear ballistic warhead technology is ready for use. This is what Nathioal Review's David French thinks. • • • IS IT BETTER NOT TO A HAVE A SUMMIT WITH KIM? On Thursday, the National Review published an article by David French titled "Good Riddance to the North Korea Summit." French writes : "It was a bad idea from the start, and Trump must hold firm to his decision to cancel it. Here’s the good news about the planned summit with North Korea: It’s canceled -- for now, at least." • I enjoy reading French. He is a lucid thinker who pushes all the right buttons -- but somehow his conclusions wobble. • In this case, one might ask if French would be so bellicose if he lived in Seoul or Tokyo instead of on the East Coast of the United States. • Here is David French's reasoning : "First, from the beginning this summit was predicated on North Korean strength, not American threats. It was going to be Kim’s crowning glory, the moment when the North Korean people assumed their rightful place at the center of the world stage, the fulfillment of juche, the North Korean ideology of self-reliance and cultural superiority. Think of it this way : If North Korea hadn’t successfully tested more-powerful bombs and longer-range missiles, would an American President even have considered a summit? If North Korea hadn’t demonstrated that it’s on the verge of possessing a truly potent nuclear deterrent, would the world have obsessed over Kim’s visits to China and South Korea? And if the entire summit was based on North Korea’s nuclear prowess, would the nation ever have entered into a binding, enforceable agreement to give away the keys to its national greatness? It seems unlikely, to say the least." • David Franch goes on to say that North Korea was : "already using the summit to leverage concessions. It was an ominous sign when the US canceled a training exercise involving B-52 bombers. South Korean officials had reportedly 'expressed concerns' that the exercise could raise tensions before the summit. It’s routine for North Korea to demand the cancellation of joint military exercises with South Korea. It’s not routine for the US and South Korea to acquiesce to those demands." • French suggests that while the US can point to small victories in advance of the summit -- notably the release of the three US captives -- the "show of blowing up its lone nuclear-test site -- after, of course, it successfully tested multiple bombs. Once you know your technology works, continued nuclear testing isn’t necessary. America’s last nuclear test was in 1992, almost 26 years ago. He also states that :"there are multiple signs that the United States and South Korea aren’t united in purpose or strategy. Seoul is uncomfortable with Trump’s bellicosity, and if the South isn’t prepared for military confrontation, then courting conflict is almost comically reckless, and Pyongyang knows it. After all, South Korea controls the vast bulk of allied forces on the Korean peninsula, and military action taken over its objection, while certainly possible, would create grave risks on the ground." • David French right that President Trump and SK president Moon are not in sync. On Thursday, the President said he had talked to both South Korea and Japan before sending th cnacellation letter to Kim, and the leaders of both countries agreed that it was the right thing to do and are prepared to use military options, to quote Trump : "they are not only ready should foolish or reckless acts be taken by North Korea, but they’re willing to shoulder much of the costs associated by operations if such an unfortunate situation is forced upon us.” I don't find it credible that President Trump would, as French puts it : "enter a summit with our own ally weakening our bargaining position? If so, we were increasing the odds of a bad deal, and potentially enabling North Korean threats." • It is far more likely that, living daily in the shadow of a reckless North Korean nuclear assault, AND the increasingly strident aggressiveness of China in the South China Sea and elsewhere in East Asia, South Korea and Japan are anxious to know that Trump and the US military have not become "peaceniks at any cost." • • • A CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN ECONOMIST LOOKS AT NORTH KOREA. Nicholas Eberstadt -- an American political economist at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote on Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal that North Korea has been using its standard “shakedown techniques...honed to perfection by three generations of regime negotiators.” In short, says French, quoting Eberstadt :"North Korea was not going to agree to denuclearization. It was going to make whatever vague statements it needed to make to secure economic relief and a temporary reprieve from military threats. Under such circumstances, something like the terrible Iran deal was the best case for the summit, and even that seemed unlikely." • Eberstadt wrote a long piece about the history of North Korea under the Kim dynasty for Commontary Magazine on January 16. You can read the entire essay at < https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/method-north-koreas-madness/ > and it is well worhtthe time to do that. • Eberstadt's point is that the revival of the North Korean economy under the direction of Kim Jong-un has been "sufficiently strong to permit a dramatic ramp-up in the tempo of his nation’s race to amass a credible nuclear arsenal and develop functional intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland. That is, of course, the express and stated objective of the program. Pyongyang today