North Korea Reaches Out?

I had a conversation last night on Twitter with Ankit Panda (@nktpnd), who has been following the North Korean situation. Panda is a senior editor with The Diplomat magazine.

I contend that the North Korean statement issued in response to Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” threat contains an invitation to negotiations. As is often the case, that invitation is not stated as such. Diplomacy guards such invitations so that nobody loses face when they don’t work. Neither Trump nor his people understand this, and they ignore the State Department and are doing their best to gut it. This is the sort of thing that the State Department specializes in.

The North Korean statement, unlike Trump’s threats, was carefully planned and vetted. They use all their governmental resources because they see the United States, with whom they are still technically at war, as the prime threat to their country’s survival. It starts out with an observation of US missile testing and goes on to the flights of US bombers from Guam over South Korea.

Typically, the nuclear strategic bombers from Guam frequent the sky above south Korea to openly stage actual war drills and muscle-flexing in a bid to strike the strategic bases of the DPRK. This grave situation requires the KPA to closely watch Guam, the outpost and beachhead for invading the DPRK, and necessarily take practical actions of significance to neutralize it.

In the morning of August 8 the air pirates of Guam again appeared in the sky above south Korea to stage a mad-cap drill simulating an actual war.

In simpler words, US bombers are threatening us.

The statement goes on to describe a plan to fire North Korean rockets around Guam. A warning shot, a shot across the bow. The plan is in preparation “and will be put into practice in a multi-concurrent and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPRK, makes a decision.”

The statement contains the usual DPRK declaration that its nuclear weapons are not up for negotiation, and ends

[The US] It should immediately stop its reckless military provocation against the state of the DPRK so that the latter would not be forced to make an unavoidable military choice.

In simpler words, stop threatening us with bombers from Guam and we won’t attack Guam.

Quid pro quo.

It reeks of blackmail, but that is how North Korea negotiates. If we want negotiations, rather than  war, it would be smart to respond to the offer to negotiate. That doesn’t necessarily mean ending the B1B overflights, although my adventurous side says, hey, why not?

We could have sent a message to North Korea via the recent Canadian visit to free one of their citizens. We could send a message through the Swedish embassy to North Korea, which often represents US interests. We could arrange some diplomatic action on which China might take the lead. There are many possibilities, any of which might show North Korea that we are willing to back off from practices that scare them if they will consider backing off on some of their actions. That would not include their nuclear program explicitly at this time, but it would leave the way open for later.

I doubt that any of this has occurred to Trump officials, certainly not to Trump himself.


Photo (USAF text): Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, flew from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a 10-hour mission, flying in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean peninsula, Aug. 7, 2017 (HST). During the mission, the B-1s were joined by Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2s as well as Republic of Korea Air Force KF-16 fighter jets, performing two sequential bilateral missions. These flights with Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) demonstrate solidarity between Japan, ROK and the U.S. to defend against provocative and destabilizing actions in the Pacific theater.


Cross-posted at Balloon Juice.