M D Nalapat
The idea behind a Trump-Kim meeting is to make the North Korean leader understand that the US President is ‘deadly serious’ about a military option.
Expert in evading hard choices and in obfuscating issues, the Washington Beltway (an ideological cousin of Delhi’s Lutyens Zone) remains on overdrive in an effort at reversing the 8 November 2016 verdict of the US electorate and removing the 45th President of the United States from office. However, now that he is entering his fifteenth month in the Oval Office, the US President is finally coming out of the defensive crouch that he was made to adopt by advisors chosen for their Beltway connections, and who are rapidly being dismissed from office, the latest to go being National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who is being replaced with John Bolton, who in temperament and tenacity, although not in appearance, resembles Trump. As Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson was known for his emollient approach to prospective global partners of the oil giant.
However, PR skills were not what President Trump sought in a Secretary of State, and Tillerson has now made way for Mike Pompeo, who shares several geopolitical concepts with the present occupant of the White House. Together with Defense Secretary James Mattis, this is the team that will accompany President Trump to talks in May with the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un. The Beltway is opposed to such a meeting, perhaps out of fear that Trump may gain in popularity and global respect as a consequence of the unprecedented sit-down between a serving US Head of State and a North Korean leader. However, the US President is known to wish to go ahead with the summit, and has asked his aides to busy themselves with the formalities needing to be addressed before the meeting takes place in a third country.
Those privy to the White House rationale for such a meeting say that it is intended to meet four specific purposes:
(a) Show the international community that President Trump is ready to walk the extra mile for peace, provided that the basic objective of ensuring the security of the US is not compromised.
(b) Size up Kim Jong Un and ascertain the “extent of sincerity” of the North Korean supremo in handing over his nuclear assets once assured of security for his regime from external forces.
(c) Convey directly and bluntly a warning to Kim that this is his last chance for obeying the wishes of the international community and “handing over his nuclear assets for disposal in a time-bound and verifiable manner”.
(d) Allow Kim to meet Trump face to face to understand that the US President is “deadly serious” about the military option, and that he will not hesitate to launch a war in case it becomes obvious that the DPRK has no intention of surrendering its nuclear weapons program. While Presidents W.J. Clinton, G.W. Bush and B.H. Obama could not bring themselves to cross the line and initiate a military solution to the North Korean issue, Trump would like to show the North Korean side that he represents a break from such a pacifist path, and that he will have no hesitation in giving the order to “strike and destroy North Korea’s military assets and leadership”.
It is understood that Defense Secretary Mattis has been “on overdrive” for the past nine months working on options designed to decapitate the North Korean regime in such a manner that “significant damage does not get caused” to US allies such as South Korea or Japan. As part of such planning, high value military platforms (on sea and air) have been rotated in the vicinity of North Korea so as to familiarise themselves with the geographic locations that would be the target of the air, land and sea strikes, and that such “preparations for conflict” will get completed within four months, or soon after the Trump-Kim meeting. “This time, a US President will not hand over US security to any other country (read China) the way his predecessors have”, a source warned, adding that President “Trump will take all actions that are needed to protect the Homeland without worrying about the reaction across the Pacific”.
Those in contact with the Trump White House say that the US President “does not want to go down in history as the man under whose watch North Korea was enabled to become a lethal threat to the Homeland”, and that he is “ready to approve the military option rather than (in effect) stow it away” in the manner of his three predecessors. The Trump White House understands that the policies of the past have led to a trust deficit in US reliability. However, the President intends to assure the North Korean supremo personally that his regime will be safe from external intervention if he abandons the nuclear weapons program. Those in contact with the White House pointed out that the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis could have led to a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR. However, the secret guarantee that Washington would not intervene against the Castro regime in Cuba in the future, and would not seek to facilitate regime change on the island, ensured that peace was maintained.
The sources say that President Trump has a “practical mind” and “can be relied upon to keep his word, the way he has in countless operations he has conducted” across the globe. The expectation is that, in a “let bygones be bygones” spirit, both North and South Korea could enter into a “Bright Sunshine” policy once nuclear weapons get removed from the DPRK, and that such a process may “within a generation” result in a unification of the Korean peninsula. However, the “onus for this vests with Kim Jong Un”.
During the May 2018 meeting of the two sides, President Trump will give the North Korean supreme leader the option of “either salvation or oblivion”. He “owes it to history to make a final effort for peace before the furies of war get unleashed”, which is the US President is disregarding Beltway opinion in his determination to hold a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un “this May, or well before the deadline for military action comes up”. Given the views and the propensities for action of the by now far more “Trumpian” US national security team, it seems clear that Kim Jong Un will face a choice that his predecessors could duck because of the unwillingness of Clinton, Bush and Obama to implement the military option at a time (during the Clinton period) “when casualties on our side would have been zero” to “a few hundreds” during the eight years of Bush II and “some thousands” during Obama.
Those close to White House thinking warn that casualties “could reach the hundreds of thousands” in case Kim Jong Un refuses to disarm and a military strike on him and his regime is delayed. “This is Kim’s last chance for an honourable peace”, a source said, adding that “President Trump will go to any extent to ensure the safety of the American people, as will be seen should North Korea refuse to abandon its nuclear program”.