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Kim-Trump Summit 2019

On a scale of one to ten, what are the chances that the meeting between Chairman Kim Jong-Un and President Donald Trump in Vietnam on 27-28 February (or any subsequent meeting) will end with a clear and irreversible commitment to the ‘denuclearisation’ of North Korea? Zero.

What are the chances that this summit (plus lots of further negotiations) could substantially reduce the threat of war between the two participants in this week’s meeting in Hanoi, and also between the two states in the Korean peninsula? Quite good, actually.

Kim Jong-Un, and his father and grandfather before him, have devoted enormous time and money to providing North Korea with an effective nuclear deterrent against the United States, which requires the ability to strike the American homeland. He may make all sorts of other deals, but he will never give that up.

North Korea doesn’t need to match US nuclear capabilities – the ability to deliver only a few nuclear weapons on American soil would be a sufficient deterrent – but Kim will be well aware of what happened to Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, heads of state who both died precisely because they didn’t have nuclear weapons.

There is no deal available that would protect North Korea from US nuclear weapons, since they can reach the North directly from the United States. No amount of local disarmament – the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, even the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from all of East Asia – could change that reality, and the United States is not planning to abolish its strategic nuclear deterrent.

The only safe road to the future, therefore, is a political deal that greatly reduces tensions between the two countries while acknowledging that a state of MUTUAL nuclear deterrence will henceforward prevail between them.

Mutual deterrence is what has now obtained for a long time between the United States and its two peer rivals, Russia and China. The huge asymmetry between the power of the US and North Korea does not lead to a different conclusion. Nuclear weapons are the great leveller: in practical terms, just a few are enough to deter, even if the other side has hundreds of times as many (which the United States does).

It’s going to be a long negotiating process, because few Americans are ready yet to accept that this is the logic of the situation. Many would even reject it on the grounds that Kim Jong-Un is crazy and might make a first strike against the United States, although there is no evidence to support that belief. Being a cruel dictator is not at all the same as being suicidal, and a nuclear attack on the United States would be suicide.

Trump almost certainly does not understand that the only successful outcome of this negotiation must be mutual deterrence. Indeed, most senior American officials, although far wiser and better informed than Trump, still do not accept that fact. But they will probably get there in the end, and the negotiations will lead them along the path.

That’s why Trump’s fulsome praise of the North Korean leader, however naive – “He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love” – is actually helpful. So is the vagueness on all the hard questions that marked the first Kim-Trump summit last June, and will doubtless mark this one as well.

Equally useful is South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s parallel initiative to get a North Korean-South Korean detente underway. Cross-border trade and travel, the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Park (where South Korean industries were producing goods using hundreds of thousands of North Korean workers), and direct meetings between Moon and Kim (three in the past year) all help to build confidence about a peaceful future.

A much better relationship, not unilateral North Korean nuclear disarmament, is the right goal to aim for. The kind of concessions that could help include a gradual relaxation of the sanctions that stifle the North Korean economy and a formal peace treaty ending the 1950-53 Korean War, perhaps in return for very big cuts in North Korea’s huge conventional army (twice the size of South Korea’s, in a country with half the population).

Later on, there could be talks about permanently capping the number of North Korean nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles (which is still in the dozens, not the thousands), in return for withdrawing some or all of the US troops from South Korea. But leave that stuff for now and just work on confidence-building measures.

Holding this summit in Vietnam was a good move, since it will show Kim a country that has built a prosperous economy without ceasing to be a Communist-ruled dictatorship. He will be much more flexible if he believes (rightly or wrongly) that he can open up the North Korean economy without being overthrown.

And there’s no need to work on building up Donald Trump’s confidence.

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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 11. (“That’s…future”)

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

Korea: The Real Deal

The summit is on, it’s off, it’s sort of on again. It’s amateur night every night at the White House, and the fate of the US-North Korean summit scheduled for Singapore on 12 June will be decided by the coin Donald Trump flips each day: heads three days in a row means ‘yes’, tails three days in a row and the meeting stays cancelled.

