North Korea’s Long Game

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have met. The Trump administration is on its way to talk denuclearization and the formal end of a war that’s lasted 65 years. Is it peace in our time?

Here to help us cut through the noise and make sense of the news is B.R. Myers. Myers is a professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

[00:00:00] Hello. Welcome to your college. I’m your host Matthew Gault. My cohost Jason Fields is frozen in carbonite. North Korean leader Kim Jong un and South Korean president Moon have met the Trump administration is on its way to talk denuclearization and the formal end of war that’s lasted 65 years. Is it peace in our time or peace in our time here to help us cut through the noise and make sense of the news is B.R. Myers Myers is a professor of International Studies at Dongseo University in Busan South Korea. He was here with us a year ago just after Donald Trump had become president and just before the election of mood in South Korea.

 

[00:00:39] Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. Matthew you made some predictions what’s happened in the last year.

 

[00:00:47] Well you know I predicted that a crisis in the U.S. South Korean alliance was on the horizon and that prediction has come true. And I took a lot of criticism last year for allegedly overestimating the rift between the Blue House in Seoul and the White House and in Washington and for underestimating the alleged bedrock conservatism of the South Korean people who had you know supposedly become much more critical of the north since the sunshine policy 10 years ago and so on.

 

[00:01:24] Well those critics have become pretty quiet over the past few weeks because it’s becoming obvious that if anything when I was talking to you a year ago I urged on the side of restraint when I talk to you just before Moon came to power. I expected him to be more moderate than he turned out to be. And I did so because during his campaign which I had followed closely he had conveyed the impression that into Korean affairs would not be his main concern. He did renew his commitment to north south confederation but he did so only in passing with none of the energy or fervor with which he had spoken of it in the previous presidential election which he lost at the rally I went to here in Pusan. He barely mentioned the north. And you know I was actually quite taken with him because he talked frequently of the need to improve animal welfare which is an issue I care a lot about and which most American politicians never discuss. But the moment Moone took over it became clear that a drastic unprecedented change in the Korean relationship was going to be his main mission because the conspicuous shared characteristic of most of the people he appointed including his chief of staff was some record of radical pro North anti-American activity. And I mean radical to the point of breaking the law and being imprisoned in the 1990s when South Korea was already a democracy. And needless to say none of these people had any record of problem monetizing the North’s nuclear arsenal or considering it a serious problem.

 

[00:03:15] The South Korean public didn’t recognize the names of the people that Moon had appointed. You know most people here according to surveys can’t identify who the prime minister is but the U.S. government knew very well about these people. And Kim Jong un did too. But I think Moon expected that Donald Trump would not raise a public ruckus. And I think he was right about that. Now at the same time.

 

[00:03:43] Moon Let the foreign press and the South Korean public believe for the first few months at least that he would be stricter on North Korea than previous left wing presidents had been and he conveyed this impression by not violating the economic sanctions which in our last interview I had predicted he would violate his own camp had talked of reopening the Kaesong Industrial Zone resuming tourism to the Kumgang Mountains but he made no move at all in that direction last year which I think was very astute of him.

 

[00:04:19] This is a very clever leader.

 

[00:04:22] He had the larger goal of effecting a revolutionary change in South Korean attitudes to the north and making a really big change. And to that end he needed to avoid putting the economic cart before the political horse.

 

[00:04:40] So the politics and culture in the country have changed. It’s been pulled towards better relations with the North because of mood.

 

[00:04:47] You think that’s really putting it mildly. I think there’s been a political change across the board. And you know the first line of the summit declaration which we can get to later in the interview made clear that the summit took place during a period of historical transformation on the peninsula. In other words the summit was the result of a historical transformation and not the start of it. And the first thing that struck me in the first week of Moon’s rule a year ago was how brazenly the recent past was being reinvented the word Orwellian is often misused. But this really was like the Ministry of Truth in a way that I wouldn’t even have thought possible in North Korea let alone a country with an ostensibly free press. Now as you know Moon Jane was elected in the wake of demonstrations against the corruption of the park and hê administration and the drive to impeach her had been supported by most conservatives as well. Not all of them but most of them. And Moon himself ironically enough was actually later in calling for impeachment than many people in parks own party had been.

