In a previous article on US nuclear diplomacy with North Korea I had suggested that the current standoff between Washington and Pyongyang, revealed by Trump’s cancellation of a planned trip to North Korea by Mike Pompeo, may have been caused by Trump’s misleading of Kim Jong-un at Singapore regarding US intentions.
My position has been vindicated, it would seem.
Vox carried a report this week, by Alex Ward (a very good reporter), which was an exclusive based on official sources privy to the negotiations or the negotiating record at Singapore, that strongly suggested that Trump mislead Kim Jong-un at Singapore
President Donald Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their Singapore summit in June that he’d sign a declaration to end the Korean War soon after their meeting, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations…
…According to two people familiar with Trump and Kim’s discussions in Singapore during the June 12 summit, Trump promised the North Korean leader that he’d sign a peace declaration soon after they met. (The two sources requested anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.) It’s still unclear whether Kim requested this or if Trump brought it up, and whether Trump promised to sign the declaration by a certain date.
A source also noted that North Korea believes Trump made the same promise to Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean official close to Kim Jong Un, at the White House on June 1 — 11 days before the summit
This is what I had written earlier than the Vox article
An interesting question becomes, not has Trump misunderstood Pyongyang’s policy, but rather was Pyongyang misled at Singapore? The North Koreans have stated that their understanding is that their notion of denuclearisation was agreed to at Singapore. Trump has often stated that what we know as CVID was agreed to at Singapore. Somebody is talking bullshit, and the one tangible bit of hard empirical evidence we have, the Singapore Declaration which speaks of working toward complete denuclearisation, suggests that it is the Great Orange Tip that is talking shit. A transcript of the discussion at Singapore would be handy, and it’s something that should be made available to the citizens of a democratic society. Could it be that Trump not only has misled the public about what was agreed at Singapore but that he has done so not because he misunderstands these things but because he misled the North Koreans at Singapore so he could walk away with a communique he could use for domestic political effect?
Donald Trump appears to have promised Kim Jong-un at Singapore, during discussion between the pair, that Washington would promptly issue a joint statement with Pyongyang, if not also Seoul, declaring the Korean War to be over. This might also put Kim Jong-un’s post Singapore trips to China in a new light. It may well be the case that Pyongyang sought to include China in this process, given that China was a party to the Korean War and that in part explains the flurry of diplomacy with Beijing. That is, Kim Jong-un might have been angling, given the apparent Trump statements at Singapore, to develop a peace declaration jointly signed by Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington and Beijing. Those trips, thus, could have been more than keeping big brother in the loop as it were. Needless to say, a four party joint declaration would have made for spectacular diplomatic optics, and it’s hard to see North Korea signing one without trying to include China. Kim’s post summit trips to China would be consistent with the thesis that Trump promised a peace declaration at Singapore.
The matter in dispute, a political declaration stating that the Korean War is over, which is not the same as a formal legal instrument which would need to be approved by Congress, is consistent with the Singapore Declaration which states
President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula
That wording appears in the preamble, but it’s important to be reminded of it because nuclear disarmament is not the raison d’etre of the Singapore process, a permanent peace regime is, and disarmament is meant to contribute to this. You wouldn’t know this by looking at the American debate post Singapore which is singularly obsessed with disarmament.
The Singapore Declaration commits the US and North Korea to four things, two of which are
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula
These are the first two of the four items as presented in the text.
For North Korea a political declaration is important because its long standing position on denuclearisation stipulates that the US needs to reverse what Pyongyang calls Washington’s “hostile policy.” Such a declaration would serve as tangible evidence that what Pyongyang regards as Washington’s hostile policy is a thing of the past, and that is why North Korea adopts a phased like-for-like reciprocal process of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. A reciprocal series of actions gives Pyongyang confidence in US bona fides on the matter.
The Trump administration’s post Singapore position has continued to emphasise that North Korea must completely, irreversibly, and verifiably, dismantle (CVID) its strategic nuclear and missile capabilities and infrastructure before the United States would make significant moves to implement the first two items of the Singapore Declaration. The administration has falsely claimed that North Korea agreed to CVID, it did not as the Singapore Declaration itself shows, and furthermore it appears to have misled North Korea at Singapore regarding its own intentions.
You can see here how North Korea’s concept of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula as involving a graduated step-by-step process of confidence building is crucial to our story, because that is what Pyongyang thinks was agreed to at Singapore and if Trump misled Kim on the peace declaration, as it very much looks as if he did, then it follows that Trump agreed to the North Korean understanding of denuclearisation but had no intention of adhering to it post Singapore.
