Why would North Korea believe US assurances?

Much attention is being paid to the summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. The one-on-one meeting with just translators present begins at 9:00am Tuesday morning Singapore time which is 9:00pm ET Monday night. Aides and national security advisors will join them later. We know for certain that whatever the outcome, the summit will be a great success. Why? Because Trump will tell everyone that it was. He will tell us that it was the biggest and greatest summit meeting ever, even if the final deal is that the US agrees to give Alaska and Manhattan to North Korea and the meeting ends with Kim mooning Trump.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo seems to think that the US can offer sufficient incentives to get something significant in return from North Korea, without specifying exactly what is being offered or what the word ‘denuclearization’ implies.

“It is the case we are prepared to give security assurances necessary for the North Koreans to engage in … denuclearisation,” Pompeo told reporters. “We are prepared to take actions that will provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearisation isn’t something that ends badly for them.”

He added: “We are prepared to make … security assurances that are different, [more] unique than, what America has been willing to provide previously. We think this is both necessary and appropriate.”

One big question is why the North Koreans would believe any assurances that the US gives them. The history of the US is riddled with so many cases of interfering with the internal affairs of other nations, overthrowing governments, and making agreements only to unilaterally renege on them when they were no longer convenient. The word of the US government cannot be trusted. Trump has made this even clearer than his more smooth-talking predecessors.

The other related question is what the North Koreans would gain by giving up their nuclear weapons, which is clearly what the US seems to be aiming for. The North Koreans have got the US to take them seriously only because they have nuclear weapons. Without them, they would long ago have met the fate of Iraq, Libya, and the many other countries that have been destabilized and invaded. Trump could promise them financial incentives for complete denuclearization such as lifting the trade sanctions but North Korea has resisted such offers before and although from the outside life seems grim in this very authoritarian state, the country seems to somehow get along. Would they accept short-term financial gain for long-term uncertainty about the threat of a US attack or invasion? On a more personal level, would Kim take the risk of his life ending up like Saddam Hussein or Mohammed Ghaddafi?

Although Kim is only 36, young by the standards of national leaders, he has been in power since 2011 and so cannot be treated as a naïve rookie and easily outmaneuvered. Unlike Trump, who seems to think that preparation for such meetings is a sign of weakness and that the sheer force of his personality can bend people to his will, Kim would have been thoroughly briefed.

But whatever the outcome, it is better for nations to talk than to not talk. Even if the talks end up with no deal at all but just an agreement to talk some more, with the meaning of the word denuclearization left ambiguous, that would still be better that nothing. Even a return to the status quo would not be a catastrophe.

So I do not expect much from this summit but I do not fear a disaster either.


  1. says

    Given that the US secretly proliferated nuclear weapons to Korea starting in 1957, I don’t see what “denuclearization” means -- unless it’s just “do what I say”

  2. says

    Donald won’t be bringing up North Korea’s human rights abuses and that has inspired some pearl clutching from the kind of people who don’t think the United States abuses human rights.

  3. cartomancer says

    What I don’t quite understand is what the US hopes to gain in Korea.

    The thing about Libya and Iraq was that they were oil-rich countries the US could plunder for resources. Keeping the Middle East destabilised was a benefit in that it prevented the collective action of the Arab nations towards collective organisation and economic progress that would ultimately see the US and its Saudi allies reduced to a minor player in the region’s economy.

    Panama, Nicaragua and the like were regional powers close to the US, and likewise their suppression created an unstable region that could not easily overcome the US pressure to orient their economies as satellites of the US that worked in its interests, not their own.

    Vietnam was a case of restoring French colonial rule to reduce South-East Asia to a state where it could only allow US and European interests to set the agenda for its economy, in the US-led reshaping of the world following the Second World War. The Vietnam and Korean wars were aimed at limiting the power of the Communist bloc and preventing Russia from achieving anything like the dominance the US had.

    But, these days, North Korea means very little to the Russians. The only people interested in it are the Chinese and the South Koreans. The Japanese tangentially perhaps. I cannot fathom what interest the US has in it at all, either economically or politically, except maybe as a fig-leaf for otherwise blatantly Middle Eastern policies (see! they’re part of the Axis of Evil! It’s not just Muslims!). It’s paltry economy offers the US no threat or benefit, and its instability certainly doesn’t affect the stability of either China or South Korea to any great degree.

    Is there something I’m missing?

  4. raym says

    cartomancer said: “Is there something I’m missing?”

    OFITOO’s giant ego? Plus it’s a good diversion away from the Witch Hunt.

  5. cartomancer says

    Oh, I can get why Trump wants to interfere. It’s all about ego to him. I just don’t get what the rest of the US establishment has to gain from interfering. With most of the US’s other foreign invasions the rationale is rather clear. This one… I’m not sure.

  6. cartomancer says

    Aha! control of other people’s valuable resources. The usual story. Fair enough. Makes sense.

  7. Quirky says

    Why would North Korea believe US assurances?
    They haven’t been paying good attention to history perhaps.
    Seems a lot of Americans are guilty of believing US unwarranted “assurances” also. What excuse will they claim when the chickens come home to roost?

  8. Dunc says

    cartomancer, / Roj Blake: as I’ve argued here before, I think it becomes clearer if you look at a map of shipping routes… The Korean peninsula is handily situated to control the world’s 3rd most important shipping route (after the Panama and Suez canals, which are also well controlled by US bases and client states). I think it’s not so much that they care about NK, as that it provides a convenient excuse for maintaining a significant military and naval force in a strategically important location. To paraphrase the Project for a New American Century writing on the topic of Iraq back in 2000, “While the unresolved conflict with [North Korea] provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the [Yellow Sea] transcends the issue of the regime of [Kim Jong-un]”.

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