appears to be perilously close to achieving its aim -- much closer now, indeed, than complacent Western intelligence assessments had presumed would be possible by this juncture. But then, North Korea is full of surprises for foreign observers." That said, Eberstadt describes the current NK economic situation as "pitiably decrepit, horribly distorted, and desperately dependent on outside support. Recent estimates suggest that its annual merchandise exports do not reach even 1% of the level generated by its nemesis, South Korea....As Kim Jong-un took office, the planned economy was no longer functioning, and to make matters worse, North Korea’s limited market sector was beset by galloping and seemingly unstoppable inflation. His father had experimented with a limited monetization of North Korea’s tiny consumer sector in 2002 but botched it -- and only made matters worse with a surprise 2009 'currency reform' that effectively confiscated private holdings above $100, drastically degrading the already low credibility of the won. From this unpromising beginning, Kim Jong-un has proved a relative success in delivering economic results in North Korea. There is evidence that the North Korean economy has enjoyed some measure of growth, macroeconomic stabilization, and even development under his aegis...Construction cranes are whirring, and whole new sections of the city have risen up. Traffic jams now sometimes clog 'Pyonghattan’s' vast, previously empty boulevards. Expensive restaurants and shops purveying luxury goods increasingly dot the capital, and their customers are mainly locals, not foreigners. The upsurge in prosperity and living standards evident in Pyongyang is reportedly reflected, albeit to a more modest degree, in other urban centers as well. Furthermore, in sharp contrast to previous North Korean trends, or other earlier Soviet-type economies, the country today not only displays considerable marketization but also market stability....North Korea now has a stable currency that is convertible into hard currencies. Likewise, the domestic price of rice in North Korean markets suddenly stopped soaring five years ago and has been in the vicinity of 5,000 won per kilogram ever since. Whatever else one may say of these new domestic price signals from Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, they are not what one would expect to see from an economy in mounting crisis and disarray." Eberstadt states that : "In the military realm, nuke and missile testing has accelerated. In the 13 years between Kim Jong Il’s first Taepo Dong test and his death, North Korea launched three long-range rockets and detonated two atomic devices. Kim Jong-un has been in power just over six years; his regime has already set off four nuclear tests and shot off more than a dozen long-range missiles....this sharp acceleration would seem to betoken a major new infusion of resources into programs already long accorded a top priority by the North Korean state. Without a bigger economic pie and substantially greater funding sources, it is hard to see how Pyongyang could have pulled this off." • All this said, Eberstadt reminds us that "North Korea is still shockingly unproductive, still punching far below its weight, still nowhere near self-sustaining growth. Kim Jong-un’s boundless self-indulgence is manifest in costly vanity projects like a spanking-new “ski lift to nowhere” resort, Masikryong, a venture otherwise inexplicable save perhaps for the memories of childhood days in Switzerland that it might elicit. But by distancing himself from his father’s most economically destructive policies and practices, and navigating into previously uncharted waters of economic pragmatism, Kim Jong-un has opened up heretofore ungraspable opportunities for raising living standards and building military power at one and the same time. Thus the name of his signature policy: byungjin, or 'simultaneous pursuit.' In short order after his ascension, Kim Jong-un demoted -- or killed -- most of the Dear Leader’s closest cadres and confidants. And less than five months after assuming power -- at a ceremony commemorating his grandfather’s 100th birthday in April 2012 -- he made an astounding declaration, coming as it did from North Korea’s supreme ruler: “It is our party’s resolute determination to let our people…not tighten their belts again.” Translation: This is no longer your father’s dictatorship; aspiration for personal betterment is no longer a counterrevolutionary act of treason." • Trusting that Eberstadt knows what is happening in North Korea, he describes an economy that souns similar to the Chinese economy when it was first released from strict Maoist communist principles in the early 1980s : "Today it is all but impossible to get by in North Korea on state-supplied provisions alone—and a wide array of goods and services, both foreign and domestic, are available for money in North Korean markets. Although formally prohibited, even real estate is for sale throughout the country, with a vibrant market for private flats in Pyongyang. And a wealthy marketeering caste has arisen: donju, or 'money masters,' stereotypically a well-connected official and his enterprising wife, who use political influence as well as entrepreneurial savvy to enter this nouveau riche North Korean elite. In case you were wondering: Yes, corruption is rife in North Korean markets. It is the necessary lubricant for all North Korean private commerce. In addition, the government expects a big cut, and such funds have been integral to the recovery of the North Korean state." • Eberstadt notes that : "Preferential trade ties