BY ALEX MARKOVSKY
After the end of the Second World War Asia, just like the rest of the world was in ruins and vulnerable to communist expansion. North Korea has been posing the principle challenge to the regional stability since its inception in 1948 and the 1953 armistice between North Korea and the United States did not alter the communists’ ambitions.
Given the strategic and political realities at the time, the United States emerged as the principal guarantor of peace.
Seventy years later, the geostrategic reality is fundamentally different. After decades of wars, communist insurgency, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the depredations of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Asia has adopted a market-based economy and transformed itself into a region of affluence and prosperity. South Korea, with American assistance has built a functioning democracy and become an economic powerhouse.
North Korea, on the other hand, remains the last bastion of socialism in the region, an island of serfdom and poverty. The greatest accomplishment of North Korea has been to build a few nuclear devices and behave like a monkey with a hand grenade threatening to blow up the world unless it is payed a ransom. Trump’s predecessors had never had the courage to stand up to the blackmail and never vouchsafed a plan for ending the war other than protecting South Korea.
Bismarck described this state of affair as: ”We live in a wondrous time, in which the strong is weak because of his scruples and the weak grows strong because of his audacity.”
Kim Jong Un’s audacity did not impress Donald Trump. Sensing potential weakness Trump afforded him a massive display of American firepower and the imposition of an almost total economic blockade. Kim’s nuclear blackmail backfired and North Korea found itself politically and economically in the same position as the Soviet Union was in 1986 after it lost the arms race.
The economy is in shambles, country is crumpling, and even its nuclear testing site is on the brink of collapsing. The leadership is in the state of political malaise. Unlike his father and grandfather, and previous generations of communists, Kim and his clique are not battle-hardened fanatics who committed their lives fighting for the glory of communism and for whom any compromise with the “imperialist devil” USA was the same as defeat. The impending catastrophe overrode the demands of ideological purity and just like the Soviet Politburo thirty years ago, they are trying to survive. In both instances America has been the catalyzing force that laid out a modus vivendi at the right time to allow the communist state to disintegrate peacefully.
The parallel reflects a historical inevitability. All the socialist invocations about the superiority of socialism cannot override the reality; as the record shows, despite its populist appeal, the system is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable, with a life expectancy of about seventy years.
There is a widespread desire to end the Korean War and the summary of the negotiated arrangements reflects interests of all sides. South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants to achieve his campaign top goal of ending the war. China regards the regime collapse as a serious danger. It would result in an influx of refugees across their 870-mile border and could also lead to the reunification of Korea. United Korea may well become Asia’s Germany and challenge China’s political and economic hegemony in the region. The peace treaty will preserve the status quo, at least for the foreseeable future. For Kim, just showing up with the president of the United States would give the prestige and propaganda coup to promote a plausible ideological spin that it was his goal all along to trade the nuclear capability for a peace treaty with the United States and normalization of diplomatic relations. He will bargain for economic aid to delay the inevitable, and for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula.
The biggest winner, of course, will be Donald Trump. By aggressively reshaping accepted postulates of diplomacy, Trump broke a history of naivete and appeasement and is on the verge of making the greatest contribution to world peace since Theodore Roosevelt mediated the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 between Russia and Japan.
The subjects of contention are the verification and withdrawal of U.S. forces. In the world of geopolitics, international arrangements are not eternal. The negotiations with North Korea must take into account a new Asian reality. Just two largest Asian democracies Japan and South Korea with population of 180 million and combined GDP of $6.3 trillion dwarf North Korea’s 25 million people and tiny GDP of $33 billion. Those countries alone represent a massive economic power and are sufficiently strong to maintain the regional order.
Therefore, if the verification arrangement acceptable to the U.S. is successfully negotiated, then, perhaps if not all, but a partial removal of American forces is not beyond of rim of impossible.
Regardless of the final print, since all parties involved have vested interest in making a deal, Trump’s astonishingly ambitious vision is transforming desirable into achievable. However, unlike President Roosevelt who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishment, President Trump is not in any danger of being honored. In his case, desirable is not achievable.
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.”