North Korea’s chubby dictator Kim Jong Un is back at it again with the same behavior his family has displayed many times before.
Yesterday, Kim issued a series of harsh statements lashing out at the US and South Korea for their traditional military drills (this is something North Korea complains about at least once or twice a year on average), and warning that North Korea would not even come to the table if the US was going to demand that they totally give up their nukes.
“If the Trump Administration is genuinely committed to improving NK-US relations and come out to the NK-US summit, they will receive a deserving response,” said Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“But if they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider whether we will accept the upcoming NK-US summit.”
In essence, Kim was sending a strong signal that he’s not done with the traditional, will-they-won’t-they North Korean strategy of duplicitous, aggressive negotiation and saber-rattling. And why would he be? It’s worked incredibly well for the Kim family, while impoverishing everyone else in their tiny hermit kingdom.
The North Koreans do it like this: they send out tentative signals that they’re ready to make friendly with the US. They play nice, and even promise some kind of de-nuclearization in order to draw attention and get an offer on the table. Then it either goes one of two ways.
When they finally get to the table, the North Koreans make puppy-dog eyes, swear they won’t do it again, and make a bunch of semi-credible promises to beat their swords into plowshares and sort their recycling before they put it in the bin. This usually convinces the negotiators on the other side of the table to offer them some kind of concrete resource in exchange for the mere promise of better North Korean behavior in the future.
Then, after securing the aid packages they want, the North Koreans simply continue doing whatever they said they wouldn’t do, and take the money and food anyway.
From 1995 to 2009, the US spent more than $600 million in energy aid for North Korea. We also gave them thousands of pounds of food to feed their starving peasantry. (Evidence suggests they probably resold at least some of that food for profit, and most likely went to their soldiers, but some also probably went into the bellies of starving North Korean civilians, and so that’s not all bad.)
The second way these North Korean negotiations go is like this: Whichever Kim is in charge at the moment gets to take a few photos with world leaders. He gets to eat some lobster at a few fancy dinners, and make a few statements about North Korea’s “unshakable resolve in the face of imperialist aggression” or some other nonsensical tripe.
Then the Kim goes home to his starving people and shows them the pictures, says “Hey folks, things at the summit didn’t work out like we hoped. The imperialists were – can you guys believe this? – still too aggressive. Go on back to your barren fields; I’ll keep stickin’ it to those darn imperialist pigs and defending you from their aggression for as long as my liver still works!”
And the North Korean people, not having any choice, must weep with joy to hear the Kim say these words. Effectively, the negotiation that the leaders of the free world entered into in good faith is nothing but an elaborate PR stunt for the North Koreans.
And these have been the standard tactics of the Kim family, to promise some kind of reform, then take a hard stance to force concessions from the US, for decades. Kim Jong Il, the previous dictator of North Korea and the daddy of the Little Rocket Man who now runs the show, pulled off a bait-and-switch like this at least four times.
In 1994, Kim Jong Il swore he would end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief and an aid package. The dewy-eyed US diplomats, hoping against hope for “peace in our time,” coughed up the food and the money.
And predictably, Kim Jong Il didn’t keep even one of his promises. And he pulled the same trick three more times, in 2000, 2005, and 2007. Each time, Pyongyang continued its nuclear testing and missile research in secret, despite accepting US aid and concessions aimed at getting them to stop. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, regarding US-North Korean relations, that the US was “tired of buying the same horse twice.”
But it seems that every time a new president comes into office, their various advisers forget the lessons we’ve already learned a half-dozen times. Every president wants to be the guy who “solved the North Korea problem.”
This is despite the fact that the only possible solution to the North Korea problem has always been to starve them into submission, foist a regime change, or invade and destroy them. Preferably before they could get their hands on a functioning nuke and well before they could build a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
But thanks to ol’ Obummer’s laziness and incompetence, the US has moved well past that crucial deadline. So now our best bet in the face of a nuclear North Korea is to play the same games we always play, but with infinitely higher stakes, and just hope and pray that the outcome is different.
It won’t be. But what else can we do?