Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What to expect from Clinton's "Summit"

And, Kim Jong Il Gets What He Wants... (Which is ? Scroll to the way bottom)
While former President Clinton goes to North Korea (as an unoffical guest, which is quite convenient for the U.S.), Kim Jong Il finally gets his one-on-one encounter with a (former, Democratic) U.S. president -- before he dies. It made all the headlines here in the U.K. as well, however I couldn't find an equivalent of the one they had at over at the Economist. I nabbed the picture below from "North Korea: Pictures from an exhibition" : The Economist.

At any rate, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il finally got the attention he so craved. While reading one of the U.K. dailies today, I came across this one part, which I thought was quite funny. These are insults that have been traded between the U.S. and the North Korean regime at one point or another:

Kim Jong-il may have been all smiles and handshakes with Bill, but just a few days ago his regime was in something of a slanging match with the other Clinton.

On a recent visit to New Delhi, Hillary, the Secretary of State, bemoaned the North Korean leadership's "constant demand for attention," before adding: "Maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers."

The North Koreans' response was firm. "We cannot but regard Mrs Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," a spokesperson said. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes like a pensioner going shopping."

The name-calling between Washington and Pyongyang is not new. George W Bush branded Kim Jong-il "a spoiled child at a dinner table". The North Koreans called Bush a "tyrannical imbecile" lacking "even an iota of elementary reason". And in 1968, North Korea's Major-General Pak Chung Kuk called Lyndon Johnson a "living corpse" ("Two U.S. journalists freed from Korean gulag" : The Independent).
At any rate, there was a lot of press coverage, but with expectations suddenly raised between North Korea and the U.S., although I feel I am a quite an optimist by nature, I cannot be more than a tad pessimistic about what may lay ahead. This "summit" has all the elements that the Koizumi-Kim summit had in 2002 when Koizumi suddenly and unexpectedly arrived in North Korea for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for the release of Japanese abductees. Of course, none at the time and nobody more so than former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi could have anticipated how adversely the Japanese public would consume the news that their citizens had indeed been abducted.

Personally, I believe what will drive North Korea-U.S. relations as well as with the other four parties from the six party framework, is how each party comes to accept the fact that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. This stands in stark and direct conflict with the fact that the United States will never accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power along the lines that the U.S. has with India -- and rightly so.

But, I do believe the U.S. would be content to see a steady-state where North Korea has nuclear weapons, but doesn't share/sell nuclear weapons or technology to other countries or non-state actors. Of course, this would hinge on North Korea not testing nuclear weapons (you can see this as the U.S. -- I'm thinking Department of Defense here, which has a different definition as to what constitutes a nuclear test than the U.S. State Department). And, of course, this action by the U.S. would in and of itself be a security guarantee for North Korea -- while not directly in the form of an alliance, the U.S. will do everything in its power to make sure a state with nuclear weapons does not collapse (think Pakistan).

But, pessimissm aside, I have a feeling that come one year -- and provided Kim Jong Il doesn't die, not much will have changed from how things were perhaps a couple years ago. If North Korea returns to a posture where it looks like it is going to negotiate, then South Korea can again start trading with North Korea and, well, unfortunately Japan looks like the odd man out (I'm quite concerned about what would happen if Japan's interests were not considered by the U.S., leading to Japan re-arming. Japan has quite a few greivances with all her neighbors: Kuril Islands/lack of peace treaty (Russia), Liancourt Rocks (Korea), No Peace Treaty (North Korea), and the Senkaku Islands (China/Republic of China(Taiwan)). I'm probably missing some others as well.

Anyways, I'm thinking that at best we can expect a return to the status quo and see what type of vocabulary each country uses to come up with a tacit acceptance of North Korea's nuclear weapons program as no country will go to war with North Korea to get rid of it.

(So, Kim Jong Il gets a de-facto security guarantee from the United States with the potential for much more).

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