By Andrew L. Urban.
What does young Kim of North Korea want? That’s what political junkies and politicians around the world are wondering, as are columnists and journalists, in the long lead up to the proposed May 2018 meeting between the two wild cards in the world leadership pack. Speculation abounds that he will ‘play’ Donald Trump as is the practice of his forbears. That he’ll make empty promises but extract tangible results. But is this time different?
The precursor to the planned meeting has been a series of ICBM tests, nuclear weapon development scares and aggressive taunts. Kim never intended to attack Guam or Japan or the US, he was building his strategy to attract enough attention to use his bargaining chips. The meeting would never have been contemplated had he behaved like a good boy.
Let’s add to the swirl of speculation and first consider what Kim needs. Here is a hypothetical shopping list prepared by Kim and his helpful, loyal sister, Kim Yo Jong.
1 – Security: he wants certainty that he and his regime will be safe from foreign aggression. It isn’t entirely logical, but that’s by the by. The reason he is nervous about this is because his intelligence has told him that Trump means what he says. When he tried to scare him with the red button on his desk, Trump raised him a bigger red button. That’s not a Barack Obama play. Kim recognises that he is only a pretend bully on the world stage, and he doesn’t want to be found out. He fears that if he swaggers too much, Trump will double swagger him back – and perhaps even land a punch. Trump knows the risks but he knows the risks of appeasement are greater. A signed non-aggression pact will do, thanks, Donald.
2 – Acceptance, kudos: Kim wants the world to see him and Trump side by side at the podium in front of the world’s press, on a billion TV screens in the homes of his friends, and especially his enemies, both known and unknown, domestic and international. And then he wants a seat at the UN.
3- Resources, food, money, medical supplies, etc: he desperately needs to feed his people. Any tangible improvement in supplies would shore up his standing, damp down dissent both within the party and the population. This would also feed into his desire for security.
4 – Go home Yank: he will use the cover of a call for total Korean de-nuclearisation to create pressure on the US to exit South Korea. He knows that won’t happen, but by demanding it he creates a big bargaining chip. When he relents, he gets a prize.
What will he give up? Perhaps these:
1 – Nuclear materials: He has a couple of stacks with which to gamble but like Saddam Hussein and WMD, his bragging about nuclear capability is quite possibly an exaggeration. But it’s a great bargaining chip, especially as nobody really knows the facts. He can dump his stash of ICBMs in return for a Very Big Prize; like lifting of all sanctions once the missiles are safely destroyed by UN supervised crunchers. This is a big part of what the meeting is about, the hot potato that has been getting hotter and hotter in the oven of warring words.
2 – Cutting all weapon-related ties with Iran and any other country. Considering the secret arrangements available to these countries, that would be an easy promise to make – and secretly break.
3 – Release of political prisoners: another easy ‘give’, since he can release a few thousand of the least dangerous ones (the broken and the very ill) and gain not only international applause and gifts, but domestic joy as well. This is perhaps the most rewarding item he can trade.
Isn’t it amusing in a sardonic sort of way that much of the world’s media falls in line with the preferred nomenclature of this tinpot dictator: he’s referred to variously as Supreme Leader, despite there being no other or Junior leaders. North Korea is often referred to as the Hermit Kingdom, despite it being a communist dictatorship. It’s the equivalent of verbal cleansing in which genocide can be called ethnic cleansing.