Implications of Donald Trump cancelling North Korea summit with Kim Jong-un

The US president must understand that at times diplomacy is also about losing a battle to win a war.

 |  5-minute read |   25-05-2018
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Famously known as the father of modern political science, Niccolò Machiavelli (1467-1527) had argued that sometimes it is "a very wise thing to simulate madness". During the 1970s, this argument was known to be put in practice by the-then US President Richard Nixon. At the time, the idea was to project to the erstwhile USSR and the states in their block that the US president is capable of taking irrational decisions and is not afraid of starting an all-out war.

In the realm of international political system this concept is known as "madman theory". Is the current president of the US, Donald Trump, following similar philosophy or he is trying to establish his own theory of total irrationality? If not, then how can one explain his arbitrary decision of cancelling the talk with the DPRK leadership at Singapore on June 12, 2018?

Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, is no saint. However, international politics and diplomacy is actually not about engaging saints, but people with various good and bad traits. Trump who himself is not a saint clearly understands this, but it has been observed that, mostly craziness overpowers his rational thinking. His pulling of the Iran nuclear could be considered as the defeat of the European diplomacy particularly that of major powers like France, Germany and the UK. Now, his decision to postpone his meeting with Kim indicates the failure of South Korean efforts to make the DPRK a "normal" state.

trump-body_052518023013.jpgMadman theory: US President Doland Trump

Is China the major factor for his pull-out? Just the other day, Trump had called names to the Chinese leadership and claimed that president Xi Jinping is one of the best “poker player” in the world. Trump feels that Kim has changed his approach to resolve the issue after he visited China recently. However, it would be naive for Trump to assume that China would not play their games. North Korea is a geopolitical pawn for China and for all these years they are using it to create checkmate situation mainly for powers like the US and Japan. So, the onus is on the US spin doctors to ensure that China remains suitably engaged.

Possibly, the US feels that by managing South Korea and Japan they can unilaterally resolve this issue, little they understand that their biggest adversaries namely, China and Russia share geographical borders with North Korea. To their good luck so far Russia has kept itself away from the present happenings, but how long?

South Korea appears to have done all possible to get the ball rolling. Even on part of North Korea it did some efforts like handing over the three US citizens. More importantly, it did destroy their nuclear weapon testing facility and also gave international media access to his. Unfortunately, immediately after the destruction of this facility which was in use since their first nuclear test in 2006, Trump decided to cancel the talks. This has definitely send a bad signal. Now, Kim would think twice before planning/doing any act for confidence building. Also, on the part of US and South Korea it could have been a good gesture not to conduct any military exercise, at least till Jun 12 meeting.

kim_052518023032.jpgFire and fury: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

If the US administration thinks that “Libya model” could be replicated for North Korea for denuclearisation then it is living in a fool’s paradise. Why would Kim agree for a process when he knows what fate Muammar Gaddafi has met with?

Today, a win-win situation is possible only when the US gives up the maximalist positon of total denuclearisation in immediate future. There is a need to give Kim some assurance that the US is serious about constructive engagement. Notionally, some sanctions could be removed by the US in order to begin the process of normalisation. May be initial engagement could began by providing some medical assistance etc. Even at somewhat later date, talks could began on restarting Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and expand its scope.

Missile and nuclear issue is too sensitive and would require some out-of-the-box solutions. It is possible that during the last few weeks nothing substantial would have transpired amongst the deal-breakers from both the states and hence, the US administration would have thought of not continuing with the leadership-level summit.

However, it needs to be understood that even if the two leaders had discussed weather conditions in the meeting, it would have sent a major signal and at least some beginning would have been made. The onus was on the US to make this meeting happen and also if required to manipulate its success to certain extent. The likes of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo should have "created" and kept ready a face-saver for Trump as plan B.

Trump should understand that since Vietnam war none of the military successes of the US have helped them to resolve any conflict. Being a headstrong leader has limited utility. At times diplomacy is also about losing a battle to win a war.

Also read: Why Indians are obsessed with Kim Jong-un

Writer

Ajey Lele Ajey Lele

The writer is a Senior Fellow with Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.

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