US President Donald Trump has followed his instincts while dealing with Kim Jong Un and not depended on the stale, failed advice of those under whose watch the North Korean issue was allowed to balloon into a deadly threat
Since the close of 1939-45 intercontinental war, countries across both sides of the Atlantic fashioned international constructs designed to protect their privileges and advantages even after de-colonisation.
The Bretton Woods system does not even make a pretence at being even-handed. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s primary task is to rescue the euro from itself, while that of the World Bank is to ensure that US business continues to dominate global commerce. In the UN, a majority of three of the all-powerful Permanent Five members of the Security Council are from a single military alliance, NATO, while the ICJ, the WTO and other so-called “international” organisations in practice gravitate to the stands regarded by the Atlantic Alliance as favourable to itself. Unity across both sides of the North Atlantic has been the foundation of the reality of Europe enjoying a premium on its actual strength. This premium comes from the manner in which North America and West Europe control the post-1945 “international order” and bend it in directions favourable to themselves.
Worryingly for the Europeans, Asian economies are outpacing them by substantial margins, and are today far more important to the economic health of the US than Europe has been since the close of the 1990s. Thus far, the Atlantic Alliance has survived because of the fact that what is termed the Washington Beltway (the equivalent of India’s Lutyens Zone) continues to place the interests of the Europeans above those of the US. Had they done the latter, there would have been a faster and smoother transition from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific alliance than is the case at present. While Barack Obama talked of a “reset to Asia”, the Clinton machine sabotaged such a move. Only President Donald Trump has sought to actually implement such a necessary shift in US strategy Only if Russia is the Numero Uno rival of the US will it make sense to have France and Germany (indeed, the entire Atlantic Alliance) at the core of the US policy. However, from the earliest years of the present century, it is China that has assumed that role. The country has continued its upward trajectory in economic heft and has by now emerged as the Second Superpower, with a strong likelihood that it will be the primary superpower within 15 years. In the vast reaches of the Indo-Pacific (which from the start have been defined by this writer as the entirety of the Pacific and Indian oceans), the only way the US can remain ahead of China in power projection and influence is by a close military relationship with India. And if the security challenge presented by North Korea to the US is to be eliminated, Washington will need at the least a neutral Russia and a friendly Taiwan on its side. Only such a coming together of select Asian powers with the US can ensure that China does not intervene militarily (openly or otherwise) in the eventuality of a military decapitation strike on North Korea (the DPRK). While Bill Clinton and George W Bush (especially in his first term) could have taken out North Korea’s nuclear and missile assets without significant collateral damage, except to North Korea itself.
However, by now Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has operationalised a war machine that has the capability to inflict around two million casualties in Japan, South Korea, US military assets in the Philippines and parts of the US such as Guam and very soon Seattle and Los Angeles. The hand bequeathed to President Trump by his predecessors is a weak one, and made still weaker by the sabotage (motivated by their desire to retain the primacy of the Atlantic Alliance over US policy) of Trump’s efforts at making Moscow an ally of Washington, something that was on offer throughout Bill Clinton"s two terms but which was rejected by him out of the Arkansan’s consideration for European interests over those of the United States Donald Trump is accused of “frequently changing his mind” when the reality is that he sets an objective, keeps it secret except to his closest advisors, and then goes about altering tactics to meet changing circumstances. His objective in Asia is to isolate China by bringing as many significant powers as possible into the US rather than the Chinese camp. Were he to “do a Vietnam” with the DPRK and make that country a friend of the US the way Hanoi has become, it would be a coup that would immediately make East Asia a safer place. If the military option (and its casualty levels) is taken off the table, the only other option is to make North Korea a friend so that Pyongyang has no longer the need to provocatively flex its nuclear and missile muscle at the security alliance of Japan, the US and South Korea.
Rather than act in a “reckless” manner, the way he is described by Atlanticist media and analysts, President Trump has shown immense skills in “giving face” to Kim Jong Un in a way no other country has done with him, his father or his grandfather. A Kim visit to Washington (to howls of protest from the “Depose Trump” capitol gang) would deepen the process of engagement such that a start could be made on the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. How do those who find fault with Trump’s astute diplomacy at Singapore expect Supreme Leader Kim to make moves towards downscaling confrontation if he continues to be regarded as an outcast? Ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons may take years, perhaps more than a decade. However, ensuring that North Korea converts itself into an opportunity (for business and other linkages) and not a threat to some of its neighbours could get accomplished even by the close of 2018, provided Donald Trump follows his instincts on the matter of dealing with Kim and not the stale, failed advice of those under whose watch the North Korean issue was allowed to balloon into a deadly threat to not just Japan and South Korea but the US itself.
(The writers is Director, Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University)