​What Does Kim jong-un Want & What Does President Moon Want?

In trying to game what type of outcomes of any negotiated peace between North Korea and South Korea might possibly emerge over the coming weeks and months, one has to first decide what might Kim jong-un's motivations be.

An emerging picture of possible strategies on the part of Kim jong-un is not encouraging. Here's Gordon Chang writing for the Cipher Brief:

There's a dark purpose in Kim Jong Un's proffered moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing announced over the weekend. Kim, with the apparent complicity of South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, seeks to eventually merge his state into the South - and drive out U.S. troops from the peninsula.

In an opinion piece at Politico, New Zealand North Korea expert Van Jackson adds this:

Kim's playing a multi-level game. Thinking in terms of Kim having a singular or primary motivation oversimplifies the reality that diplomacy done right can do many things at once--for example, nudge the United States out of the picture while presenting North Korea to the world as a "peaceful" nuclear state that doesn't deserve to be under such stringent sanctions. Kim's diplomacy encourages a public narrative of rapprochement with both the South and the United States, which in turn helps bring all of his goals closer to reality. North Korea does not necessarily need to abandon any of its nuclear weapons for all of this to happen.
It has been evident that North Koreans are perpetually hungry, sometimes to the point of starvation, hardly surprising given that they live in a Stalinist state that is also a family dictatorship with its attendent cult of personality, each iteration more absurd than the last. It is a certainty that they live in fear of each other and of the authorities who can detain, torture, and execute them at any time. So now that Kim has finally come close to having ICBM's that can actually reach America's west coast with a nuclear payload, Kim would like to turn to economic development. His people have been desperate for generations. Is Kim just a tad impatient to get a deal done? Are reserves of foreign currency running out due to a boost in sanctions?

So, what better way to develop the DPRK's economy than through their ultimate political goal of re-unification,? Kim, having purged hundreds of rivals and threatened the region with nuclear war, can now become the Deng xiaoping of the Koreas. Cute huh? Having unified the peninsula he can then take the silk road to Beijing and use South Korea's expertise and capital to create a mini-Xi state: ironclad communist party rule with a mercantilist foreign policy and a tech-heavy economy leavened by plundering intellectual property wherever they can lay their hands on. Starting with their southern brothers in Seoul.

Does South Korea's President Moon Jae-in understand this? Or more importantly, does he care? That's a little like asking how populist and peronist Pope Francis was during his younger years in Argentina. The evidence is there and suggests that despite the understandable protests against former President Park's - the impeached Parks' father - Latin American-style strongman rule in the 60's and 70's in South Korea, Moon Jae-in was more than a little enamored of socialism. Despite the horrifying evidence across the border.

Does Moon think he can game Kim jong-un? And how does he view America's support over the last 60 odd years of his country's sovereignty? In other words, how much can the Trump administration trust President Moon? Never mind Kim jong-un.

Stalin died a few months before the Korean War was technically brought to a halt by an armistice in the summer of 1953. There were to be 6 further Soviet leaders before the last of those six, Mikhail Gorbachev, sat down with Reagan and their advisors over 30 years after Stalin's death to negotiate and begin what would be the dissolution of the Soviet state, even if Gorbachev had other goals at the time. That was preceded by 30 years of small but important reforms, and a growing economic shortfall because of defense spending. North Korea is still as brutal or even more brutal than Stalin's Soviet Union. They might be economically desperate, but can America sit down with the same confidence that Reagan did and say: here's why we don't trust you?

That's not to say this isn't an opportunity. But understanding both Kim jong-un's and Moon Jae-in's goals means that America must keep up the promise and reality of pressure on North Korea, before they let Kim keep at least some of his nuclear weapons in exchange for a peace deal that will hand the Korean peninsula to Kim and to the Chinese, with possible complicity on the part of President Moon.

Verify whatever you can, Mr. President. And don't even trust President Moon.

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