Before it’s too late

It would be nice to think that a Trump summit with Kim will lead to nuclear disarmament.

US flies bombers over North Korea (photo credit: REUTERS)
US flies bombers over North Korea
(photo credit: REUTERS)
First, North Korea’s violently ruthless dictator Kim Jong-un offered to meet directly with US President Donald Trump, apparently to deescalate tensions between his regime and the US.
Now, Kim – who like his father and grandfather before him promotes a personality cult – is claiming that the North intends to suspend nuclear and missile tests and scrap its nuclear test site. Instead, Kim says, North Korea will be pursuing economic growth and peace.
Yeah, right.
The question is whether the tough economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration are enough to coerce Kim to dismantle his country’s nuclear capabilities.
If they are, it could lead to a similar strategy being used against Iran. But we are skeptical.
True, Kim did complain during a New Year’s speech of “difficult living conditions” for his people under “life-threatening sanctions.” However, Kim’s totalitarian regime has been starving North Koreans for decades. According to a UN report, food distribution is used as “a means of control over the population,” in which people who are deemed more politically useful get priority over others.
The report also found that the totalitarian regime – which has been described by Western visitors as eerily similar to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 – prioritizes military spending over feeding its people. Confronted with a trade-off between buying the military capability that keeps dictators like himself in power and the spending on the welfare of his people, Kim’s choice is no choice at all.
For both the madmen of Kim’s regime and the Mullahs of Iran, the Libya precedent has become a Dictatorship 101 class on what not to do. Muammar Qaddafi’s fateful decision, in the wake of the US-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq, to give up his weapons of mass destruction and halt his nuclear arms development program, ultimately led to his downfall. Had Qaddafi maintained WMDs, the coalition forces would probably have never attacked for fear the Libyan dictator would unleash a nuclear response.
In Pyongyang’s view – and in the view of the Islamic Republic – the Libyans foolishly disarmed in exchange for promises of economic benefits. Once they were defenseless, the West turned on them. Neither North Korea nor Iran will willingly make the same mistake.
But our view is based on normative thinking about rational cost-benefit considerations. Perhaps Trump, by all accounts an unconventional, quixotic leader and a self-styled master negotiator, will be able to convince the North Koreans there is a credible possibility the US will attack if it does not make concessions. Trump might succeed in conveying this to Kim if, or when, the two men meet.
Then again, the “crazy American president” strategy might also backfire. Escalation could play into the hands of Kim. China has already deployed 300,000 troops and missile batteries along its border with the North. And it is safe to assume that the Americans, who after Iraq and Afghanistan have no desire for another war abroad, would be the first to back down in a game of chicken with North Korea. The threat of a nuclear Armageddon, the accompanying humanitarian horrors – including millions of Koreans rushing the border with China and Russia and the possible outbreak of a Third World War – could lead to inordinate pressure on Trump to negotiate a deal with the North Koreans, with terms that would likely benefit them.
It would be nice to think that a Trump summit with Kim will lead to nuclear disarmament. However, the reality is that once a totalitarian regime obtains nuclear capability, there is little that can be done – short of a military attack – to stop the threat of mass destruction and death.
That’s why it is imperative that Iran, which has yet to obtain nuclear capability, be stopped before it does. America’s clash with North Korea and the pessimistic forecasts for the future should serve as a warning: Once a regime like North Korea has a nuclear bomb it might be too late to talk about nuclear disarmament. Not only does Kim have no incentive to disarm, he knows that doing so might be his demise.