Tuesday, 25 September 2018 13:21

A Word from London

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A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

The U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Devil Is in the Details

(Published June 8, 2018 in The Hill.)

With June 12 around the corner, the day President Trump presumably meets with Kim Jung-un, the agenda still remains unclear but the factors behind the agenda are all too visible.

First, President Trump is committed to a North Korea without nuclear weapons, albeit some backsliding on the matter may be in the discussion, particularly the timetable.

Second, North Korea claims a treaty with South Korea ending the six decades of hostility could be attained. The question is at what cost.

Third, North Korea has demanded a nuclear-free Korean peninsula that probably means the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella from South Korea and beyond.

Fourth, there are regional considerations at play, including the role the U.S. will have in offering modest protection to nations in the Pacific basin.

Fifth, the North Koreans are demanding the lifting of sanctions before any serious discussion of nukes can take place.

Sixth, economic development in the North is a prerequisite for these negotiations. But the other side of the equation remains murky. What is North Korea prepared to do in order to satisfy their rivals on the other side of the DMZ?

Seventh, Kim Jung-un has demanded security for his nation and himself. However, if genuine reform occurs, the likelihood of regime change increases. Can Kim have it both ways?

Eighth, should negotiations falter, does the U.S. have the mobile launch capabilities of its defenses sufficient to deter North Korea? How will this assessment be made?

Clearly, Secretary of State Pompeo has addressed these matters in preliminary conversations. However, my suspicion is the devil is still in the details and, if North Korea widens the discussion, there will be a host of knotty issues left to the meeting itself.

Is President Trump prepared to leave the meeting if his concerns aren’t met? He did so with a sternly drawn note to Kim last month. But it should be noted this is a high wire act with a deep fall if he fails. Secretary Pompeo is unlikely to let that happen, but history always has its surprises. In world affairs this meeting takes on a judgment of historic proportions; whether or not this matter offers Trump a chance to secure a Nobel Prize is academic.

Trump realizes that any success in the Singapore meeting will translate into Republican success at the polls in this year’s off-year election, probably setting the stage for reelection in 2020. Moreover, the negotiating stance of the U.S. is being watched by Iranian officials with great interest in the outcome. Should President Trump secure meaningful concessions from North Korea, Iran will consider how its deal might be modified for American officials.

This is high stakes diplomacy that could usher in relatively different foreign policy initiatives from Europe to Asia. Trump is feeling his oats; the question is whether Kim eats oats for breakfast or is prepared to change his diet.

Keep in mind that from Kim’s perspective, North Korea may have an opportunity to enter the 21st century with economic development fostered by the U.S. and allies in the Pacific. This backward, brutal, hermit kingdom might convert its billion-dollar economy into a trillion dollar one, as is the case in South Korea.

The onus is on Kim. Should he forgo nukes, a pot of gold is around the rainbow. But this is a difficult choice, since the possession of nukes brought him to the negotiating table in the first place.

Decertifying the Iran Deal

With June 12 around the corner, the day President Trump presumably meets with Kim Jung-un, the agenda still remains unclear but the factors behind the agenda are all too visible.

President Trump made it crystal clear he will decertify the Iran deal, a deal he characterized “as one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States ever entered into.”

He had several options before he decided to act: 1) Do nothing and avert his gaze to the violations Iran engaged in; 2) Modify the existing arrangement to make it somewhat more appealing to U.S. critics; 3) Decertify.

Decertification is not the same thing as quitting the deal completely, a point overlooked by many of Mr. Trump’s critics. Mr. Trump, for example, has not yet asked Congress to sanction Iran, albeit that threat is obviously looming.

Many European leaders engaged in trade with Iran, and who have deals still on the negotiating table, tried to persuade the president to hold off on his decision, but Mr. Trump firmly rejected their overtures. He realizes that his action corrodes the legitimacy of the deal and the flawed suppositions embraced when the deal was being consummated in the first place.

It is not surprising former President Obama has angrily challenged Mr. Trump’s stance. After all, he sired this flawed arrangement as the “major accomplishment” of his presidency. In fact, his legacy has been blown to smithereens, despite his ardent defense.

In simple terms the Iran deal was based on the belief Iran would limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Of course, we now know Iranian nuclear programs continued without limits and weapons areas such as ICBMs were not included in the deal.

On the other side of the equation, sanctions were lifted, frozen assets were returned, and actual shipments of capital were transferred to Tehran used in part to promote Iranian imperial goals throughout the region.

There is nothing in the text of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) deal that requires Mr. Trump to certify Iran in complying with the terms. That requirement is related to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act put in place in 2015 by members of Congress skeptical of the deal. INRA requires the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is “in technical compliance with the deal,” a matter that had been treated blithely in the past.

