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What Kim Jong Un wants from Trump



Why did Kim Jong Un suddenly look for high-level diplomacy after years of burdensome arming and a diversified rocket arsenal that could shake the United States? The Trump administration and its deputies have interpreted the North Korean leader's diplomatic turn to be beyond maximum pressure – Kim Kim has been brought to her knees in her story, unprecedented sanctions and the threat of war. For many South Koreans and Koreans who sympathize with the moon Jae. In the government in Seoul, Kim sought dialogue because of Moon's diplomatic acumen; Moon was able to mediate peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas, while the United States was prevented from attacking the North.

Both narratives give too much credit and too little Kim's strategy to the US and South Korea. So far, everyone's playing Kim's game. If you do not acknowledge this, there are tremendous unnecessary risks to the US-South Korea Alliance and US interests in the region.

Continuation of the story

Korea experts like to say that Kim keeps survival above all else. But that's as true as the revelation. Everyone appreciates survival. This does not say anything about how everyone is trying to survive, and self-preservation has never prevented anyone from pursuing other short-term and long-term goals that go beyond minimalism, not to die. Kim's diplomacy is part of a strategy he has been following for years. Kim plays several games here ̵

1; by reaching Trump, he improves his position in several of them at once.

What Kim Wants

When Kim came to power in 2011, after the death of his father Kim Jong Il, he not only inherited the family-run North Korean dictatorship, but also Kim's longstanding goal of Korea's reunification. Kim has maintained this goal in his internal and external rhetoric. While there was never much detail on what would be a unification from North Korea's perspective, the prevailing assumption has always been that it does not include a US alliance with South Korea or a US troop presence in the south. North Korean (and even left-wing South Korean) propaganda has always portrayed the United States as an obstacle to reunification, although its concept of reunification may not be the same as the presumption of the South to absorb North Korea or to extend democratic governance to the north. That's certainly not what Kim has in mind. But because unification is a somewhat abstract effort, it has no deadline.

Kim has more concrete goals, expressed in North Korea's words and deeds, and North Korea's association with the Metaziel, but on favorable terms for the North. Kim has tried to 1) secure his rule against internal challengers, 2) achieve and demonstrate a reliable nuclear deterrent, 3) improve the quality of life of his people, and 4) increase North Korea's international status as a nuclear state. Until recently, his first two goals were his priority. After Kim has made significant progress with his current charm offensive, he now wants to do the same for the latter two.

These four priorities, coupled with the association's distant ambitions, are a logical answer to the situation Kim has inherited. When he came to power, he had a legitimacy deficit because he was an inexperienced, educated in Switzerland thousand year old and the youngest son of a culture that privileges the firstborn. Many Korea experts expected that he would not be long for the job and therefore for this world. But Kim almost immediately set about killing and cleaning a long list of high-ranking North Korean officials – more than 300 according to an estimate – including the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was widely considered the second largest man in the North at that time. It was never clear if this reign of terror was a sign of Kim's strength or insecurity, but the number of dead indicates that he has made progress in arming himself against internal rivals, real or imaginary.

The same goes for nuclear weapons. It was absurd to expect that Kim, with initial precarious control of the country, would or could trade away one thing that would ensure that the United States did not invade. Nuclear weapons play a central role in how North Korea thinks about its own security to the outside world. There is no North Korean theory of nuclear safety – they believe it is the only thing that will ultimately protect them from the United States. North Korea's nuclear weapons program has also spawned a large bureaucratic and elitist constituency in Pyongyang. A whole nuclear "industry" of scientists, engineers, war fighters, and an appropriate maintenance and supply chain. The commitment of resources and human capital to North Korea's nuclear weapon companies means that denuclearization could engender internal enemies, especially when declared by an unproven leader.

For example, in March 2013 Kim announced the " byungjin line", which at the same time pursued far-reaching nuclear capability and economic development. US policies under Obama and Trump have tried to compromise these two aspects of Kim's strategy-you can have economic links with the outside world, or you can have nuclear bombs, but you can not have both-but the North Koreans always have it rejected it that way. As a result, US policy has only accelerated Kim's pursuit of nuclear weapons, which has led to 4 nuclear tests and 86 missile tests over the past six years. More US pressure has always led to more testing, so the idea that the maximum pressure produced any of the recent events is a farce.

But on November 28 last year, Kim successfully tested the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile that has proven North Korea's theoretical ability to reach any target in the United States. Kim immediately declared victory, issued commemorative stamps and celebrated the launch as "perfecting the national nuclear forces" and announced the next phase of his strategy at a meeting of the Korean Workers' Party just before Kim's summit with Moon. In this next phase, the North Korean economy will consciously be given priority. It can even lead to significant internal economic reforms, even if it is too early. Regardless of what we have seen in the last five months of Kim, is a diplomatic offensive, which differs 180 degrees from its attitude towards the outside world in 2016 and 2017. Summit with China's Xi Jinping (March)