 

[00:06:07] But as soon as he took over he began talking of a so-called candlelight revolution that had given him and his party a mandate for among other things a fundamentally different relationship to Pyongyang and the weird thing for me was that South Koreans who had lived through these protests who had participated in them accepted this reinvention of history and the whole anti-corruption rhetoric which had dominated the political discussion since October 2016 sort of fell by the wayside and Moon showed no hesitation in his in his first months in power in appointing people whom the public considered quite unethical in their real estate investments and their string pulling their tax dodging and the purge that Moon had pledged to carry out his draining of the swamp. To put it in in American terms turned out to be just a purge of conservatives and I need to explain here that in South Korea conservatism is not like American conservatism. Your South Korean conservative does not have strong opposition to public healthcare to immigration and so on. The main test here of whether somebody is left or right is how they feel about America and North Korea and it’s the left that is more strongly nationalist and tougher on illegal immigration incidentally. So when the ruling party talked last year of wiping out conservatism as it did and of keeping the right out of power for at least 20 years it was effectively declaring war on pro Americanism and antiwar sentiment. Now I think regardless of how you feel about those things most Americans and I think most people in a healthy liberal democracy would feel uneasy hearing talk of wiping out any legitimate political force even in a figurative sense. And I think part of being a liberal Democrat is realizing that the domination of the political scene by any one party is not a good thing. But the moon government clearly doesn’t consider itself liberal democratic or free democratic as the Koreans put it. China mingy it doesn’t want to define the South Korean Republic in those terms either. I just read in the news today Matthew that the next round of school textbooks is going to define South Korea only as a democracy instead.

 

[00:08:57] The word free or liberal is going to be deleted from before it and that change I think is likely to happen to the Constitution at some point.

 

[00:09:05] And this is why I take West I take exception to the Western practice of referring to Moone as a liberal and his party has also put its own people on the boards of all the main broadcasters with union help. So I can tell these days just by watching TV that the range of political discussion has really narrowed a lot. And as you know the struggle to shape public opinion to shape the consensus is largely a matter of setting the boundaries of acceptable speech. You win. In other words by taboo ising the topics you don’t want to discuss by wearing them off limits. And it’s now off limits in South Korea to call for regime change in the north or to impugn the state loyalty of anybody in the ruling party. That sort of talk is just laughed off or shouted down and the few people who persist in it have been forced off TV and onto YouTube. Now I don’t want to exaggerate it because it’s not so much that everybody’s now going around singing Kim Jong un’s praises. It’s more that conservatism has ceased to operate as a restraining force and even members of the so-called far right opposition have begun praising Moon Over the past few days and saying that the party should refrain from criticizing him too harshly. So this has really ceased to be a pluralist society. As you can see from the latest opinion polls which put Moon’s approval rating at 85 percent or well over 90 percent in some parts of the country despite quite a few scandals and a rise in unemployment.

 

[00:10:53] There’s a lot to unpack there and I have a couple of questions. Sure. Do you think that people are just tired I did too. I mean obviously things are very complicated and there’s a lot there’s a lot going on there. But do you think that part of it is that people are just tired of. Having just dealing with having the kind of I guess threat may maybe the wrong word but having North Korea loom over them and that they feel that mood is kind of taking them on a path to resolving it in some way.

 

[00:11:26] Well there may be something to that but the one thing we keep getting from the foreign press which tends to return to the same topics over and over again is the fact that South Koreans have never been as bothered or felt as threatened by the prospect of a North Korean attack as Americans tend to assume they must be. But sure I think it is on people’s minds to some extent. And for young people for high school boys they’re looking at the prospect of two years the best years of their life being spent in military service because of that North Korean threat. And I think yeah I think a lot of people do like the idea of that threat disappearing which is not to say that they want to see a return to the sunshine policy of sending a lot of unilateral aid to North Korea. There’s very little readiness here to make sacrifices or to pay higher taxes for the sake of togetherness. But I think there is an attraction in the ruling party’s notion of some kind of loose league or confederation of the two Koreas which would leave both systems allegedly intact and would amount to a kind of symbolic unification of the words the South Koreans could as it were a cream off the the emotional and nationalist benefits of unification without making any sacrifices. Which is as you told us the last time you were on the show exactly what North Korea.

