The Man Who Lost Korea: The Fourth Inter-Korean Summit.

For North Korea reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration and it’s speedy implementation are the big ticket items from the fourth inter-Korean summit, certainly not denuclearisation nor Trump

I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. It’s been a breathtaking week. The test site. The test site map. The test site portals. The tunnels. The Kim-Trump summit is off. Again with the big buttons. A fourth inter-Korean summit stun’s us all. Now the Kim-Trump summit, seemingly, is back on.

What to make of It all?

I will leave aside the matter of Punggye-ri, at least for now, and concentrate on the Kim-Trump summit. I think it would be appropriate to cite what appears to be the key passage, at least for the North Koreans, from the KCNA statement on the fourth inter-Korean summit

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In shared the view that the two sides should trust and take care of with each other and exert joint efforts to make sure that the Panmunjom declaration reflecting the unanimous desire of all Koreans is implemented at an early date

We are all focused on the effect that the fourth inter-Korean summit will have on the prospects for the on-again-off-again-on again Kim-Trump summit, but when you read the KCNA statement you get the impression this reaffirmation of the Panmunjom declaration, arising from the third inter-Korean summit, and the pledge to accelerate its implementation, are the big ticket items for North Korea.

The very fact of the fourth inter-Korean summit, the circumstances in which it came about, and the reaffirmation of the Panmunjom declaration demonstrates the determination of Moon Jae-in to achieve a successful diplomatic outcome with North Korea that paves the road to a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.

The brazen facing down of Washington by Seoul is unprecedented. The United States appears to be losing Korea.

If I were to make an educated guess, and it is a hazard at the best of times but more so now with Trump in the White House, I would attribute the apparent about face of the Trump administration on the US-DPRK, summit, following the fourth inter-Korean summit, not to conciliatory gestures from Kim but rather out of a growing concern that the United States is becoming diplomatically isolated.

North Korea’s position on denuclearisation, whatever you think of it, has been consistent over this period. Pyongyang does not equate denuclearisation to complete, verifiable, immediate, disarmament and the hawks in the administration are using such a conception to sabotage the Kim-Trump summit. The problem for the hardliners, however, is that this leaves America alone regarding the future of the Korean peninsula, and that undermines the US position in Northeast Asia. It also leaves the hardliners without a viable policy option to compel denuclearisation understood in the above terms, either through military action or further multilateral economic sanctions.

There is too much talk about in academic international relations about the relative decline of the United States, but one of its most visible manifestations would be a gradual reverse of the gains made during the Pacific War of World War II. Should the US lose Korea, as it were, it would follow the absurdist antics of Donald Trump rather than relative decline. That suggests setbacks now are reversible, at least in principle if not practice.

As for the hawks it seems to me that their best bet would be to dust off Donald Rumsfeld’s OPLAN 5030 which sought to goad North Korea into taking precipitous military action in response to a series of provocative US military manoeuvres. John Bolton would be aware of Rumsfeld’s OPLAN 5030. The problem now, of course, is that with Moon Jae-in those provocations would need to be unilateral and, furthermore, OPLAN 5030 was drawn up before the Hwasong-15 and the two-stage thermonuclear warhead that goes with it. That changes the strategic calculus no end.

One thing I saw throughout the week was claims made about North Korea not yet acquiring the capability to deliver a warhead to ICBM range. Forget about that talk. That genie is out of the bottle, and Bolton is the last person on Earth that can put it back in.

The drama surrounding the on-off-on Kim-Trump summit, without question, partly has been a function of Trump’s misreading of North Korea’s official stance on denuclearisation. It seems as if he thinks the North’s stance is complete and unilateral disarmament whereas we know it is anything but. Trump’s realisation that denuclearisation is not immediate and unilateral disarmament has seen him lose enthusiasm in the summit. One can see this in the kerfuffle over the agenda for the summit. It seems that this played no insignificant role in Trump’s suspension of the summit. Washington sought an agenda for the summit, and that agenda was dominated by denuclearisation and Trump’s understanding of that term. Pyongyang did not agree to a hard and fast agenda, certainly not an immediate disarmament agenda, which tells us something about how Pyongyang views denuclearisation. For Trump that must have come us a blow, as he seems to think he has compelled Kim Jong-un to the summit. It is possible that Trump’s thinking this has his “eyes on the prize.”

If Obama has one, I want one, seems to be the deal.

I rather suspect also that the gyrations on the summit are consistent with an important feature of his administration. The Reagan administration, understood as the new right backroom boys that staffed the administration, kicked the downtrodden in the teeth whilst the great communicator reassuringly lip synched his cue cards about morning in America. The Trump administration is similar, only this time the buffoon at the front diverts us with one antic after another. It seems to me that the drama over the summit fits this pattern of calculated buffoonery quite well.

We all know of the famous lights from space picture that shows North Korea in darkness and South Korea bathed in light. That remains the case, and that surely has much to do with North Korean policy. But it should have much to do with ours too.

North Korea doesn’t have the lights, true, but they can take out ours now.

A rational approach to the North Korean nuclear crisis should start from that fact, and it is a fact.