With Moon last week and finally with Trump, the highest profile events are in a sudden and much broader pattern of confrontation with the outside world. Since the ICBM test in November, we have not only seen a large presidential presidency of Kim – we also have North Korean meetings with Russia's foreign minister, the visit of the chairman of the International Olympic Committee in Pyongyang, a delegation of Southeast Asian scientists and former officials who have been invited to Pyongyang were to talk about improving relations and resuming the (unofficial) Track II dialogue between the North Korean Foreign Ministry and former United States and European officials. All this together with Kim's sister Kim Yo Jeong led a North Korean delegation to participate in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Neither Trump's maximum pressure nor Moons opportunism can explain the timing or the global extent of Kim's gambit. North Korea had meaningful diplomacy with the outside world in the balance, while it pursued a secure second-strike nuclear capability last year. But just a month after his record-breaking ICBM start, Kim gave the New Year's speech, which ushered in all the diplomacy and hopeful media coverage that stood in stark contrast to the same time last year in 2018.
Tighter Grasp This diplomatic regime and increased nuclear strike capability brings Kim closer to his goals of prioritizing the economy and increasing North Korea's international status as a nuclear state. The fact of having friendly meetings with foreign delegations and presenting memorabilia commemorating the recent successes in "perfecting national nuclear forces" is an absolute nuclear status. And even if North Korea can not fully return to the international community due to ongoing human rights violations and opaque economic practices, the diplomatic offensive is a wise way to prevent the international community – and especially China – from becoming increasingly stifling in international sanctions regimes. Diplomacy is a cost-effective means of obtaining sanctions that help improve North Korean living standards. At the same time, a sweeping process of reconciliation with South Korea promises promising economic investment and aid. There is already talk of an energy corridor that leads from Russia via North Korea to the south. All this encourages greater tensions in the US-South Korean alliance and dampens the pre-emptive wartime narrative that was built last year in Washington is simply a bonus.

Kim plays a multi-level game. Thinking in Kim's unique or primary motivation simplifies the reality that makes diplomacy right, can do many things at the same time – for example, pushing the US out of the picture, while presenting North Korea to the world as a "peaceful" nuclear state that does not deserve to be under such strict sanctions. Kim's diplomacy promotes a public narrative of rapprochement with the South and the United States, which in turn helps to bring all of his goals closer to reality. North Korea does not necessarily have to give up its nuclear weapons for all to happen.

Will America what Kim wants?

What Kim wants is in stark contrast to the decade-long American policy toward North Korea. Maybe that's okay, given the abysmal failure of this policy, with which the Kim regime achieved its dream of acquiring nuclear weapons while keeping its people in appalling conditions. America's former positions are certainly not something that Trump is committed to. More worryingly, apart from denuclearization, such as the protection of human rights or the long-term merits of US troops' presence in South Korea, there has been no significant public discussion on aspects of North Korean politics. Without a serious public debate, Trump could stroll into a meeting with Kim and unknowingly swap American interests that were long considered important, but simply never discussed. In return, due to Kim's goals, Trump will not necessarily achieve the intended denuclearization, and it is unclear whether anything less or otherwise is acceptable to the United States.

How acceptable is a peace treaty, for example, when North Korea makes only symbolic progress towards denuclearization? Is an arms control solution – which would give North Korea the ability to reach regional targets but not the territory of the US – acceptable? Is American strategy in Asia – which requires military presence in countries like South Korea – more or less a priority than denuclearization? In short, which alternative futures in Korea serve the interests of the US least? There is no sign that Trump has struggled with these questions.

And even if Americans disagree about the answers to questions like these – and I suspect they're doing it – it's unlikely Trump and Kim will achieve that there's no meaningful discussion about it Personally doing well, but not good for the United States. It is plausible, for example, that Kim and Trump could agree to a peace treaty that ended the Korean War, and a commitment to withdraw North Korea's nuclear arsenal so that it no longer contains intercontinental ballistic missiles, but Kim may retain some atomic bombs. That would do considerable damage to the credibility of the US alliances in the region, transforming them into the depreciating property – or liability – that Trump has always considered somehow.

Trump's recent tweets about North Korea suggest that he is desperately looking for a deal that would bring him much needed headlines from so many domestic scandals. He also leaves hints that he really wants to claim he is the man who ended the Korean War, though he probably never stopped asking why whatever North Korea wanted US approval would end the war. With a peace agreement, Kim undermined the most important factor that justifies the presence of US troops in Korea, and thus the alliance with South Korea. Kim does not need to demand immediate withdrawal of troops under a peace treaty. At the first signs of post-peace friction, Kim may roll that treaty across America's face and say, "Yankee go home." That would immediately trigger discussions in Seoul on the future of the Alliance and with a peace treaty in hand anti-American activists in the South will fight much harder to oust the United States than in previous decades.

Trump took his word during the election campaign – if he cursed US allies Japan and South Korea ungrateful freeriders – it would be reasonable to conclude that Trump is ready to leave the US allies in the region to negotiate with Kim move his intercontinental ballistic missiles, but ultimately left Kim with a regional nuclear clout. Nuclear scientists have feared that a North Korean ICBM capability could "decouple" the US from South Korea – the question of whether America would swap Seattle for Seoul in a nuclear dispute is a rhetorical question. We know the answer. Indeed, the irony of a nuclear agreement between Kim and Trump could be that a genuine decoupling will take place if North Korea retains its ability to meet American allies, but not the United States. At the same time, Kim can nod in the direction of denuclearization, eliminate the threat of US homeland with his intercontinental ballistic missiles, and widen a wedge between the United States and its allies.

The point is that Kim's diplomacy is a further development of Kim's strategy. Claiming that it is the result of South Korea's negotiating skills or Trump's maximum pressure campaign, Trump turns up to meet Kim with open eyes on the motivations of his counterpart. Trump may be happy to ignore the ultimate price and trade-offs of a business as long as there are positive headlines. But what about the rest of America?

Van Jackson ( @WonkVJ ) is a lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington and a defense and strategy officer at the Center for Strategic Studies in New Zealand. He is a former Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow and served as a strategist and policy adviser at the Defense Secretary's Office from 2009 to 2014. He is also the author of Rival Reputations, which examines historical patterns of forced negotiation between the United States and North Korea.


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