Why the World Needs Ongoing Peace Talks Between North Korea and the United States
–by John Lewallen
August 31, 2018
The June 12 “summit” meeting of Kim Jong-Un of North Korea and Donald Trump, U.S. President, ended a very dangerous, escalating nuclear confrontation which seemed to be on the verge of starting a nuclear war for no reason at all. Now, I believe, the world needs ongoing peace talks between these two nuclear-armed nations to avoid a senseless conflagration threatening all life.
As the euphoria of the June 12 meeting falls back toward the old pattern of threat and counter-threat, with President Trump calling off a peace-talk meeting because North Korea was not moving fast enough to “de-nuclearize,” and Defense Secretary Mattis saying that military exercises, the annual mock invasion “war games” that Trump had pledged on June 12 to end, will continue, I believe it is essential that all of us understand what happened on June 12, what didn’t happen, and why we all should do our best to keep these peace talks going and growing.
On the Verge of Nuclear War
By the end of 2017, the game of “nuclear chicken” between Trump and Kim Jong-Un had reached a point where the North Koreans were threatening to detonate a high-altitude thermonuclear bomb. The entire world-wide computerized satellite web could be damaged by such a test, which hasn’t happened for many decades.
All year Trump’s threats of military attack against North Korea unless it would give up its nuclear weapons were countered by North Korean threats of attack against the United States, backed up by North Korean missile and underground nuclear bomb tests intended to show their ability and willingness to attack the United States homeland.
As Scott D. Sagan noted in his article “The Korean Missile Crisis” (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2017, p. 72): “North Korea, South Korea, and the United States are all poised to launch preemptive strikes. In such an unstable situation, the risk that an accident, a false warning, or a misperceived military exercise could lead to a war is alarmingly high.”
“The North Korean nuclear arsenal is not a bargaining chip,” Sagan concluded (p.81) “It is a potent deterrent designed to prevent a U.S. attack or disrupt one that does occur by destroying U.S. air bases and ports through preemption.”
June 12: What Happened, What Didn’t, and What Could Happen
The June 12 executive agreement, if followed up, could be a major positive shift in United States nuclear weapons strategy, making the whole world a lot safer place. Even if peace talks fall prey to their many enemies in the U.S. military-industrial complex, the raw fact that a U.S. President has tacitly acknowledged the legitimacy of the North Korean government with this meeting is a major shift. Previously, North Korea, according to U.S. policy, had a “regime” in need of “regime change” by “decapitation” or all-out military attack.
The four-point agreement signed by the leaders began by committing “to establish new United States-North Korea relations in accordance with the desire of the people of the two countries for peace and prosperity.” This could be a major departure from the same-old strategy of deterrence and economic sanctions. If North Korea is no longer an enemy, the ongoing economic sanctions and military threats make no sense. It is obvious, even urgent, that the Korean War which began in1950 should be ended with a formal peace treaty.
“Yesterday’s conflict does not have to be tomorrow’s war,” said President Trump. He seems to realize there is no real conflict of interest between the two countries, which are frozen in confrontation dating from the Cold War. His June 12 video presented North Korea with the possibility of major economic development resulting from peace talks.
The second point in the agreement called for negotiating “a lasting and stable peace regime” for the Korean Peninsula.
The third point commits the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) to “work toward complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Note: it does not commit North Korea to eliminate nuclear weapons.
In my opinion, this summit never would have happened unless Trump believed North Korea had achieved what, in nuclear strategy parlance, is called “Second-Strike Threat Credibility”: the perceived ability to hit the United States with a nuclear counter-attack even if the U.S. obliterates their country with a nuclear first-strike. No other reason is strong enough to cause a U.S. President to meet North Korea on equal terms to set up peace talks.
The present dangerous dilemma is that Trump keeps insisting on rapid de-nuclearization, while the North Koreans are demanding that the United States endorse a declaration calling for a formal Peace Treaty ending the Korean War.
