According to me, talking is generally better than fighting, especially if the talking might make the fighting unnecessary.
Perhaps there are exceptions. The Munich accords between England, France and Hitler in 1938, were supposed to avoid war with Germany. It didn’t work and, in retrospect, only allowed Hitler to get stronger in time for the war that started the following year anyway. It’s the classic case where less talk, more action would probably have led to a better result.
When the person talking for the United States is the current incumbent president, and the person he is talking to is the strange North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, perhaps the general talking-is-better rule needs to be invoked cautiously and with eyes wide open.
But, based on what we know at the moment, I favor U.S.-North Korean discussion of how to lower tensions and perhaps even provide incentives for North Korea to limit or even give up its nuclear weapons program. I wouldn’t guarantee, nor do I expect, a happy ending. I don’t know whether the talks will even occur. But I’m in the camp of let’s take a break from making threats and Let’s Make a Deal, or at least see if there’s a deal to be made that includes non-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
And if a deal is made, remember Ronald Reagan’s slogan: Trust but verify.
Five related thoughts:
Thought 1: I specifically am opposed to the argument that President Trump should not meet with Kim because just having the meeting is some kind of “reward” that Kim doesn’t deserve that would serve to “legitimize” Kim’s rule over North Korea. This strikes me as ludicrous and roughly the equivalent of threatening to hold your breath until you get what you want.
If talks fail and Kim instead decides to hoot “ha ha. I got you to talk to me, and you got nothing out of it and now I am legitimate,” I believe he will succeed in convincing no one of his enhanced legitimacy. On the other hand, any American who thinks Kim’s rule in North Korea would be undermined by a U.S. refusal to talk to him, they are kidding themselves.
If talks could persuade Kim to give up his nukes, that would be wonderful.
Thought 2: Although some in Washington seem to suffer delusions to the contrary, the United States has no legal authority to decide which nations of the world are allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability. This should be obvious, but if you listen to much of the rhetoric, at least within our country, you might think otherwise.
Since the United States became the first to acquire (and, still, the only one to use) nukes — or “atom bombs,” in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the list of nuke-possessing states has grown to nine (if you count Israel, which chooses not to confirm that it has them). South Africa also had nuclear capability but gave it up, the only real example where that was managed.
Thought 3: If the United States were to attack North Korea without a U.N. Security Council authorization to do so, it would be massive violation of international law. Of course, the United States fairly often attacks other countries without U.N. authorization, but these actions pretty much always violate the U.N. Charter, to which the United States is a signatory.
North Korea is under a similar obligation. And, by the way, North Korea was a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would have made its acquisition of nuclear weapons capability illegal (in the sense of being a violation of an agreement to which they were a party). But North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003. Views differ on whether it had a right to do so.
Thought 4: Don’t assume that the Trump/Kim talks will occur at all. Trump said, perhaps with the usual advance thought he gives to things he says, that he would do it. He says stuff all the time and takes it back or contradicts it soon after. Yesterday the White House put out various reservations and preconditions that could be used to renege.
Thought 5 … is perhaps familiar to long-time readers of Black Ink, as I’ve written about it before. The creation and disintegration of nation states is much flukier than we sometimes allow ourselves to realize. Many of them don’t make as much sense as we might prefer to believe. (Remember Yugoslavia?) But once a nation comes into existence, we tend to act as though its existence had been decreed by God in Eden and is destined to last forever.
In fact, there is no good reason for a nation-state of North Korea to exist (and the world, and the people of North Korea, would be better off if it didn’t). Korea makes perfect sense as a nation, united by language, culture, ethnicity and history. But North Korea had no history as a separate nation before 1945, and the separation of Korea into North and South Korea was never intended to last more than a few weeks or months.
As the World War II alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union were liberating Korea from Japanese control at the end of World War II, an arbitrary – really, really ridiculously arbitrary – line was drawn on a map by an American colonel with the wonderful name of “Tick” Bonesteel, with the understanding that the Soviets would would liberate the portion of Korea north of the line and the Americans would liberate the portion south of the line until the war ended and then Korea would be one country with no line in the middle. Sadly, it didn’t work out.
I’ve written before how this why-there-are-two-Koreas fluke came about, and refer you to this link for the tale, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.
What fools these mortals be.