So let’s not waste time speculating on the unknowable. Let us just assume that the meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un actually goes ahead in the end. What would be a good outcome that stays within the bounds of plausibility?

One that avoids a nuclear war, obviously, but it’s equally obvious that neither party is going to abandon its nuclear weapons. The United States, as the first country to build nuclear bombs and the only country ever to use them, sees having thousands of them as its birthright and would never consider giving them up. North Korea’s regime has only a few, but sees them as the only real guarantee of its survival.

But that can’t be entirely true, because North Korea had already survived for 57 years before it tested its first nuclear explosive device in 2006. It was another dozen years before it built a very small but theoretically effective force of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that could, on a good day and with a tail-wind, reach the United States. Only now has Pyongyang
achieved nuclear deterrence against the US. What protected it before that?

What served North Korea as deterrence until 2017 was a very big army (twice the size of South Korea’s army PLUS the American troops stationed in South Korea), and the ability to destroy Seoul within a day or two using only conventional artillery and rockets.

Seoul’s northern suburbs are only 50 km from the North Korean border, well within the range of many thousands of North Korean artillery pieces, and the metropolitan area is home to half of South Korea’s 50 million people. As the capital, it also contains almost all the government ministries and military headquarters. Not even US nuclear weapons could save it from destruction in a North-South war.

So forget about both sides’ nuclear weapons and concentrate on the conventional balance. South Korea has twice North Korea’s population but only half as many soldiers on active service, because Seoul would rather save money and rely on (American-supplied) nuclear deterrence. Now that North Korea has nukes of its own, it too can afford to shrink its army by at least half. In fact, it can’t really afford not to.

Kim Jong-un would gain a lot if the summit actually happens. Just by sitting down with a US president as an equal he would win the kind of international legitimacy that always eluded his father and grandfather. If he also got an American promise not to try to overthrow him and a suspension of US economic sanctions, his success would be complete. But what could he offer the US and South Korea in return?

Kim has already unilaterally suspended both nuclear weapons testing and further ballistic missile flight tests in order to attract Trump to the table, but he must come up with some other concessions to get the rest of what he wants. How about a deal that commits him to reduce North Korea’s army to the same size as South Korea’s, and an agreement by both sides to move their artillery at least 50 km back from the inter-Korean border?

That sort of deal would save Kim a lot of money without exposing him to any serious risk: it’s his secret police, not the army, that keeps his population in line. South Korea would still have no credible ability to attack the North, and Kim’s own ability to threaten Seoul with a “sea of fire” would evaporate because he would first have to move his artillery back to the border area along roads totally exposed to US and South Korean air power.

This is what successful diplomatic deals actually look like. They are often asymmetric in some details, but they are more or less balanced overall and they give both parties what they really need.

What Trump needs is a diplomatic triumph that feeds his ego and maybe gets him the Nobel Peace Prize, while giving him a plausible excuse not to insist on the unattainable goal of eliminating North Korea’s rudimentary nukes and ICBMs.

Kim can afford to give him concessions on other military issues, because even a 10% chance that one North Korean ICBM could deliver one nuclear weapon on an American city is deterrent enough to preclude any US attack on North Korea. In return, North Korea gets an end to sanctions and huge savings on its bloated military spending.

No promises, but this actually could happen. And if Trump and Kim did get the Nobel Peace Prize for it, so what? It’s meant as a reward for saints, but it works just as well as bait for scoundrels.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 8. (“Seoul’s…war”; and “Kim Jong-un…return”)

By Gwynne Dyer

The summit is on, it’s off, it’s sort of on again. It’s amateur night every night at the White House, and the fate of the US-North Korean summit scheduled for Singapore on 12 June will be decided by the coin Donald Trump flips each day: heads three days in a row means ‘yes’, tails three days in a row and the meeting stays cancelled.

