Hailed as an historic and unprecedented step, the summitry plus the symbolism of divided Koreas leaders stepping amicably on each others’ territory, has had commentators in a tizzy and the courtiers of the Trump court (administration) swooning over each other. The implication of all this is that Trump’s Korean diplomacy has been an astounding success and that the United States has emerged victorious. But, a careful assessment suggests the converse. It appears that the small sized, podgy, and young bespectacled man, Kim Jong un, of North Korea is the real winner. And, tangentially, Iran also benefits.
The nub and gravamen of reasons boil down to the possession of nuclear weapons.
It may be recalled that it was Kim who engineered the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula by firing missiles (some of which could hit American military bases). In the process, Kim Jong provoked (rather deliberately) the ire of Donald Trump, whose surrogate policy tool and its declaratory intent are his tweets. A full on crisis, which some held to be a prelude to war, orchestrated by the Korean leader, was in full glare of the world. What then ensued was behind the scenes diplomacy. And, after a hiatus, the world is witness to shows of amity between the two Koreas, talks of a meeting between Trump and Kim and a kind of détente. The question is, after a cost benefit analysis: who is the real victor of the whole saga?
I would say North Korea. The country, whatever its inner complexion and form and dealings with the world, wants to preserve its character. It appears to have drawn lessons from the Second Gulf War; if Saddam had nuclear weapons, America would not have dared invade Iraq. The same would hold for Korea. So, for regime survival and longevity, North Korea not only possessed nukes but also sought to make these more effective and efficient and then engineered a crisis. Trump’s America willingly came to the table and the world cheered and heaved a sigh of relief. Even if the outcome of the talks is denuclearization or curtailment of nukes, North Korea’s regime ensures its survival. It has achieved its aims and won. Period.
Trump and his courtiers can pat themselves as is their wont as much as they can, but facts on the ground have changed, to North Korea’s benefit. Another, unintended beneficiary might be Iran, which or, more accurately, whose nuclear program has been in the crosshairs of the Trump administration made more salient with the hawkish John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, arch foes of Iran, who want to attack the country, in the top echelons of the administration. If I were an Iranian strategist, I would draw the obvious lessons from the Korean saga: that nukes are the ultimate guarantor of survival. What I would also do is actually provoke Trump to roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, put the onus of blame on America and then start working feverishly on building a robust nuclear capability. I would, as a hypothetical Iranian strategist, also know that America would be foolish to attack Iran at this point in time, given the flux and delicate fluidity, in the Middle East, and use this opportunity to augment the country’s capability. The scenario I have drawn might not be too far fetched; it might actually come to pass.
But, there is a massive downside to this. The whole saga and the scenario actually makes a casualty of nuclear non proliferation. If and when Iran gains real nuclear capability, this would guarantee and crystallize its hegemony of the Middle East. Extended deterrence would flounder on the rocks of the new reality and Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, would be compelled to build a nuclear capability too. Other states elsewhere might also take a cue and the world will, if this scenario comes to pass, world will become nuclear armed to the hilt. While, on the face of it, this condition looks ominous, but it might actually by creating a global “balance of terror” lead to lasting peace.
—The author can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org