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The Singapore Summit

If the Singapore meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un had been a zero-sum game, then Trump definitely lost. But maybe it wasn’t.

Kim got a meeting with Trump on terms of strict equality right down to the number of flags on display, which is a huge boost for his regime’s claim to legitimacy. He persuaded Trump to end America’s annual joint military exercises with South Korea (and even got Trump to call them ‘war games’ and say they were ‘provocative’, which no US spokesperson has ever done before).

And he got Trump to accept North Korea’s deliberately vague language about the “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, with no specific reference to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, let alone any talk of dismantling them. In fact, the agreement they signed talked about “re-affirming” North Korea’s denuclearisation pledge, so obviously no progress there.

This is several light-years distant from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s pre-summit definition of the US goal as “permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction,” which must happen “without delay.”

There’s no cause for surprise here. Trump is not a great deal-maker; he’s a man who is accomplished at playing the role of a great deal-maker. The reality is more like the contract he signed with Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’, the book that made him famous: 50% of the advance, 50% of royalties, and equal billing on the cover. Schwartz was as surprised and pleased then as Kim undoubtedly is now.

If Trump had had a little more time in Singapore, he could have bought a T-shirt saying ‘My president went to Singapore and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ and taken it home to give to the American people.

He would have needed a bigger apology-gift for the South Korean government, which was blindsided by Trump’s spur-of-the-moment promise to stop the joint military exercises. “We need to find out the exact meaning or intention behind his comments at this point,” Seoul said in an unmistakably sulky tone of voice. (Seoul’s mistake is to assume that Trump himself knew his “exact meaning or intention.”)

But this was not really a negotiation. It was a show, staged for the benefit of the two main participants, and they both got what they came for. They were bound to get it, since they had the power to define the meeting as either a success or a failure. Naturally, they said it was a success – but that doesn’t mean it was actually a failure.

All this zero-sum game nonsense is irrelevant to what is really happening here, or at least could happen in the months to come: the gradual acceptance by the United States that North Korea is irreversibly a nuclear weapons power, although a small one, and the negotiation of some basic rules for this new relationship between two nuclear powers of radically different size.

Diplomatic and military experts have been saying for years that there is no way that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons. The whole country lived on short rations for a generation to get them, and Kim is well aware of what happened to dictators who didn’t have nukes, like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

The experts are right, but they do not see this situation as necessarily a cause for panic. After all, more evenly matched pairs of nuclear powers, like India and Pakistan, or the United States and Russia, have managed to avoid nuclear war for decades. Nuclear deterrence, as Bernard Brodie pointed out more than 70 years ago, works even when there is a huge disparity in the number of weapons possessed by the two sides.

If North Korea has even a marginal ability to destroy one US city with a nuclear weapon, the United States is effectively deterred from using nuclear weapons against it. (Except if the US could count on destroying every one of Kim’s nuclear-tipped missiles in a surprise first strike – but that’s why North Korea will move them around or dig them in deep.)

North Korea is and will remain totally deterred from attacking the United States, because it would be utterly destroyed in a massive American counter-strike. So the deterrence is mutual and relatively stable, barring huge technological surprises or crazy or suicidal leaders.

That is the destination the US-North Korean relationship is heading for, because it is the only one that reality permits. Kim is almost certainly seeking it quite consciously, although it’s unlikely that Trump has ever thought of it in these terms. Indeed, there is some evidence that he is not even clear on the basic concept of deterrence.

No matter. That’s what Trump is heading for, and by the time he gets there he will undoubtedly think that it was his goal all along. There will be more meetings, probably including a Kim visit to the White House, and the two countries will move, slowly and crabwise, towards the mutual deterrence that will define their future relationship.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 7. (“There’s…now”; and “He would…intention”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Count Dracula and the WHO

It was a bit like appointing Count Dracula as the goodwill ambassador for the blood donor service.

Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be plausible. Reality is under no such constraint, and regularly produces events that would never be credible in a novel. Like the decision last Thursday to appoint Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as the World Health Organisation’s goodwill ambassador.

The newly elected head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he hoped that the Zimbabwean president would “influence his peers in the region” to devote more effort to health care, but Mugabe doesn’t really have much by way of peers.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, is effectively president-for-life, whereas all the neighbouring countries except Angola are more or less functional democracies. All of them, again except Angola, provide better healthcare to their citizens than Zimbabwe. Not good, but significantly better.

In Zimbabwe, heathcare improved significantly in the first twenty years of Mugabe’s rule, as did the economy in general. He built clinics, hospitals and schools, and Zimbabweans became one of the healthiest, best educated, and most prosperous populations in Africa. But then it all went wrong.

After a referendum in 2000 rejected a new constitution designed to strengthen Mugabe’s grip on power, he became increasingly paranoid and authoritarian. The sole purpose of government became hanging on to power at any cost (to others), so favoured cronies in the ruling party and the military were allowed to loot the economy – which duly collapsed..

By now, in fact, there is hardly any Zimbabwean economy left beyond subsistence agriculture. Unemployment has soared to 75 percent or higher, and the schools and hospitals have fallen apart. Adult life expectancy has plunged from 61 years to 45, and state-run hospitals and clinics frequently run out of even basic medicines like painkillers and antibiotics.

Mugabe has presided over this catastrophe for seventeen years now, insisting all the while that all is well. At the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban last May, he claimed that “Zimbabwe is one of the most highly developed countries in Africa.” He is planning to run for re-election as president next year at the age of 94, and nobody dares to defy him.

He will win, of course, after the usual number of opposition activists has been beaten up, jailed or murdered – if he lasts that long, but he is beginning to show serious signs of wear. In fact, Mugabe has made three “medical visits” to Singapore for treatment this year.

Why Singapore? The presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, says that it’s a problem with Mugabe’s eyes, which would helpfully explain away the fact that he frequently appears to fall asleep at public meetings. (He’s just resting his eyes, really.) He needs a foreign specialist for that, but for everything else, Charamba claims, Mugabe goes to a Zimbabwean doctor – who is, he assures everybody, a “very, very, very black physician”.

There are very good Zimbabwean doctors, of course, but most of them, frustrated at the lack of medical supplies, have long since left the country for greener pastures. And it does seem unlikely that it’s an eye problem that has caused Mugabe to make three “medical visits” to Singapore this year. It’s probably something more serious, and Mugabe just doesn’t trust his own health service to deal with it.

How did the new head of WHO hit upon the idea of making this man, of all people, the organisation’s “goodwill ambassador” for Africa? He and his advisers must have discussed it in various meetings for weeks before announcing it. Did nobody ever bother to point out that it would be a public relations disaster? “Special ambassadors” don’t have to do very much, but their choice does shine a light on the judgement and integrity of those who choose them.

In the event, the public outcry about the choice of Mugabe was so instant and widespread that within three days his appointment was cancelled. Mugabe had been the head of the African union when the organsation endorsed Tedros as the sole African candidate for the WHO job, and no doubt Tedros felt some obligation to return the favour, but the organisation’s financial support comes from elsewhere.

So it’s just politics as usual. The WHO’s reputation will eventually recover, but healthcare in Zimbabwe won’t as long as Mugabe is alive. And the world will continue to rotate in an easterly direction.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraph 5. (“In Zimbabwe…wrong”)

Rwanda: Kagame’s Dilemma

10 July 2010

Rwanda: Kagame’s Dilemma

By Gwynne Dyer

Did Paul Kagame really stop the genocide in Rwanda sixteen years ago, or did he just interrupt it for a while? That question frightens him so much that he will not risk everything on the outcome of a democratic election.

Kagame is running for re-election to the presidency of the traumatised Central African country next month. If economic success automatically brought political success he would be a shoo-in: Rwanda’s economy grew by 11 percent last year. But in fact, his resounding election victory in 2003 was the result of ruthless manipulation, and this one will be the same.