So let’s not waste time speculating on the unknowable. Let us just assume that the meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un actually goes ahead in the end. What would be a good outcome that stays within the bounds of plausibility?

One that avoids a nuclear war, obviously, but it’s equally obvious that neither party is going to abandon its nuclear weapons. The United States, as the first country to build nuclear bombs and the only country ever to use them, sees having thousands of them as its birthright and would never consider giving them up. North Korea’s regime has only a few, but sees them as the only real guarantee of its survival.

But that can’t be entirely true, because North Korea had already survived for 57 years before it tested its first nuclear explosive device in 2006. It was another dozen years before it built a very small but theoretically effective force of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that could, on a good day and with a tail-wind, reach the United States. Only now has Pyongyang
achieved nuclear deterrence against the US. What protected it before that?

What served North Korea as deterrence until 2017 was a very big army (twice the size of South Korea’s army PLUS the American troops stationed in South Korea), and the ability to destroy Seoul within a day or two using only conventional artillery and rockets.

Seoul’s northern suburbs are only 50 km from the North Korean border, well within the range of many thousands of North Korean artillery pieces, and the metropolitan area is home to half of South Korea’s 50 million people. As the capital, it also contains almost all the government ministries and military headquarters. Not even US nuclear weapons could save it from destruction in a North-South war.

So forget about both sides’ nuclear weapons and concentrate on the conventional balance. South Korea has twice North Korea’s population but only half as many soldiers on active service, because Seoul would rather save money and rely on (American-supplied) nuclear deterrence. Now that North Korea has nukes of its own, it too can afford to shrink its army by at least half. In fact, it can’t really afford not to.

Kim Jong-un would gain a lot if the summit actually happens. Just by sitting down with a US president as an equal he would win the kind of international legitimacy that always eluded his father and grandfather. If he also got an American promise not to try to overthrow him and a suspension of US economic sanctions, his success would be complete. But what could he offer the US and South Korea in return?

Kim has already unilaterally suspended both nuclear weapons testing and further ballistic missile flight tests in order to attract Trump to the table, but he must come up with some other concessions to get the rest of what he wants. How about a deal that commits him to reduce North Korea’s army to the same size as South Korea’s, and an agreement by both sides to move their artillery at least 50 km back from the inter-Korean border?

That sort of deal would save Kim a lot of money without exposing him to any serious risk: it’s his secret police, not the army, that keeps his population in line. South Korea would still have no credible ability to attack the North, and Kim’s own ability to threaten Seoul with a “sea of fire” would evaporate because he would first have to move his artillery back to the border area along roads totally exposed to US and South Korean air power.

This is what successful diplomatic deals actually look like. They are often asymmetric in some details, but they are more or less balanced overall and they give both parties what they really need.

What Trump needs is a diplomatic triumph that feeds his ego and maybe gets him the Nobel Peace Prize, while giving him a plausible excuse not to insist on the unattainable goal of eliminating North Korea’s rudimentary nukes and ICBMs.

Kim can afford to give him concessions on other military issues, because even a 10% chance that one North Korean ICBM could deliver one nuclear weapon on an American city is deterrent enough to preclude any US attack on North Korea. In return, North Korea gets an end to sanctions and huge savings on its bloated military spending.

No promises, but this actually could happen. And if Trump and Kim did get the Nobel Peace Prize for it, so what? It’s meant as a reward for saints, but it works just as well as bait for scoundrels.
___________________________________
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 8. (“Seoul’s…war”; and “Kim Jong-un…return”)

A South Korea Rasputin

“Sad thoughts trouble my sleep at night,” said South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye. “I realise that whatever I do, it will be difficult to mend the hearts of the people, and then I feel a sense of shame.” And so she should, but it’s also hard not to feel some sympathy for her plight. This isn’t your usual political corruption case. She never benefitted from her actions in any way.