(I believe Trump should spontaneously Tweet his endorsement of a formal treaty ending the Korean War: what a peace coup!)
There is virtually no chance the North Koreans will give up their nuclear weapons until the United States also de-nuclearizes. As Sagan wrote, “Kim’s spokespeople have stressed that he will not suffer the same fate of Saddam or Qaddafi, both of whom gave up their nuclear programs only to be attacked later by the United States (p.81)”
The fourth and final point of agreement is that North Korea will assist the United States in recovering the remains of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action in the Korean War, which paused with a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, in 1953. The North Koreans already are fulfilling this pledge.
Time for a Peace Treaty Ending the Korean War
Rising for a moment above the drama of personality and motive involving Trump, Kim, et.al., the raw fact is that two of the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations are at war for no reason at all, a war which has escalated into nuclear confrontation threatening to explode into nuclear war threatening all life. No matter who leads North Korea, the United States, or other nations, the whole world needs ongoing peace talks between the United States and North Korea to avoid nuclear war.
Returning to the political struggle of personality and motive, I believe that President Trump’s efforts to make peace with North Korea are putting him in major confrontation with the U.S. military-industrial complex which, as President and Commander-in-Chief of U.S. armed forces, he formally leads.
Trump made two major moves toward peace apparently without informing or consulting his closest aides, all of whom are leading members of the U.S. military-industrial complex. First, he accepted the proposal of Kim Jong-Un for face-to-face negotiations, an offer brought to the Oval Office by a South Korean delegation. He even permitted the South Koreans to immediately announce this major shift in U.S. policy. No President ever had met with the head of the North Korean “regime” before.
Then, on June 12, Trump made his second surprise announcement: the annual mock-invasion military exercises involving South Korea and the U.S. would be halted, because they are very expensive and “provocative.” Recently Trump reversed Defense Secretary Mattis’ statement that military exercises would resume, because his “very good and warm relations” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un made it unnecessary to spend “large amounts of money on joint exercises.”
I believe the worldwide peace movement should support Trump’s move toward changing North Korea policy away from deterrence and sanctions—still the basic policy today—toward peaceful and prosperous cooperation. In my opinion, endless confrontation with North Korea is a major pillar justifying trillions of dollars of military spending by the U.S. military-industrial complex.
The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review issued by the U.S. Defense Department February, 2018, justified over a trillion dollars of nuclear weapons spending to “deter” the growing threat from four adversaries: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Immediately after his June 12 personal talk with Kim Jung-Un, who he seems to genuinely like and admire, Trump shocked everyone by stating what no U.S. President had said before: that the “war games” threatening attack on North Korea might actually “provoke” an aggressive response, or even an accidental military response.
In short, Trump seemed to acknowledge what North Korea, Russia and China have insistently stated for many decades: relentlessly escalating military exercises and deployments on their borders are actually “provoking” threatening response simply to deter a U.S. attack on their nations. In other words, the U.S. strategy of endlessly increasing first-strike threat force them to appear more threatening, simply to deter U.S. attack by maintaining their “Second-Strike Threat Credibility.” It is a U.S. military-industrial complex generating its own enemies to justify endless growth, driving the world ever-closer to actual nuclear war, which might destroy everything.
Human survival demands that we break this military-industrial pattern of increasing U.S. nuclear threat. Ongoing peace talks between the two warring nuclear nations, North Korea and the U.S., are needed to avoid nuclear war until an actual, effective peace treaty is signed by the two nations and their allies in this outdated relic of the Cold War. Threatening military exercises must be stopped to save us all from “accidental” nuclear war.
I am very optimistic that we, the people, can continue to avoid nuclear war, as we have since the most recent use of a nuclear weapon in war, the August 9, 1945 bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. If Donald Trump can be the man who shocks the U.S. military-industrial complex out of a sleepwalk to doomsday, anything is possible! Now, I think, we all need to reject the politics of hatred and division, and tap into the power of love that unites us all