In recent months, opposition party leaders in Rwanda have been arrested and charged with denying the genocide. An opposition newspaper was banned and its co-editors attacked (one died, one survived). Leading generals in the Rwandan army have been arrested or have fled into exile. (One was wounded last month in an attempted hit in South Africa.) So is Kagame over-reacting? Maybe.

If you cut Paul Kagame open, you would find engraved on his heart William Faulkner’s terrible truth: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” One-tenth of Rwanda’s population – at least 800,000 people, Tutsis and those who tried to protect them – were murdered by their neighbours, mostly with machetes, only sixteen years ago.

Not nearly enough time has passed yet for generational turnover to take the edge off the grief and the hate. Everybody pretends it’s over, but of course it isn’t. How could it be?

Kagame’s whole life has been shaped by genocide. He grew up in Uganda, where his parents fled when an earlier wave of violence killed about 100,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in the early 1960s. He became the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a mainly Tutsi exile organisation dedicated to overthrowing the Hutu extremists who ruled the country, and he led the RPF army that marched in to stop the great genocide of 1994.

He knows, of course, that Tutsis and Hutus are not really separate ethnic groups. All of Rwanda’s nineteen major clans includes both Tutsis and Hutus. They speak the same language and they live in the same villages. The term once distinguished cattle-herders from farmers, and later the wealthy from the poor. Rich Hutus could become Tutsis – but the Tutsis naturally always remained a minority of the population.

He also knows, however, that the colonial authorities exploited those class differences and gave the Tutsis political authority over the Hutus in return for their loyalty. By the later 20th century the Tutsis and Hutus had become ethnic groups for all practical purposes, with a constant undercurrent of resentment by the Hutus against the Tutsis. After independence in 1960, the killing got underway very quickly. It peaked in 1994.

This past will not leave Rwanda alone. The very words “Tutsi” and “Hutu” have now been banned in Rwanda, but a ministerial investigation in 2008 found anti-Tutsi graffiti and harassment of Tutsi students in most of the schools that were visited. The army is exclusively Tutsi and the government almost entirely so, because Kagame does not really believe that this generation of Hutus can be trusted.

To make his position even more precarious, Tutsi solidarity is breaking down. The arrests, exile and attempted assassination of various generals may be in response to real plots. Most Tutsi generals belong to the Nyiginya clan, which traditionally provided the country’s king. Paul Kagame is from the Umwega clan, and some of the Nyiginya think that power has remained in the wrong hands for too long.

It is an awful situation, and Kagame has only one strategy for avoiding a return to genocide: hang onto power, and hope that rapid economic growth and the passage of time will eventually blur the identities and blunt the reflexes that have made this generation of Rwandans so dangerous to one another.

His model is Singapore, an ethnically complex state that avoided too much democracy during the early decades of its dash for growth. If Rwanda could become the Singapore of Central Africa, then maybe its citizens would eventually come to believe that their stake in the country’s new stability and prosperity was more important than the history. But Singapore did not have so far to travel, and its history was not drowned in blood.

The logic of Kagame’s strategy obliges him to stay in power: his first duty is to Rwanda’s Tutsis, at least half of whom have already been murdered. But he must provide prosperity to the Hutu majority too, in order to reconcile them to Tutsi survival, and his relatively corruption-free government has made impressive progress towards that goal.

Nevertheless, in a free election today most Rwandans would vote along ethnic lines. His Rwandan Patriotic Front would instantly be replaced by a Hutu-led regime of unknowable character and purpose. He dares not risk it, so real democracy is not an option.

If Paul Kagame is now killing opposition journalists and dissident generals, then he is making a dreadful and probably fatal mistake, but it may not be him. In the ruthlessly Machiavellian world of Rwandan politics, other possibilities also exist. Either way, he has the loneliest, scariest job in the world, and he must know that the odds are long against him.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 12. (“To make…long”; and “His model…blood”)