 

[00:13:15] Wants. Right. They want reunification. That’s kind of been the long game here.

 

[00:13:21] The other North Koreans want confederation just as much or no doubt more than the South Koreans do. The difference of course is that to the South Koreans Confederation is supposed to be a long term thing. During which time the South Koreans would engage in economic cooperation with the North and thereby raise the North’s standard of living over a period of 10 or 15 years and the two sides would build up trust so that at the end of this long period the two Koreas would come together as more or less equal partners in some kind of dramatic or in some kind of democratic way which neither side has really explained very carefully. And the North Koreans see confederation as a quick transition to a North Korean takeover. We know this because Kim Il Sung admitted this in 1973. And I think it’s just basic political common sense to realize that Kim Jong un cannot hold on to power in a declaratively transitional dictatorship.

 

[00:14:30] In other words he can’t say to his people the South Koreans are much richer than you are but sit tight for 10 or 15 years under my dictatorship while economic cooperation and gradually raises your standard of living. That’s just not viable. And although I don’t think that moon Jane is a naive person he’s certainly not a stupid one. I think this is the point in which he’s he’s being too optimistic. What was your reaction to that recent summit.

 

[00:15:00] When they met and how do you think the South Korean people feel about it.

 

[00:15:05] Well I had expected the summit to move beyond the earlier North-South accords in some way. I wasn’t expecting a real negotiation to take place because it was clear weeks in advance that Kim and moon were going to put on a show of conviviality which by swaying South Korean opinion would make it more difficult for Trump to take a hard line in his own summit with Kim. I mean that the two leaders would not have agreed in advance to broadcast part of the proceedings if they were not absolutely sure that there was not going to be any sort of unpleasantness but I expected some dramatic gesture like just for example a big round of surreptitiously prepared family reunions that would take place at the same time somewhere else. You know something emotional that could feel in the dead bits when there was no live coverage from Panmunjom itself. And I expected some you know some bold concession from Kim Jong un and that didn’t happen.

 

[00:16:10] In fact the summit was really a step back from the last one in 2007 when the North at least renewed its commitment to the 2005 agreement according to which it would dismantle its own nuclear arsenal. And we didn’t see any progress on that front and we didn’t even see you know the announcement of a quick round of family reunions the next round has been set for August which is inexcusably late. If you’re in your 80s or 90s as the relevant people now are it’s hard to understand why family reunions can’t be held quicker than that. And yet despite that the South Korean people were impressed were hugely impressed. You know the summit was so well staged by a ruling party official a government official called TAC can mean it was done with such careful aim at the emotionalism and nationalism of the South Korean public and it even had a sort of a foodie element peeling to South Koreans who are very much wrapped up in food tasting shows these days. So about 80 per cent of all people here according to some polls came away believing that Kim Jong un. This guy who killed his own brother a little over a year ago or had his brother killed can now be trusted. Now I’m not taking the opinion polls that seriously because of course there are degrees of trust. You know I trust my neighbor not to attack me but I wouldn’t trust him to look after my my cats for a month and we need to give the South Koreans some credit.

 

[00:17:48] They are an intelligent people and they’re not as suggestible and naive as they are made out to be but there’s no denying that the moon government staged a summit that benefited Kim Jong un more than anybody else. Now I know many Americans thought how heartwarming it was that the Koreans are coming together. But the summit did not reflect nor did it appeal to South Korean interest in average North Koreans whose hardship is common knowledge here but doesn’t really bother average people very much. They’ve got their own concerns they’ve got their own economic difficulties to worry about. And as I said most people here do not want to see heavy unilateral aid starting again as it went on during the sunshine policy much of it quite literally in suitcases filled with cash. So the summit was really more the celebration of the race as an abstract entity. I was struck most of all by how South Korea’s most famous singer songwriter is sort of South Korea’s Elvis or Neil Diamond. I guess this is the better comparison how this guy who is himself elderly bowed 90 degrees to Kim Jong and a much younger man which you know to the South Korean Confucian mindset is really a remarkable thing and that of course was a mark of respect for Kim as the more principled nationalist of the two leaders. If you’re going to apply a national yardstick to political life as so many South Koreans do.