with China are pretty much the only game in town for Pyongyang these days. With the virtual shutdown of South Korea’s politically subsidized inter-Korean trade in 2016 following accusations that money from the Kaesong project was being used to fund the North’s missile program, China may now account for close to 90% of North Korea’s international commercial-merchandise trade turnover. And North Korea always receives much more than it gives in its arrangement with China, year after year....Since 2015, official Chinese numbers suggest that Beijing’s de facto aid is down -- but these look like figures deliberately fudged in the face of mounting international demands for sanctions against North Korea. It is at the very least possible that important aspects of Chinese support for the North Korean economy or its defense industries have not yet come to light. Given what is already known, though, it is indisputable that deals with China under the two latest Kims have been key to reviving North Korea’s heavy industrial sector. (For the year 2016, China reported shipping over three-quarters of a billion dollars of machinery and transport equipment to North Korea, 10 times the volume in 2003, when the six-party talks commenced.)....Apart from its Chinese lifeline, North Korea’s other main sources of international support come from “outlaw” forays into the world economy -- including activities tantamount to state-sponsored organized-crime operations. These shady dealings typically attempt to generate revenues for the state that avoid international detection, often relying on the special protections and prerogatives of a sovereign state for cover....In recent years, for example, Pyongyang has made unknown millions abroad from what we might call its own style of human trafficking : profiting off the tens of thousands of workers in labor gangs it has sent to China, Russia, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe. No less inventive has been Pyongyang’s apparent monetization of its growing capacity for cyberwarfare through international bank robbery. In 2016, 'unknown' hackers relieved the Central Bank of Bangladesh of $81 million in a spectacular heist; in late 2017, similar cyber-fingerprints were detected in a theft of $60 million from a bank in Taiwan. These are just two of many 'hit and runs' orchestrated under the Kim Jong-un crime family....Then there is North Korea’s signature global service industry : WMD proliferation. For obvious reasons, most of this work never makes the news. No one outside Kim Jong-un’s court probably knows just how much this nefarious business is bringing in these days. These unobservable flows, however, may be consequential. Consider this : Barely weeks after Teheran inked its September 2012 Scientific Cooperation Agreement with Pyongyang, the won suddenly ended its decade-long freefall and finally achieved exchange-rate stability. North Korea may have had additional, still concealed, operations that were also paying off at the same time as that Iranian deal, of course. But either way, the deal clearly marked a turning point in North Korea’s macroeconomic fortunes, and the stabilization of exchange rates and domestic cereal prices probably could not have occurred without an open spigot of foreign cash." • But, Eberstadt is a realist about Kim : "While we should recognize the existence of this economic upswing we should also keep its scale in perspective. All one need do is consider the sad, stunning space photos of North Korea at night -- the satellite shots revealing a territory almost pitch-black, while the rest of Northeast Asia is glowing with light. They attest better than any available statistics to the limits of economic recovery under Kim Jong-un. Among the other implications of that space imagery, the North simply does not have the pocketbook for a wholesale modernization of its conventional army and a nuke-missile program. For now at least, most of the military’s equipment, apart from critical nuclear-related pockets like submarine production, remains outdated and ill-suited for the tasks originally assigned. Today, Kim Jong-un cannot credibly threaten to roll in and occupy South Korea. But Kim Jong-un is on track to manufacture enough nuclear matches to burn the place down, with Tokyo and Washington thrown in for good measure, in the foreseeable future." • • • DEAR READERS, given all Eberstadt can tell us about the North Korean economy and military, we need to ask what America and the world community can do to keep Pyongyang from reaching its ultimate nuclear objectives through a real economic-pressure campaign? There are many unknowns -- how close NK is to perfecting its weaponization of ballistic missiles, how many nuclear weapons NK currently possesses, what size are NK’s strategic inventories and reserves. But, a determined and cooperative international campaign of trade and financial sanctions, led by America and ruthlessly executed, beginning now could, Eberstadt believes, "significantly slow the pace of Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear-ballistic march. And...a serious sanctions campaign could eventually promise the effective suffocation of the entire North Korean military economy." • Eberstadt starts with the recognition that "economic pressure will not alter the intentions of the Kim family regime -- ever. We must dispense with the fantasy, still inexplicably maintained in various esteemed diplomatic circles and Western universities, that Pyongyang can somehow be pressured -- or bribed -- at this late stage into changing its mind about its multi-decade march to a credible nuke and missile