Yet hitherto all the media focus, commentary and analysis has been on North Korea’s intent not to disarm.
Thus far the whole thing has been a lie. It may well be that the Singapore waltz is a Trumpian charade, one of this administration’s attention grabbing diversions to keep our gaze away from its many destructive actions, and the misleading of Kim Jong-un was necessary to get Kim to sign a communique otherwise the game would have been up. A failed summit would have made for a bad look, especially pre mid terms. Trump doesn’t so much as make deals as sell them. The Trump administration lies to them but also to us, yet we are just about exclusively obsessed with counting possible Hwasong-15 missiles at Sanumdong or at North Korea’s military parade training grounds for clues regarding their intentions.
US intentions can be influenced by US citizens, and in turn US citizens can not only analyse North Korean intentions but more importantly they can influence them because the US can help shape North Korean intentions. The people of the United States have more influence over the intentions of North Korea than do the people of North Korea.
I have consistently, ever since Singapore, pointed out two things (among others). Firstly, that media commentary and analysis has far too often, almost exclusively, focused on North Korean intentions, especially regarding disarmament, without considering what might be US intentions. Secondly, that this almost exclusive attention on North Korean intentions distorts inquiry because it too readily focuses on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities without considering what might be viable alternatives to the US emphasis upon complete, irreversible, and verifiable dismantlement prior to its making concessions on the other aspects of the Singapore Declaration, which is not a serious negotiating position.
The thing with the liberal arms control community is that its breaking down of Trump’s false narrative regarding Singapore, highly important and based on careful empirical evaluation though it is, too often puts the spotlight on North Korea by showing how Pyongyang’s actions don’t match Trump’s representations of them or his representations of what North Korea agreed to at Singapore. The impression left is that North Korea’s nuclear policies are set in stone and that North Korea never has agreed, does not agree, and never will agree, to disarmament.
Because of this you get commentators in the mainstream, influential, media expressing their opposition to diplomacy, like this piece by Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. Notice how this analysis is based on an underlying, almost in principle, opposition to high level diplomacy with North Korea and that out of concern regarding the credibility of the US as a global power. That concern with credibility is why alternatives to the singular emphasis on CVID has not readily been entertained in the mainstream media, because anything less, supposedly, taints the credibility of the US as a global superpower.
Notice also that it is based on a false premise, namely that North Korea never had any intention to denuclearise, a claim based on an extrapolation of analysis made by the liberal arms control community. But that is exactly North Korea’s intention, at least as stated explicitly in the Panmunjom and Singapore declarations. By “denuclearisation” Rubin means, just like Trump, “dismantlement,” but for North Korea denuclearisation does not mean dismantlement. One might not like North Korea’s ideas regarding denuclearisation but one cannot misrepresent them as Rubin, and Trump, both do.
North Korea has agreed to denuclearisation and its post Singapore actions are entirely consistent with denuclearisation, crucially according to North Korea’s understanding of what denuclearisation means. Z cannot justifiably claim that x has no intention to do y based on z’s own, conflicting, misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what y is.
Say I claim an intention to throw away my oranges and not indulge my taste for oranges anymore, but you erroneously regard an orange to be an apple. You observe through satellite imagery that I am growing apple trees, storing extra apples, getting drunk on apple cider and gorging on apple pie. You can’t then say that my doing these things is contrary to my declaration that I will throw away my oranges, because oranges aren’t apples and, furthermore, I don’t regard oranges to be apples like you do.
The corporate media, both liberal and conservative, claims that oranges are apples, and everybody believes them. That’s power.
This all isn’t terribly different to Trump’s position. The standard position rejects high level diplomacy. Trump’s position rejects high level diplomacy too, but his rejection just has the added twist of appearing to be diplomacy without being diplomacy.
Both positions take us down a road that increases the risk of nuclear war.
Say there are three positions here, as there very much appears to be;
1. Something like the dangerous tensions of 2017.
2. Complete, irreversible, verifiable dismantlement before all else.
3. Denuclearisation through a graduated process of arms control.
Of the three doubtless 2 is to be preferred for the US, but not for Washington’s interlocutor in which case option 3 becomes the most rational to pursue. But if your concern is with the credibility of the US as a global power, the usual concern of US foreign policy elites, 3 becomes the least rational.
The interesting thing here is that I am confident that should North Koreans and Americans both be granted a free vote on the matter they would together vote for 3. This gedankenexperiment, as is their want, tells us much about our world and those who claim expertise in its interpretation.