Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reasonably Likely Scenario

Last Friday, President Trump declared peace for our time:

The Secretary-General of the United Nations saluted the "powerful imagery of the two leaders coming together to advance harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula."

But it was only imagery, though the UN statement was at least a little more realistic than Donald Trump's tweet. Van Jackson, writing on April 30 in Politico Magazine, argues that unknowingly "so far, everyone's been playing Kim's game" and explains

Trump’s recent tweets on North Korea suggest he’s desperate for a deal, which would bring him much needed favorable news headlines amid so many domestic political scandals. He also keeps leaving hints that he really wants to claim he’s the man who ended the Korean War, even though he’s likely never stopped to ask why it is that North Korea, too, has always wanted the United States to agree to end the war. With a peace treaty in hand, Kim would undermine the single most important factor justifying the U.S. troop presence in Korea, and by extension, the U.S. alliance with South Korea. Kim need not demand immediate troop withdrawal as part of a peace treaty. At the first sign of post-peace friction, Kim can wave that treaty in America’s face and say, “Yankee go home.” That would immediately spark debates in Seoul about the future of the alliance, and with a peace treaty in hand, anti-American activists in the South will have a much stronger case for pushing out the United States than in decades past.

Taking Trump at his word during the campaign—when he decried U.S. allies Japan and South Korea as ungrateful free-riders—it would be reasonable to conclude that Trump is willing to forsake U.S. allies in the region by getting Kim to agree to negotiate away his ICBMs but ultimately leave Kim with a regional nuclear strike capability. Nuclear scholars have worried that a North Korean ICBM capability would “decouple” the United States from South Korea—the question of whether America would trade Seattle for Seoul in a nuclear conflict is a rhetorical one. We know the answer. The irony of a nuclear deal between Kim and Trump may actually be that true decoupling will happen when North Korea retains only the ability to strike U.S. allies but not the United States. Kim can simultaneously give a nod in the direction of denuclearization, remove the imminent threat to the U.S. homeland posed by his ICBMs, and expand a wedge between the United States and its allies.

With President Trump's approval, Vladimir Putin has been driving a wedge between the USA and its European allies.  It shouldn't be surprising, then, that he's more than willing to do the same between this nation and our allies of South Korea and Japan. (Video is from Jim Yackel.)

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