arsenal. There is no 'bringing North Korea back to the table' that ends with comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. Period." • Then we need those sanctions ot continue and be even more severe. Eberstadt says : "Kim Jong-un has not yet faced anything even remotely resembling an international campaign of 'maximum economic pressure.' The continuing stability of North Korea’s foreign exchange rate and domestic food prices pointedly suggest international sanctions have not yet greatly impacted North Korea. But few foreign-policy experts, and even fewer general readers, seem aware of how flimsy were the array of sanctions imposed on North Korea by the UN and US during the George W. Bush and Obama years....In the final year of the Obama administration, according to Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, fewer entities and individuals from North Korea were under US Treasury Department sanction than those from seven other countries, including Zimbabwe and Sudan. While the Trump administration has been much more serious about sanctioning North Korea, Ruggiero testified that as of late summer 2017, North Korea nonetheless remained less sanctioned than either Syria or Iran....As 2018 commences, three big changes augur well for the prospect of devastating 'shock and awe' sanctions against the North Korean system....The new sanctions...ban all industrial imports by North Korea, severely cut permitted energy imports, and require UN member governments to 'seize, inspect, and freeze' vessels violating some of the new restrictions....In late 2017, the US Treasury announced new and much more sweeping authority for North Korea sanctions, granting US officials wide discretion to impose what are known as “secondary sanctions.” Henceforth any business or person engaging in any kind of commercial or financial transactions with North Korea could be severely penalized, with punishments including fines, seizure or forfeiture of assets, prohibition against any commerce in or with the US, and being cut off from the worldwide clearing system for dollar-based financial settlements. Finally, and by no means unrelated to these other changes, is the third change: the advent of the Trump administration. Under President Trump and his team, there appears to be a qualitative change in America’s North Korea policy -- one that accords the North Korean threat a higher priority, and more unblinking attention, than it has been granted by any of Trump’s predecessors. The White House calls this new approach to North Korea a policy of 'maximum pressure.'...Trump’s address before South Korea’s National Assembly last November on the North Korea problem was the most incisive, and moving, statement on the topic ever delivered by an American president. Whatever else may be said of him, Trump is keenly aware that the North Korean threat he inherited was allowed to fester and worsen under each of the four men in the Oval Office immediately before him. He appears to have no intention of continuing that tradition." • There is also the diplomatic task : confronting China and Russia about their continuing financial malfeasance on North Korea. Eberstadt says : "The scope and scale of China’s furtive support for North Korea dwarfs Russia’s, of course -- but that is no reason to give the Kremlin a pass. These two states have long been playing a double game -- one that must come to an end starting now....If the Kremlin and Beijing believe we mean business, they will have reason to suppress illicit deals with North Korea -- but convincing them we mean business is our responsibility. Washington has been curiously hesitant here, possibly for fear that Beijing or the Kremlin, or both, would respond by sabotaging any further UN sanctions. But we now have pretty much what we need from UN resolutions for a campaign of “maximum economic pressure” on North Korea—so the time for horse-trading and slow-walking is over. And while we are at it, these governments’ official economic support for North Korea shouldn’t be off the table. Isn’t it time to spotlight and track those flows, too?" • As Eberstadt points out, these economic sanctions and counter-proliferation targets are critical, because if they fail to stop North Korea, then "we enter into a new world with darker and much less pleasant options." President Trump has been trying to reassure Kim that North Korea will be protected and flourish if he concludes the kind of verifiable accord with the US, South Korea and Japan that Trump seeks. To stonewall President Trump and invite these tough sanctions would undoubtedly pull North Korea back into famine and human suffering on a huge scale. There will also undoubtedly be more ballistic missiles overflying Japan and heading toward the US West Coast. These two prongs of squeezing Kim into submission are real, and Trump must prepare himself and the world to endure them. As unlikely as it is that Kim Jong-un would resort to the use of nuclear weapons, no matter how bad things get for him under a tightening US-led international noose, there is always miscalculation, technology errors, and the possibility of a North Korean Dr. Strangelove general with a button. President Trump has taken the first step down this longer, more winding, but eventually more successful road by cancelling the June 12 summit. The next step is not only Kim's. It is also Trump's. Now is the time to unleash Secretary of State Pompeo, national security advisor Bolton, Defense Secretary Mattis and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to bring the world into the fold -- in real-time, and not just for photo-op occasions.