 

[00:19:26] Well you’ve got to fact the most hard line nationalists on the peninsula. And that’s Kim Jong un this speaks to another question I had. We’ve spent a lot of this conversation talking about. South Korea.

 

[00:19:41] And I think we should. Western journalists tend to focus on the north. The South is just as important. Why do you think we skip over that here in America.

 

[00:19:52] I think it’s because we wrongly believe that although North Korea is obviously bizarre and very different the South is a society just like ours it’s a liberal democracy just like ours. I think that’s one of the reasons. And also you know from academic experience I can say that the South is a much more challenging object of study you know more materials have to be tracked down a broader spectrum of opinion needs to be taken into account. And the same holds true I think for journalists you know they can easily spend a weekend in Pyongyang looking at all the tourist sites and then they can file the umpteenth rare glimpse into the hermit kingdom article or they can read the latest case in a press release and file a story on that because real journalism in North Korea is impossible anyway as the somewhat farcical AP bureau in Pyongyang demonstrates but to cover the South properly. In contrast you’ve got to get out of Seoul which Western residents of Seoul don’t like to do any more than the locals do and sometimes to write objectively and fairly. You’ve got to upset not just the government but also the South Korean public and to the foreign press corps with local friends and co-workers. That’s not easy. You know globalisation means among many other joys the globalization of taboos. In other words what you say to Americans can unleash a storm of threatening and abusive text messages here the next day we had that incident during the Olympics of course when that commentator for NBC made it some tactless remarks about the colonial period and of course he had to leave and go home.

 

[00:21:45] So journalists here tend to play it safe which is why for what I think is the most fascinating country in the world the coverage of it really is boring and very shallow even by contemporary standards which is saying a law that leads me to my next question which is about a story that I think kind of came to a head a few months after we talked last time and then kind of faded away and I didn’t really see it reported a lot of places.

 

[00:22:15] Can you tell me what happened to add to the missile defense system or proposed missile defense system in South Korea.

 

[00:22:22] The moon camp did not handle that very well in as much as before the moon came to power. Members of his party were signalling to the Chinese that they were not going to install said there was a lot of hemming and hawing after he took over. Finally he agreed to it. But what has happened really since he took over has been that anti-American or pacifist protesters. However you want to call them have been able to block the full operation of the FADH installation and the Chinese for several months carried out a pretty strict boycott of tourism to South Korea which was a very big deal because you know so much of South Korean tourism depends on group tours from China which are often organized by the government itself and South Koreans were hearing that that government in Beijing was actively discouraging travel agencies from booking trips here. Over the past couple of months I think the Chinese seem to have realized that this this this third missile anti missile system may never be become fully operational and they’ve loosened that boycott a bit and the Chinese have started to come back. So it’s a very troubling state of affairs I think for the American military and I think it’s a signal that the South Korean government whatever a security minded noises it may make for the benefit of American ears is not really committed to the security of the peninsula to the same degree that the preceding administration was.

 

[00:24:13] And it raises I think the prospect in the future of a small number of committed demonstrators effectively shutting down American military bases because I don’t believe that the South Korean police are going to have the will and are going to receive the orders to go in there and really violently break up demonstrations like that. And the Americans of course are not going to be able to do it either. So this is something else I see looming on the horizon.

 

[00:24:42] It’s funny you should mention American troop presence because that’s kind of the next area that I wanted to get into. I wanted to ask what do you make of the talk of a peace treaty. You know it struck me that when I when I heard about it I remembered our previous conversation and struck me that the Korean people both North and South could now claim that with the war done there no longer needs to be a U.S. presence. Right. And President Moon’s own special envoy said words that effect in foreign affairs the other day.