Despite Park’s televised apology on 4 November, the opposition-controlled National Assembly voted on Thursday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the president, and anti-Park demonstrations continue daily. As a sitting president, she cannot be prosecuted, but prosecutors will begin questioning her next week.

They also interviewed senior management officials at Samsung, Hyundai and Korean Air about allegations that they were pressured into donating millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of President Park. Even if the claims are true – and they probably are – Park deserves more pity than anger, for she couldn’t really help it.

She was only nine when her father, General Park Chung-hee, seized power in South Korea in 1961. She was 15 when North Korean special forces infiltrated Seoul and launched an assault that got within metres of the presidential Blue House. And she was 22 when an assassination attempt on her father miscarried and killed her mother, Yuk Yeong-su, instead.

It was then that pseudo-Christian cult leader Choi Tae-min, who had set up his own religious group known as the Church of Eternal Life, befriended the grief-stricken and isolated young woman. He told her that her mother had appeared to him in a dream, asking him to help her daughter, and she fell for it.

Choi became her mentor, a relationship that became even closer after her own father was also assassinated in 1978. The lonely young woman also grew close to Choi’s daughter, Soon-sil, who was only four years younger – and that bond persisted even after Choi Tae-min’s death in 1994.

Meanwhile Park Geun-hye was getting on with her life, getting elected to her now democratic country’s National Assembly in 1998 – but her top aide was Choi Soon-sil’s ex-husband. She has been in the Choi family’s clutches for her entire adult life, and they really hit the jackpot when Park won the presidential election in 2012.

Ironically, South Korean voters chose Park mainly because they thought she would be uncorruptible. Every other South Korean president since the non-violent democratic revolution in 1987 has been investigated for corruption, usually with good reason. If they didn’t steal themselves, their immediate families did it for them. Two presidents went to jail, and one committed sucide after leaving office.

The dictators who came before them had stolen too. It was practically a national tradition. But Park was different: she lived modestly, and she had no family to speak of. She had been estranged from her siblings for a long time (because of her relationship with Choi). Everybody knew the family was split, but they did not know much about Choi Soon-sil.

Choi had no official position in Park’s government, but she and her rather bizarre inner circle – including her personal trainer, her personal gigolo, and a K-pop musical video director – had direct access to the president. Choi, who had no security clearance, regularly received secret government documents and even edited the president’s speeches.

Choi Soon-sil also used her advance knowledge of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism’s budgets to steer her cronies into the right bids for government contracts. She also shook down major South Korean corporations for millions of dollars on the strength of her claimed influence over the president. In total, some $70 million is alleged to have gone to Choi’s two “non-profit” foundations.

Whether Park Geun-hye was aware of these “donations” is unknown, and the authorities have not yet gone through the books of the foundations to see if Choi was draining off funds for her personal use. But on the latter count, at least, suspicions are strong.

What triggered Choi’s downfall was her attempt to get her not-too-bright daughter admitted to the prestigious Ewha Women’s University, claiming she had the president’s support. The girl was accepted, but the students launched a public protest against this breach of the university’s rules. Getting into the right university is as important in Korea as it is in Japan, and fairness in the selection process is sacred.

At this point, late last month, Choi and her daughter gave up and left for Germany – but she left an unencrypted laptop behind in her abandoned office in Seoul with all the details of her manipulations. It was found by cable TV network JTBC, and the fat was in the fire.

Choi is probably going to jail, her daughter is not going to university, and President Park is going…where? She has only fifteen months left of her five-year term, and the opposition parties would probably prefer to leave her in power, bleeding all over her own party’s credibility, rather than face an uncertain election now. But she is finished politically, and that just feels sad.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Ironically…Soon-sil”)

Whac-a-Mole Sex Slavery

There is an old fairground game called Whac-a-Mole. You whack a (fake) mole on the head and drive it down into its hole — and instantly one or more other moles pop up out of other holes. It’s an excellent metaphor for humanity’s inability to abolish sexual slavery.

