Hope is not a strategy
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Should we trust him?”
We are back at this fundamental question after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left his third visit to Pyongyang empty-handed. Can we trust the sincerity of Kim Jong-un’s will to denuclearize?
U.S. President Donald Trump, Pompeo and President Moon Jae-in are responsible for the current state. As if they were possessed, they were all charmed by Kim and complimented the dictator. President Moon said Kim was frank and polite, and Trump called him a smart tough guy. Pompeo said Kim was bright.
It was Pompeo who changed the most. A few months earlier, he had openly advocated regime change in the North, but he defended Kim after a one-on-one meeting.
Pompeo graduated from West Point first in his class and has a law degree from Harvard. He is known to be honest, open and straightforward. When he was CIA director, he was in a long meeting with high-level officials, and when asked what adversaries do if the United States used a strategy, he responded, “They wouldn’t have a meeting like this.” A devout Christian, he is a local church deacon and teaches Sunday school. Someone with such a personality often makes a mistake of trusting others easily. As the ears of Trump, Pompeo’s misunderstanding is bound to make a difference to the overall North Korea policy.
South Korean and American leaders have been working with a belief that North Korea would keep the promise to denuclearize, based on the very subjective — and suspicious — grounds that Kim Jong-un is sincere. Of course, it is too early to judge his sincerity. But you should not adhere to a misperception.
First, it is a misjudgment to assume that someone smart and polite is honest. In international politics, lies can be justified for national interests. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was famously deceived by Hitler’s promise for peace and failed to prevent World War II. U.S. President John F. Kennedy also told downright lies. Until three days before attacking Cuba to bring down the Castro regime, he denied the plan to use force.
It is wrong to believe that Kim Jong-un’s determination for denuclearization would never change. Sanctions on North Korea are crumbling. The fish caught by North Korean boats in the West Sea are reportedly handed over to China directly. As North Korea is banned from exporting clothing, small and hard-to-trace subsidiary materials such as buttons and zippers are sold to China. It is not strange that Kim has changed his mind now.
Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, “A wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep his promises when such observance would place him at a disadvantage, and when the reasons for which he gave his word no longer exist.” In a realistic flow of thoughts, who could blame Kim for using tricks? So it would be right to assume that Kim could have lied or changed his mind. We should prepare for that case. Even if Kim uses cleaver tactics to delay, a Plan B should be prepared.
How about Korea drafting a desirable denuclearization timeline or a phased compensation plan? The Moon Jae-in administration can initiate a roadmap with experts’ participation or through an agreement between ruling and opposition parties. Only then can we push the recalcitrant state to move towards denuclearization. That would also be a way to prevent internal discord over speeding up inter-Korean exchanges. Assuming that Kim’s declaration that he is committed to denuclearization is sincere is probably nothing more than wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 10, Page 30