 

[00:25:11] Right. Right. And today the moon government rushed to relativize that remark that the special envoy had made saying it doesn’t foresee U.S. troop withdrawal even after a peace treaty. But you know if anybody is a reliable voice of the prevailing ideology it’s Professor Moon Junkin who is the special envoy who made the original remark. If you want to know what President moon is going to do listen to Professor Ramon you can take it to the bank and that’s why he’s the special envoy. His function as I see it is to habituate the South Korean public to proposals that that will become policy in due course. They sound radical when he first puts them out there and then over time they be they begin to sound more and more reasonable. And that’s been the pattern so far and I’m confident that’s the case with U.S. troop withdrawal as well. The Bluehouse knows it cannot have American soldiers here without a North Korean threat to justify their presence.

 

[00:26:15] We were just talking about FADH and Beijing was furious enough about Thad simply because it could also be put to anti Chinese uses simply because it was not an exclusively anti North Korean thing. So imagine if the entire U.S. military were here purely as a counterweight to China. I mean Beijing would bring this whole peninsula to its knees in a matter of months.

 

[00:26:41] And more importantly President moon knows that Kim’s regime would not last for long if the North after all the sacrifices its people have made so far. After all that it has accomplished on the nuclear and military front were to stop as it were a few feet from the finish line or one short remove from final victory and resign itself to the U.S. troop presence here that would make a mockery of everything the north stands for. The regime would have no legitimacy no reason to exist next to a thriving South Korea. None at all. And Moon knows that Kim Jong Il knows that but he not come right out and say what is being planned because as of now the South Korean public wants our troops to stay.

 

[00:27:31] And that shows you that although people here say they trust Kim Jong and they don’t trust him that far they remember what happened the last time American troops pulled out. And they know that the next time they pull out it will be for good. And I think other people want them to stay for economic reasons to reassure foreign investors. And that attitude I think may change in the future and I expect the propaganda preparations to be done on that front to to soften the public up for what I think is inevitable. But I think that propaganda could be undertaken in astroturf fashion.

 

[00:28:13] In other words in the form of officially encouraged civil protests in front of U.S. bases so that the moon government can can present itself as bowing to the public will when the time is right. This is very important for the moon government which perceives itself as being revolutionary. It always wants to convey the impression that it’s responding to the public will itself.

 

[00:28:38] And this is what the nukes are really about right or at least I think that’s what you said last time you were here that Kim wanted the nukes because it was part of the plan. I think your actual quote was a nuclear threat to U.S. territory American failure of nerve peace treaty withdrawal of U.S. troops then confederation then reunification. So I’m wondering do you think that Kim will eventually ask for U.S. troop withdrawal as a provision of denuclearization.

 

[00:29:09] Well he may well do so at some stage down the road. He would be very foolish to ask for it this year. In so many words and he doesn’t really need to because it’s enough if he demands the removal of nuclear strategic assets aircraft carriers nuclear submarines bombers BE1 bombers you name it. And what else the suspension of relevant exercises or perhaps the demands inspections of U.S. bases by North Koreans and so on which I think the South Korean government would find very reasonable and the South Korean public would probably find unobjectionable and the Americans of course would never accept conditions like this. I don’t believe any American president least of all Donald Trump is going to keep American troops here without making sure that they’re protected as much as possible so the U.S. troops would then have to leave without Kim Jong un ever flat out saying I want American troops out. And his father of course Kim Jong Il was clever enough to say to Madeleine Albright that he actually wanted the American troops to stay which was of course the complete export propaganda which the Americans fell for in a big way. And you know you can talk to people at the U.S. State Department even now and they still go on about what a wonderful opportunity we had there that we let slip past. So Kim Jong un is capable of saying things like that up front in order to reassure Americans and South Koreans but it’s going to end up in troop withdrawal one way or the other.

 

[00:30:52] And what worries me especially as an American is the danger that the South will walk down the aisle with North Korea perhaps having already sent half the U.S. troops home. And then suddenly it gets cold feet in front of the altar of confederation or perhaps Moon is impeached. The Conservatives return to power and say we’re canceling confederation bring those U.S. soldiers back. And this is a scenario that could very well play out here if a contraction of the South Korean economy or some scandal makes Moon as unpopular as literally every single South Korean president before him has become after three or four years in power. Now maybe he’s Mr. Teflon and he’ll be at 85 percent or 95 percent approval in three or four years. But I think that’s very unlikely to happen. So the question becomes Is North Korea simply going to stand by with final victory virtually before its nose. Is it going to stand by while South Korea slips out of its grasp forever or is it going to try to force the issue through some kind of military action. These are things that we need to be taking into consideration.

