By Alex Markovsky
05/06/18 The Hill
Most criticism of the impending agreement with North Korea espouses a traditional liberal bias. Instead of reading President Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s critics should be reading “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the Chinese warrior-philosopher who wrote the book two thousand years ago. Sun Tzu taught that the central importance in war is deception. “Even though you are competent, appear incompetent. One with great skill appears inept,” Sun Tzu advised. “Wear them down by fight, foster disharmony, use their anger and pride against them.” We all remember Trump’s midnight tweets: “little rocket man,” “this maniac,” “much bigger button” and so on.
Driven by effectiveness, the president brought decades of inconclusive negotiations to a close. By leveraging the United States’ economic and military powers he has attained a cooperation of other countries, primarily China, to impose international isolation and almost total economic blockade of North Korea. While North Korea’s military spending was draining its economy, the blockade deprived the state of revenue from the sales of coal and other natural resources driving the economy toward complete collapse. By calling Kim Jong Un’s nuclear bluff, Trump put him in a position known in chess as “Zugzwang.” This is a situation in which a player has to make a move, but any possible move will worsen his position.
With expectations rising, Kim would have a hard time spinning failure into victory. If Kim rejects Trump’s demands and Trump walks out, the North Korea’s economy will collapse. One does not get much legitimacy from poverty, especially when the other Korea is prospering. The regime will become vulnerable to fundamental change as a result of it.
If Kim accepts Trump’s conditions he may buy himself some time, but his future still looks bleak. Communist regimes cannot sustain prolonged periods of piece; they need enemies and hostilities to justify the deprivation and suffering they bring upon the population. Against this backdrop, Trump wins either way, and Kim loses.
Although the task of negotiating the preliminary arrangements is being handled by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it is not clear whether South Korea would have any substantive input in negotiating and signing of the peace treaty. South Korea was not a signatory to the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953. The agreement was signed by the United States, North Korea and China and was designed as a temporary measure until a final settlement is achieved. Therefore, it is the President Trump’s signature will be on the final document.
The settlement would likely include denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and withdraw American forces from South Korea. This is significant. It offers the United States an opportunity to redefine the essential elements of our national interests in the region.
If we examine the utility and the records of the 1953 Armistice Agreement, we may conclude that if North Korea gives up its nuclear capabilities, there would be no longer any legal, security or moral justification for keeping American forces and nuclear weapons in South Korea. Paragraph 13(d) of the 1953 Armistice Agreement mandated that neither side introduce new weapons into Korea. Facing a growing threat from North Korea abetted by communist China and the Soviet Union, the United States in 1956 in order to counter the superiority in conventional forces unilaterally abrogated the agreement and introduced atomic weapons into Korea as a principle element of the South Korean defense.
Sixty five years later, the strategic landscape is fundamentally different: the Soviet Union is no more and China, which became an intricate part of the world community, is not going to launch a million-man army to protect North Korea if she provokes a military action by the U.S. At the opposite end, South Korea is no longer defenseless devastated country. It has a population of 50 million and enjoys the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest in the world. Nevertheless, despite the economic strength and manpower, South Korea having neglected its military capabilities, continues to rely on the United States for maintaining her security.
Americans should be tired of paying for the defense of a distant economic powerhouse that is facing an adversary whose economy is a tiny fraction of its own and a population of half the size.
Now at the culmination of an era, it is appropriate to recall the words of Lord Salisbury, “The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies.”
Alex Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Anatomy of a Bolshevik” and “Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.”