Making a mockery of diplomacy

opinion May 27, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

The speed with which Trump agreed to a summit with Kim Jong-un, and pulled out, shows a lack of maturity

For the record, the North Korean regime never said it would abandon its nuclear weapon programme, although US President Donald Trump may have tried to create this unrealistic hype.

Allowing themselves to be misled by Trump’s spin, his supporters even think he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for getting North Korea to commit to something that they themselves have yet to commit to.

Trump wanted the world to believe that the Korean Penninsula would be de-nuclearised and peace would prevail.

Like his other initiatives, the meeting, scheduled to be held in Singapore on June 12, was abruptly put together and cancelled. It seemed an exercise in flattering his inflated ego, rather than about peace on the Korean peninsula.

Like in everything else, Trump did not seem to consult any of the US experts, and there are quite a few of them, in and outside government, who know a great deal about regional and global security. His cancellation of the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had the same abruptness as his handling of international affairs throughout his presidency.

His poorly-worded letter cited North Korea’s “tremendous anger and open hostility”, hinting at their statement that blasted Vice President Mike Pence for suggesting that this reclusive country could end up like Libya, the North African country that disbanded its nuclear weapon programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. A few years later, Libyan leader Mu’ammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed by the rebels who were supported by countries that had urged him to drop his nuclear weapons programmes.

North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui called Pence “ignorant and stupid” – not a bad description for a man who had the audacity to bring up the comparison, especially at this point in time when restraint was needed, not cockiness.

For Pence, as well as US National Security Adviser John Bolton, to have even brought up the comparison, no matter how tempting the situation, was not only bad statesmanship, but just plain arrogant and injudicious.

In abruptly cancelling the summit, Trump blindsided South Korea. He seemed to have forgotten that it was Seoul that had brokered the talks. To walk out in this manner shows how disrespectful and inconsiderate the US president is towards friends and allies.

Just as clueless was his recently appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who, appearing before Congress, was unable to explain the US strategy.

Meanwhile, in North Korea, Kim’s regime was blowing up mountain tunnels it had been using to conduct nuclear tests. International journalists were permitted to witness the event.

The world welcomed the Singapore meeting because it was better than going to war. It was only a few months ago that the two sides were on the verge of war. By agreeing to the meeting so quickly, Trump handed North Korea an easy victory. It was like a world champion fighter stepping into a ring with an unknown club fighter; he legitimised a reclusive regime that was shunned by the world. 

Yes, Pyongyang has nukes and that alone, for some people, is a reason why Washington should talk to them. But we are not talking about capability here; we are talking about legitimacy and norms, something North Korea has made little effort to abide by.

North Korea seems to be only interested in a very phased, long-term process towards denuclearisation.

Of course, Pyongyang expects to be a rewarded for each and every step to stay the course. The burden is on Trump to figure out how he wants to deal with this situation. Instead of exploring what Kim Jong-un was prepared to give, Trump decided to spin it in a way that inflated his already oversized ego, without thinking about the consequences of his own action.