Putting the ball in Kim’s court
What if Kim Jong Un is playing the long game? What if he only needs one nuclear weapon to work his will on the rest of the world? What if he doesn’t need atomic bombs or long-range missiles at all — and understands that?
What President Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator agreed to Tuesday is only a promise both sides will work toward “denuclearization” of North Korea. In exchange, Kim’s regime would get a U.S. guarantee we would not try to overthrow him, along with a substantial amount of economic aid.
Promises are cheap in Pyongyang. Kim has lied about his intentions. His father lied about disarmament. His grandfather lied about everything.
But assume for a moment that Kim is serious. Let us trust that he really is prepared to “denuclearize,” at least to the point that the United States can find no evidence he has cheated.
That would not be difficult. Kim has just a handful of nuclear devices now. So he hands them all over to American inspectors, lets us check all the sites our satellites have identified as involved in atomic R&D, and we get to proclaim mission accomplished.
Meanwhile, we pump billions of dollars into the North Korean economy, allowing Kim to work something like the Chinese miracle for his people. That’s one reason the communist regime in Beijing feels reasonably secure. During the past decade or so, it has somehow raised around 400 million people out of dirt poverty and into the middle class.
Doing something like that would make Kim even more of a god than he already is to many North Koreans.
Well, at least the threat of war between the two Koreas, along with massive loss of life (including U.S. troops and their families in South Korea) is eliminated.
No, it isn’t. Just five years or so ago, before Kim had nukes, he already had the capability to kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
North Korea’s army has an estimated 12,000 conventional artillery pieces and 2,300 multiple rocket launchers aimed at Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Within a couple of hours, without hitting the red button, Kim could massacre an incredible number of people.
Not to worry, some analysts say. Why, most of Kim’s cannons don’t have the range to hit Seoul, they explain. What he has could, within a few hours, destroy no more than about 20 square miles of the city, they add.
Twenty square miles. That’s supposed to make us feel better?
Then there are the missiles, not mentioned specifically in the Trump-Kim deal. Suppose Kim drops a couple of them, equipped with conventional high-explosive warheads, on Hawaii?
But let’s get back to the nukes, which seem to be preoccupying everyone.
Trump is using a negotiating style that, just by getting Kim to the table, is better than anything any other president has tried for decades.
One master stroke — condemned by critics who couldn’t find anything else to carp about — was to tell Kim the United States is suspending military maneuvers with South Korean forces.
By doing that, Trump puts the ball squarely in Kim’s court. Now the dictator has to do something big in return.
But is he not even playing against Trump? Is Kim willing to wait?
Think about it: He gets rid of every nuclear device he has and convinces us he has done so.
Then, in a tiny, lead-lined building smaller than your living room and concealed in some remote location, Kim squirrels away enough fissionable material (a piece about the size of a basketball is enough), along with pre-machined pieces to assemble a crude nuclear bomb in a couple of weeks.
Fast forward to 2025 at the end of Trump’s presidency, when a new, more malleable person moves into the White House. Kim orders his bomb assembled, makes it known he has a terrorist network capable of planting it in Los Angeles, and we’re back to where we were two years ago.
Could that be the plan? Maybe. Is there anything we can do about it?
Give Trump credit. His deal with Kim is far better than anyone might have expected just a couple of years ago. It is not peace in our time — but folks, that just isn’t going to happen.
Myer can be reached at: email@example.com.