United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea to follow up on talks between Trump and Kim, which prompted Trump to claim that, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” He urged his countrymen to “sleep well tonight” since he neutralised the enemy with his legendary deal making skills. Truth be told, he only used his skills for drama, which he had put to good use during his election campaign as well.
North Korea criticised Trump administration’s “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearisation” terming it “deeply regrettable”. Never mind that Pompeo had branded the talks as “productive”. Basically, the crux of the problem is that despite everything, the two countries do not trust each other. America is telling North Korea to denuclearise completely following which the sanctions would be lifted, whereas the North Koreans are saying that it should be done in a phases.
This is the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma from Game Theory. Both sides benefit by betraying the other and know that the party taking the first step loses.
This situation could possibly be helped by the presence of an international political equivalent of PayPal, which makes it possible for complete strangers to make large transactions, who otherwise wouldn’t do business because of lack of trust. But having such a mechanism would render the “international relations realist” school of thought, which presumes the world to be an anarchic system, meaningless.
The current environment is rife for belligerence to win the day and for insanity to prevail. If we could borrow from international sports, there may be a solution. In cricket and football, to reach the knockout stage, there are some points earned by the team that has a record showing outstanding performance.
Let us now examine the records of both the US and North Korea. The US took Gaddafi’s nuclear arsenal and promised him that he wouldn’t be attacked. We know that that decision became his death warrant. Trump just recently ditched the Iran nuclear deal. Saddam used to be an ally and then he was killed after his country was invaded on a false pretext. And those are the cases where the countries in question did not even develop nuclear weapons.
North Korea knows that the US is capable of forgetting a country’s disobedience once that country becomes a needed ally. Pakistan was criticised for testing nuclear weapons in May 1998 and the US took a serious stand against the test. But then 9/11 happened and Pakistan became an American ally
North Korea knows that the US is capable of forgetting a country’s disobedience once that country becomes a needed ally. Pakistan was criticised for testing nuclear weapons in May 1998. President Clinton imposed sanctions on Pakistan and said, “Pakistan lost a truly priceless opportunity to strengthen its own security, to improve its political standing in the eyes of the world.” The threats of repayment of $30 billion within six months were alarming. Then came 9/11 and Pakistan became an American ally. Even during the 1980s, when Pakistan was working to develop nuclear weapons, the United States was aware of it but preferred to stay quiet because Pakistan’s utility in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union was of paramount importance.
Similarly, North Korea must also have noticed that the current Indian Prime Minister Modi was in the past not allowed a US visa because of his role in the 2002 Gujarat massacre where more than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless. Modi at the time served as a chief minister. Later, when he was elected as Prime Minister of India, the Obama administration allowed him to visit the US because India is again, a needed ally against China.
Let us now examine the performance of North Korea in the past. In 1994, there was a framework agreement, which basically meant that North Korea would not develop nuclear weapons and in return the West, primarily the United States, would provide them with the capacity for nuclear energy development, which they really needed since they didn’t have internal resources. The West didn’t live up to that bargain, and then Bush came in with his Weapons of Mass Destruction rhetoric that made things worse.
Then came the 2005 agreement, which American journalists, authors, professors, and media clowns lovingly refer to as an example of Korean cheating. In that agreement, North Korea was required to dismantle and end all of their nuclear programs, in return for the west, primarily the United States, to stop threatening their nation, and for a light water reactor to be provided, which could only be used for peaceful energy, research, and medical purposes. The Bush administration instantly undermined the agreement, by blocking the consortium that was supposed to provide the reactor, and immediately pressured banks into blocking North Korea’s financial transactions, including perfectly legitimate trade.
The disobedient North Koreans developed their nuclear program as a result. If the past is any indicator of intention, then North Korea would be wise not to trust the US government once again.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com and tweets @Imran_Jan.
Published in Daily Times, July 14th 2018.