David Tucker’s Liberty Forum essay outlining the proper U.S. posture toward the world makes a good deal of sense. Let us not forget, however, that other countries have their own strategic position to think about. We have to judge models of strategy not just on their abstract perfection but their ability to cope with other people’s plans for us. What follows is an extrapolation from the mind of the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Un, toward an understanding of North Korea’s grand strategy. If Kim kept a diary, this is what it might say.
What a spring it has been. I’ve gone abroad three times. My March trip to Beijing was my very first change of scenery since taking the helm seven years ago. Two productive visits to my neighbor, in March and May. Then flew to Singapore this month for a historic summit with the American President, which was even more productive. And all because I have dazzled the world with the speed with which I have developed a nuclear weapons program. Watching my Dear People starve while I spent billions to construct this marvel hasn’t fazed me. To quote the saying attributed to a friend of my grandfather’s, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
Congratulations are due to myself, if I do say so myself, on the finesse I showed in stopping short of demonstrating that my missiles have re-entry capability. (All in good time, all in good time.) This was essential—it made me seem reasonable after last year’s accomplishments, when I fired several missiles over Japan and threatened Guam. My prudent drawing back created momentum for a warming with the West, and for the talks with Mr. Trump.
The two meetings with President Xi in Beijing got a flood of press coverage, which was good. Plus, it was valuable practice for Singapore. I must say I still don’t really like the guy. Nor do I fully trust him. Sure, we both oppose the United States. But President Xi does not care if my regime survives. Much less does he favor reunification of the Korean Peninsula on my terms, which is of course my ultimate strategic goal. Fortunately, Xi doesn’t want the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on Seoul’s terms, either. That would place a U.S. ally at China’s doorstep, and the regime that my grandfather founded, and my father and I have worked so hard to sustain, would no longer be there to serve Beijing as a buffer.
It’s annoying how dependent we are on the Chinese, and how President Xi always plays the scolding parent trying to hem us in. If I’m honest, I have to admit his consternation isn’t entirely without reason. As a good strategist, I try to look at things from his perspective. President Xi thinks my actions endanger China’s security, what with the Americans deploying, in April, a missile-defense system in “South Korea” that he claims is capable of tracking Chinese missiles, too. (He could be correct about that, but I told him he was imagining things.)
The Chinese also fear our economy might collapse. If it turns out that my family’s scientific grasp of history is less firm than we assumed, and our control over everything that happens around here does not actually bring about a workers’ paradise accompanied by the withering away of the state, a collapse would cause a refugee crisis, with my Dear People coming over the Chinese border en masse. The Chinese might be right about this, too—but the prospect has been useful to us. We have played on their anxieties about a refugee crisis, time and again, to squeeze more financial assistance out of them.
Negotiator-in-Chief Meets Negotiator-in-Chief
President Trump said before coming to Singapore that he didn’t need to prepare for his powwow with me. This was a little insulting. I did major homework in the run-up to June 12, reading some history, foreign and defense policy monographs, Gaddis’ fairly recent biography of George Kennan, other stuff. (The bio was sent to me by my friend Dennis. Neither of us is as superficial as the media makes us out to be. We joke about the liberty of action afforded to those who are consistently underestimated.) These materials talked a lot about the U.S.-led international order that has served American interests for more than 70 years. What a crock. And President Trump seems to think so, too.
He’s the great disrupter. Apparently that’s why he got elected. Be that as it may, what I seek from him is business as usual: I want the Americans to view it as a binary choice: either an all-out military conflict, or they accept that I am a normal, self-respecting member of the nuclear club, like Pakistan or India. President Trump seems to lean toward acceptance. That’s the sense I got from him in our time together, I think.
As we were wrapping up the summit, I was content enough with pretty much what my father and grandfather extracted on earlier occasions: sanctions relief, and a nice, vague statement of bilateral cooperation that you could drive a truck (or a load of Nodongs and Taepodongs) through. Then, just after we wrapped up, here comes Mr. Trump volunteering to pull U.S. troops out of “South Korea.”
