By Juha Hemanus
UX Designer, Polical Analyst, Producer
Mar 11, 2018 – 4 min read
Everybody following politics has, over the last few days, been astonished by the news of the upcoming summit of North Korean and U.S. leaders. There really is good reason to be amazed.
Photos of friendly talks between Kim Jong-un and the South Korean delegation and a common dinner “crowned with endless bottles of wine and soju” have been distributed through Western photo agencies only as recently as March 5. We were told that Kim during this visit expressed his desire to meet with Donald Trump and that the well-meaning South Korean delegation rushed almost directly from Pyongyang to tell Washington the great news. And, we have been told, Trump at once caught the ball, that is to say, accepted the invite, and this news was immediately released to the public as a great victory.
Although this certainly is not the whole truth – it is easy to guess something has been going on behind the scenes, at least between the Koreans – it still seems that the preparatory time for the meeting is just too short. It’s not many months since North Korea still test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan to the Pacific and since Kim and Trump defamed each other with pretty vulgar expressions, bragged about the size of their nuclear button and other astonishing rhetoric.
After that, Kim, with a witty propaganda campaign and a cute pack of cheerleaders at the South Korean Winter Olympics, succeeded in launching another ebb in the tense politics with the South – ebb that South Korea once again eagerly grabbed. The United States has undoubtedly behind the scenes kept on driving its vague stick-carrot policy, echoed last year with Secretary of State using diplomatic terms trying to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, whilst President Trump at the same time bellowed his insults on Kim on Twitter, as we’ve come to expect from him.
If the meeting really will take place before summer, the air is filled with question marks up to the meeting. What is happening? What does each party want, what will they try to achieve? Above all, what are their strategies, during the meeting and beyond? One high-level meeting does not solve all the political and military problems on the entire Korean Peninsula that’ve been flaming and brewing for over half a century. But the opportunity is, in its uniqueness, too valuable for both parties to be let slip away.
What makes us feel uncertain is the short preparation time and hasty announcement. Of course, the White House wants to do everything different from their predecessors, at the expense of the substance, starting from gaining easy victories in public. It’s there North Korea wants to strike, in the Oval Office’s inexperience, impulsiveness, appetite for fast winning deals. Tillerson just a moment ago reported that "the meeting came as a surprise to the United States". This is a very rare public statement from the US Secretary of State. With the intelligence like that of the US, nothing should come as a surprise. Tillerson's statement can be read as covert criticism of Trump - Trump abruptly accepted the unexpected meeting request, which to Tillerson came as a complete surprise.
Neither can Kim brag about his foreign policy experience. But with culture he can, with a millennial Korean spiritual culture, history of moral and habits – as well as with a dynasty of Stalinist dictatorship that has been up for over 70 years, passed from father to son to grandson.
An inexperienced grandfather like Trump and inexperienced grandson like Kimi are a dangerous combination, each one equally frightening. Clumsiness, aggressiveness, cold-blooded disregard for others, both own people and foreigners, are trademarks of both, and it’s scary.
It is clear that North Korea only has something to gain here, and a mere meeting is an unprecedented victory for Kim. The United States, on the other hand, has far more to lose. One might think that the only potential victory for the U.S. would be having Kim abandon his nuclear weapons. But why would he do that? Creating an intercontinental nuclear deterrent has been the cornerstone of the entire Kim Dynasty policy for a long time, and one of its major goals has been to be treated as an equal player at the same negotiating table with the US head of state.
An even scarier dimension of this unexpected high-level encounter, however, is this: the aftercare of expectations and outcomes. Notwithstanding the immediate outcome of the meeting, it is really impossible to imagine that both parties would fly - or travel with an armored train! - home happy and then work together in accordance with the agreed rules of the game.
Psychologically speaking, at least one of the two - if not both? - heads of state will undergo feelings of trial and error, temptation and frustration, uncertainty, disappointment, redesign of strategy, abandonment, abolishment, silence, rage. Which one? Perhaps we’ll see?
Only after the meeting, the true weight of Korean historic patience and its nuclear deterrent, as well as American decisiveness and modern strategic intelligence will be measured. A hastily accepted, poorly prepared and set up meeting between novices of world politics - especially when one has a brand new, powerful negotiating asset - can only lead to bad consequences.
Even more sinister is the general uncertainty about the level of expertise of the advisors for both sides? An enlightened guess is that North Korea as the initiator has been able to prepare for the upcoming meeting much more carefully and thoroughly than the United States.
“Peace for Our Time”, said Lord Chamberlain, returning to London from the Munich Summit with Hitler, Mussolini and Daladier in 1938. But the aftercare of that grand meeting did not succeed, anything else but that. That phrase, burnt in the memory of every European school kid as an ominous example of empty semantics - does that phrase resonate in the Oval Office, what was it really all about?