When the Soviet Union dissolved and the two Germanys unified, few people thought much of North Korea’s chances of surviving as an independent state. It had no friends after the cold war ended, and no cards to play. Yet its single-minded drive to build a nuclear deterrent has now succeeded in delivering a summit with an American president.
The White House says Donald Trump is ready to meet the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, “by May”, at a time and location yet to be determined. Whether or not a “deal” emerges within two months, the mere fact of a summit breaks all the rules of diplomacy. It delivers legitimacy – the “face” the North Koreans crave.
Washington does not recognise the existence of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. There’s no peace treaty with the United States, just the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean war.
Plus, Pyongyang is accused of breaking numerous international treaties, conventions, agreements, contracts, promises and understandings. Calling it a “rogue regime” doesn’t begin to capture the essential delinquency of its methods.
We know what it wants. That’s the easy part. It wants its enemies to guarantee its continued existence; and that is inseparable from the continued and absolute rule of the Kim dynasty. Yet this could very well mean writing it a blank cheque. It can’t survive without massive infusions of aid, because it won’t change its malfunctioning economic system or stop devoting enormous resources to its military.
Each time the founder, Kim Il-sung, or his son Kim Jong-il reached a fork in the road, they balked at taking the path to reform. This was not because they were stupid. It was because they realised that if they did consider reform, they would have to confront the fundamental question: what is the point of North Korea? If it becomes a market economy, with Samsung and all the other South Korean conglomerates so dominant on the other side of the border, then it will inevitably become an appendage of the prosperous South. And if the North gives up its…