War, North Korea and the art of the deal
One of the many wonders of progressive folk is their, ah, flexibility. It’s an article of faith for the modern progressive that war must be avoided at all costs. War is uncivilised, barbaric, a throwback to a brutal past and never solves anything (yes yes, I know, presumably Nazi Germany wasn’t solved either…).
Instead of war we must substitute conflict resolution, negotiation, soft power. That’s why the supremely civilised EU and the even more supremely civilised UK have downgraded their military capacity. So should an enemy (let’s pick as an example, oooh, I don’t know, say Russia, strictly hypothetically of course) attack or threaten them, Britain or the EU wouldn’t have the means to defeat it.
Britain’s desperate military decline and vulnerability have been highlighted in recent months by senior military types. They’ve warned that the army is “20 years out of date”, the Royal Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capability is inadequate and there are currently “existential risks” to the UK which the armed forces are unable adequately to tackle.
The new head of the army, General Sir Nick Carter, has also warned that Britain “needs to ‘keep up’ with Vladimir Putin’s growing military strength or see our ability to take action ‘massively constrained’”.
Vladimir Putin, eh? Would that be the same Putin who is suspected of being behind the attempted murder last week of a retired KGB double agent and his daughter, who are said to have been poisoned by a lethal and rare nerve agent in the peaceful English country town of Salisbury? Would that be the same Putin who, as Claudia Rosett writes here in a chilling analysis, is now threatening to embroil the major powers in direct global conflict?
Well yes, it would. Which is why the attempted sabre-rattling by the British government, threatening that it might well take condign action against rogue-state Russia, is no more than the rattling of British ministerial teeth. When he looks at the enfeebled state of British military power, Putin must be laughing all the way to the biological weapons facility.
That’s because we’re too civilised to do war any more; remember? Yet now look at the reaction from our most super-civilised progressives to President Trump’s decision to accept the North Korean dictator Kim Yong-un’s invitation to meet personally to discuss de-nuclearisation. Did the west’s finest give Trump any credit for doing conflict resolution – you know, that forward-thinking, mature approach – rather than bombing Pyongyang?
They did not. It was appeasement, it was a trap, there could be no negotiation with such a man, it would only be to Kim’s advantage, he would play Trump and the west for suckers, Trump’s decision showed he was totally out of control, side-stepped all normal procedures, a wild bull in the nuclear china shop, and so on and on.
So if talking is a no-no and bombing is a no-no, what exactly do these super-civilised progressives suggest should be done to defuse the threat posed by Kim Jong-un?
Art of the deal
Much has been made of the apparent “confusion” in the Trump administration over whether or not the President attached sufficient conditions to this prospective meeting. Whatever. The fact remains that Kim Jong-un has moved his position, and has done so out of at least some degree of weakness. He is now prepared to talk about de-nuclearisation which he was not prepared to do until now. That’s pretty stunning.
This volte-face cannot rationally be said to have nothing to do with Trump’s aggressive approach to the North Korean impasse. In addition to ramping up the bellicose rhetoric and threats of military action, Trump has slapped punitive sanctions on North Korea and put intense pressure on Kim’s great protector, China – where Trump’s proposal to impose tariffs on imported steel will have also struck a particular chill.
So it seems overwhelmingly likely that Kim believes he must now head Trump off. That’s a sign of weakness. Of course – if this meeting actually happens, which is far from certain – he will almost certainly try to do so through deceit, by making commitments he has no intention of keeping. And the experience of the appalling Iran nuclear deal demonstrates all too clearly the suicidal folly of negotiating with those committed to a non-negotiable agenda.
But it is Kim who has blinked first. And Trump might just pull this one off – but only assuming he has the correct deal in mind (big if).
For the deal should not be over Kim’s undertaking to de-nuclearise. That won’t happen, for all the reasons we know. The deal should be over the terms of Kim’s departure.
The art of this deal is surely to convince Kim that, whatever he decides to do, he’s over. Either he chooses to be over by departing with safe passage for himself and his family, or he chooses to be over as the result of US sanctions. Or, ultimately, bombardment.
In other words, Trump should sit down with Kim not to negotiate but to deliver an ultimatum. The key factor is that both Kim and, even more crucially, his Chinese patrons must believe that when Trump says he will otherwise destroy North Korea, he means it.
In other words, war is a key element in the art of the geopolitical deal. And Britain and Europe have ensured that only the US now has it.