The next INARA deadline is October 15, but with the president’s decision, Congress has a 60-day window to re-impose sanctions. Based on the voluminous information Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided, it is hard to believe Iran is in any way complying with the terms of the arrangement.

It is risible to believe as well that Iran will accelerate its nuclear enrichment programs as a result of the Trump decisions, when it never slowed down its program after the deal was tentatively accepted. (Iran never officially signed off on it).

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will express their concerns, but implicitly Mr. Trump has put them in a vise grip suggesting you can either trade with Iran or trade with the United States. Moreover, Arab allies from Israel to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have hailed the decertification decision.

Middle East Sunni leaders know all too well that the shipments of capital Iran received were employed for military use against them. As Faisal Abbas wrote in the Saudi English Language News, “Paris and London may not like Trump’s decision, but how would the French or British feel if their capital cities came under direct threat by the Iranians?”

Mr. Trump’s courageous decision shifts this matter of Iran’s nuclear program to the appropriate place. Iran can have a functioning economy, despite remarkable setbacks recently, free of sanctions and open to investment, or it can continue present nuclear programs at the cost of devastating ruin.

The real choice is with the mullahs. At the same time, Mr. Trump has made it clear that the sweetheart deal Mr. Obama accepted in which they can proceed with nuclear development and terrorist activity across the Levant is over.

Surely there will be a lot of debate over the decision in which Congress will participate, but the symbolism of decertification will not go unnoticed. Yes, it is a cliché to suggest there is a new sheriff in town, but there is no doubt this sheriff has his guns drawn.

Traditional Liberalism Under Unprecedented Pressure

For most political analysts, the liberal democratic malaise, so often discussed, is a byproduct of the liberal world order’s success. While it is easy to observe the evolution of events in the post-Cold War period as a sign of collapse, that, in my judgment, would be a mistake.

Recent challenges should certainly not be underestimated, although they seem as a setback to the Fukuyama “end of history position.” In the sweep of history, the new nationalism and the politics attached to it are seemingly not so perilous to a world order that survived the Great Depression, the Axis powers, and the international Communist movement.

Although this may not be immediately recognized by President Trump, the solution, or an anodyne, for contemporary problems lies within the liberal order. Because of the protean nature of liberalism, a vision of interdependence emerges that has managed to mitigate tumultuous change. Even President Trump’s tariff ideas will not undermine the system as much as stimulate adjustments within it.

Of course, it is conceivable that the emerging challenges are of a very different nature, exposing liberalism to shocks it has not experienced heretofore. The Five Star Movement in Italy could lead to an Italian withdrawal from the EU and a continental financial collapse; Brexit could have consequences not yet revealed; Germany may at some point resist the idea of paying Europe’s bills; Russia’s meddling in the EU and NATO is designed to reduce U.S. influence; the immigration and integration issue have forced governments to impose higher taxes; U.S. nationalist fervor seems to be moving the nation in an isolationist direction; the Chinese vision of a trade belt throughout EuroAsia could topple the EU structure.

Are these factors in combination a threat to the liberal order more noteworthy than historical challenges of the past? Because they are different from those in the 1930s and beyond, it is difficult to say how they will unfold and how liberalism’s structure will respond to them. As free markets spread, economic inequality grew leading to a breakdown between capital and labor. The benefits of globalization were distributed disproportionately to elites. Economists like Thomas Piketty exaggerate economic inequality to make their point, but the public embrace of this position seems to suggest a political order searching for new, and perhaps extreme, solutions.

Liberalism has enshrined the idea of tolerance, which had been widely and reflexively embraced. But the excessive behavior of Europe’s new immigrants, and the growing anger toward terrorism, seem to usher in hard-core resentment. In fact, it is not clear liberalism can accommodate the rising tide of resentment — as the emergence of radical political parties in Europe would suggest.

Liberalism is also committed to individual freedom. But suppose the burdens of freedom have become so great that individuals would prefer to rely on government for the knotty decisions in their life rather than personal resources. Moreover, this shift to a reliance on government has also accelerated a trend to identity politics — from a belief in the power of an American ideology that contains liberty and individual conscience to group or identity politics that emphasizes the interests of race, gender, or class. Can liberalism cope with this degree of fragmentation, a transformation of democracy into an engine of zero-sum political tribalism?

It was the unifying ideology of the past that gave the U.S. its standing in the world. Can the U.S. provide leadership with an atomized population estranged from government yet increasingly reliant on it? Variants of intolerant tribal populations are erupting across Europe threatening any supranational entity. My guess is the EU will be a dead letter in a decade.

How then can the liberal world order that may possess answers to the affliction of difficult problems be reconciled with the new order of issues unprecedented on the global stage? This competition that is unfolding doesn’t have facile answers. However, an understanding of the competition is critical in appreciating where the West is headed and, of course, the leadership the United States is able to provide.     *

Read 4037 times Last modified on Tuesday, 25 September 2018 14:35
Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

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