A tremendous windfall. The experts said beforehand that it would take hard work on my part to get the Americans to consider removing their troops after 60 years stationed on the Korean Peninsula, which would drive a nice, fat wedge between Washington and Seoul. Didn’t take much work at all! The only even slightly heavy lift was having to sit through that infomercial-style video he brought with him and insisted we watch together. So lame and strange, but so worth it—made him feel we were really seeing eye to eye.
He is pushing denuclearization in exchange for troop withdrawal but he doesn’t seem to remember that U.S. troops and tanks are stationed in “South Korea” to counter my conventional as well as my nuclear arsenal. Or is he calculating that the nuclear umbrella will deter either a nuclear or a conventional attack? Quite a gamble, but he says it will save considerable sums of money. (Are the Americans that tapped out? And here I thought I had problems.)
If he does fulfill this pledge, the effect on so-called “South Korea” is going to be wonderful to behold. It will drive them into China’s arms, and if I play things right, into mine. I’m a little concerned about Japan developing its own nuclear program. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It’s a net plus that this administration will have done to U.S. stature in East Asia what President Obama did to U.S. stature in the Middle East with the precipitous way he got out of Iraq. Russia and Iran reaped the rewards there; I’m ready, and President Xi is ready, to be the gainers here in East Asia.
The “leading from behind” of the previous administration didn’t set Mr. Trump up with many advantages. Take his own region of the world, for example. Russia, China, and Cuba all have extensive and friendly relations with the military of the increasingly authoritarian socialist regime in Venezuela. That is a new phenomenon (not with Cuba, but with Russia and China) courtesy of President Obama’s less than impressive strategizing. Also, the Obama administration let the Russians handle the elimination of chemical weapons from Syria. Bashar al Assad removed some but not all, and now look at what is happening—the ongoing dropping of barrel bombs and other chemical weapons on civilians in Syria.
Another Obama legacy is that the sudden U.S. retrenchment caused a hemorrhaging of refugees, around 65 million people; the displacement is still a problem there and in Europe. It’s worsening political discord among the democracies—a plus for the non-democracies. The Obama vacuum also gave ISIS a caliphate. I was rooting for that to last, but I have to say the U.S. military, under the Trump administration, has been effective against ISIS. I’m hoping the jihadists will get a new lease on life from the discord promoted by American retrenchment.
Trade and Keeping Friends Happy
When it comes to U.S. relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I enjoy many advantages over Mr. Trump. For one thing, he’s obligated to consult the wishes of his people when striking a deal. When I strike a deal, I face no penalty from that quarter if I renege. It is good to be king.
Not that the U.S. Congress has made much trouble for President Trump so far. He’s done well in, for example, the area of trade. The party he doesn’t belong to, the Democrats, support his protectionist trade policies. The Republicans, who hold the majority, dislike protectionism but are lying doggo. Is it because they are in the same political party as he is? (How I love watching the crazy twists and turns of representative government—as a spectator sport mind you.)
My understanding is that the U.S. legislative branch has given away to the executive branch a lot of authority on trade matters. Look how the President is using that authority—brazenly invoking “national security” to justify steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. His friends. As if Canada were a national security threat to the United States. I’m wondering how he intends to get help from his allies in enforcing sanctions against me, China, Russia, or any weapons proliferator or violator of fair trade practices, when he’s doing these hostile things to the people whose backing he needs? Not that I personally want there to be effective sanctions. Go ahead Mr. Trump, knock yourself out—or your friends out, I should say.
Hope for the Future
Over all, this administration strikes me as similar to its predecessors, in terms of staving off my family’s brinksmanship with deal-making that favors us. Yet there are some pretty unique things about this President. He keeps you guessing. I’m not sure, even after spending several hours with him, whether he realizes how little leverage he has to get me to denuclearize. Then again—maybe he does realize. Never will I forget that rakish quip he offered as he was heading home from Singapore: “I think he’s going to do these things,” he said, referring to me, “I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
Such frankness. I love this. Will it keep him in good stead with the American people? Hard to say. They seem to like his frankness too. That admission has inspired in me high hopes for the future, that’s all I know.
The liberal international order is a useful tool of American security; defending and supporting it is pragmatic, not utopian.
If we forswore military intervention in other countries, we could still affect the world in a positive way through free trade.
It can’t simply be taken for granted that democracy in individual states is compatible with the liberal international order.