Late last month, we had the long-overdue full apology by the Japanese government for the enslavement of up to 200,000 young “comfort women” from countries conquered by Japan to provide sexual “comfort” to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government finally ended decades of haggling over the scale of Japan’s crime and the form of words in which it should apologise. It simply said we did it and we’re sorry, and here’s one billion yen ($8.5 million) to make restitution to South Korea’s surviving comfort women.

The apology was a bit late (the 46 surviving South Korean “comfort women” are all over 80 now), but the mole was well and truly whacked. Except that in another part of the garden, another mole immediately poked his head out of the ground.

This time it was the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. On Dec. 29, Reuters published captured IS documents including Fatwa No. 64, dated Jan. 29, 2015, which purported to explain the Islamic rules on who may rape a non-Muslim female slave. Or, more precisely, who may not do so (a rather smaller number of people).

An owner may rape his female slaves, of course, but he may not rape both a mother and her daughter. He must make his choice and stick to it. Similarly, a slave-owning father and son may not both rape the same enslaved woman. And business partners who jointly own a slave may not both rape her. That would be almost incestuous.

This is typical IS provocation, designed to appeal to frustrated young men while simultaneously shocking orthodox Muslim opinion. And quite predictably, Islamic scholars like professor Abdel Fattah Alawari, dean of Islamic Theology at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, rushed to point out that IS, in claiming that this was part of Shariah law, was deliberately misreading verses and sayings that were originally designed to end slavery.

“Islam preaches freedom to slaves, not slavery,” Alawari said. “Slavery was the status quo when Islam came around. Judaism, Christianity, Greek, Roman, and Persian civilizations all practiced it and took the females of their enemies as sex slaves. So Islam found this abhorrent practice and worked to gradually remove it.”

Well, yes, but very, very gradually. Islamic law forbids the enslavement of Muslims, but all that did was to encourage a roaring trade in the enslavement of non-Muslims that lasted for over a thousand years. And it reached a very long way: When I was growing up in Newfoundland, Canada, the easternmost part of North America, we learned in school about the “Sally Rovers”, Muslim pirates from Morocco who raided villages on the Newfoundland coast for slaves until well into the 18th century.

Muslim slave raids on the Mediterranean coasts of Europe were so constant that long stretches of coastline remained largely abandoned until the 18th century. The last major slave raid by the Crimean Tartars (a traditional revenue-earner known as the “harvesting of the steppe”) yielded 20,000 Russian and Polish slaves in 1723.

Christianity, which spread widely among slaves in the Roman empire and did not control any government for the first three centuries of its existence, ought to have done better when it came to power, but it didn’t. Slavery lasted in the eastern part of the Roman empire, Byzantium, until that finally fell to the Turks in 1452.

Slavery had pretty well died out in the Christian West by the year 1000, only to be replaced by the feudal system in which most common people were reduced to serfdom. And as soon as a demand for actual slave labor re-appeared, with the European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century, the Europeans began to buy slaves from Africa — as the Islamic empires of the Middle East and India had been doing all along.

The longest-lasting source of slaves for the Muslim world was the African trade, both across the Sahara and up from the East African coast, which lasted from the 9th to the 19th century. Various estimates by historians suggest that between 10 and 18 million Africans were sold in this thousand-year trade — about as many as were exported by the Europeans in the 250 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Neither the European empires nor the great Muslim states ended slavery until the 19th century, so there is plenty of blame to go around. But there is one striking difference between the two trades. The European slavers took two or three African males for every female, because what they wanted was a work-force for commercial agriculture.

The Muslim slavers, by contrast, generally took more women than men, because there was a bigger demand for women as sex slaves (concubines, etc.) than for men as warrior slaves, and practically no demand for agricultural workers. The Muslim world does have a particular history in the question of sexual slavery, and therefore a particular duty to condemn and fight against the odious doctrinal claims of the Islamic State fanatics.