Wednesday, August 9, 2017


North Korea knows that it is largely unascertained but to itself. Therein, in its many "unknowns", lies part of its strength. 

Since it is supposed to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead, it is considered to have increased incrementally its nefarious potential. President Trump, misreading as usual the unanimous Security Council resolution condemning the DPRK, as an American win, went immediately into a form of hyperventilating outburst. In this he emulated the usual grotesque performance of some North Korean TV anchor running amok. After his "fire and fury" menace, he lowered the tone by way of one of his usual twitter "sermons" to the faithful.

This flare-up requires a more informed, cool moment of Zen.  All the more so that , contrary to Bismarck's goal for Germany then, the United States does not have "better relations with all powers than any of them have with each other". Besides, Pyongyang remains a cipher for all. I remember how Chinese diplomats admitted being perplexed when having to come to terms with the vagaries of the Kim dynasty. They were unable to find a rational for the Pavlovian mindset on their northern borders. They feared most of all an upheaval which could lead to a major refugee crisis and a geopolitical earthquake, with unforeseeable consequences for China, South Korea and Japan.

Trump's America is not Asia's favorite partner but for some it remains an indispensable ally, albeit subject to scrutiny. The megaphone of the US president does not agree with the Asian ways. Obviously diplomacy remains the only choice. Since diplomats tend by nature to be open to dialogue, Kim Jong-Un should not be deprived of an opportunity to engage. The American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has made the right moves in this regard. All interested parties will agree on such an approach. Obviously, the right format for any direct talks will be a negotiation before the negotiation. The word "freeze" coming too soon would sink the ship before it leaves the harbor!

Military action is unwelcome, mostly because it might have apocalyptic consequences. In case of a high probability threat, an American preemptive or punitive measure could come under the guise of cyber sabotage which would derail North Korea's strategic "grid".  Further sanctions, measures, intercepting or destroying a non-nuclear ICBM over international waters, would have to take into account the views of mostly Seoul and Tokyo. An American over-reaction would unsettle (to say it mildly) the US alliance with South Korea. A nuclear ICBM launched by North Korea against a US target would be met with a devastating superior retaliation. What would the American choice of action be if Pyongyang were to attack the South with conventional weapons?

There are many informed US diplomats and military strategists who can reign in Trump's dangerous alpha male reactive personaAt a time like this it is important to remain able to deescalate and to revive the "grand bargain".  It is likewise necessary to be aware of historical precedents. Vietnam taught us that "nationalism" and a sense of "self" are able to overcome quantitative and qualitative disadvantage. The parades who march in Pyongyang are by themselves misleading, insofar as robots can become freedom fighters when a totalitarian regime is able to pull the strings of pride and nationalism. 

It is time to think out of the old box and examine how to restart talks. Unfortunately, there is no Kissinger, no Le Duc Tho, to disentangle this Gordian knot.  Maybe out of this current danger zone there could be born an opportunity for a pan-Asian normalization and a revisiting of nuclear non-proliferation. Seoul's wish to give the sunshine policy a new lease should be encouraged.  But, it remains that President Trump is the most unqualified, uninformed American president to engage in an empirical long-term mind game.

No comments:

Post a Comment