 

[00:32:11] You’ve contended that they’re really good at the long game though. Do you think that they would actually take that kind of risk instead of reassessing if something like that happened.

 

[00:32:21] I think they would take that risk because they must realize that they’re never going to get an administration like this one in Seoul.

 

[00:32:28] Again remember according to the recent polls the teenagers were more skeptical of the summit than people in their 50s and 60s which is not that surprising when you consider that North Korea was at the height of its popularity when people in their 50s and 60s people my age were at university in the 1980s. OK so that generation is the generation that was very enamored with North Korea. And that means that this kind of government is not going to come back again if Kim Jong un misses this opportunity. I don’t see how he can hope to get the whole ball rolling again in five or 10 years time. And I think it might or might not even be so rash of him to try to force the issue at such a time because the Americans commitment to the peninsula would probably be much weaker after the South Korean government has been jerking them around and sending half the troops home. So I think it’s something I think it is a distinct possibility.

 

[00:33:38] Sure. Do you think South Korea takes operational wartime control. Over for the Americans anytime soon.

 

[00:33:46] There’s part of all of this that’s a really good question. I don’t see how it cannot do so because the South Korean left has flip flopped a little bit on these things in the past.

 

[00:34:00] But Jane is a very very different kind of leader from the earlier two South Korean presidents. Now let’s remember Kim De Jong was was essentially a landowner. He was a boy. Somebody from the bourgeois really from the South Korean aristocratic class No Moo-Hyun got his training as a tax lawyer. You know he originally wanted to become rich and buy a yacht and all this before he got mixed up defending South Korean radical protesters and Moon Jane is a different character completely. This is a guy who really has been an idealogue I think since since since a very young age and what he says he puts into practice this is this guy is not messing around. And he has talked often enough of the need for OPCON Transfer and of course that too is somewhat worrisome to me because it puts pressure on Kim Jong un. Remember according to the North Korean ideology the South Koreans are chafing under the American yoke. It’s a Yankee colony. And if the Americans would only loosen their grip on South Korea unification would be very quick to ensue. Well when you say these things and then you watch the South Korean military take over control of its own destiny completely and the joint command is dissolved. Then you’ve got to try to explain to your own people why the things that you predicted were going to happen are not happening. So this is I think one of the dangers of OPCON Transfer.

 

[00:35:43] Another thing that we’re hearing a lot about is North Korea’s growing readiness to liberalize its economy. You know the summit declaration seemed to promise inter Korean economic cooperation. Does this mean the North’s system is changing in some fundamental way or that south the south is just more ready to cooperate. And then you know how do the sanctions and things play into all of this.

 

[00:36:04] You know it’s really a very astute propaganda export propaganda on the North’s part because it appeals to the stubborn American fallacy that North Korea is a communist state and for decades Americans have clung to the hope that if the North only gives up communism and opens the country up to enough foreign trade then political reform will automatically follow.

 

[00:36:31] And in fact liberalizing its economy would do nothing to lessen the North’s unification drive and would in fact make it more likely to succeed because South Koreans main fear right now is that North Korean domination would mean the socialization of their assets would mean communist nation. And this is one reason why the summit made such a favorable impression on people here because they saw a young married couple. Kim Jong un and his wife resoled Jew who looked like they were hip and into brand names and all the things that average South Koreans are also interested in. And the more liberal the North’s economy appears the more superficially south like the North becomes in terms of you know consumption living standards the less likely the South Koreans are going to be to balk at the idea of Confederation. The more likely they will be to believe North Korea’s promises that it will leave two systems separate and a freer market is not going to undermine this dictatorship in the slightest because it’s not a communist state it hasn’t been one for at least 30 years. It’s an ultranationalist one the command economy or what remains of it is they are now primarily to serve the military and nuclear aperitifs. So once the Americans are gone the North can dispense with much of that anyway. So they are really holding this out as some kind of promise of reform. They’re really making a virtue out of necessity.

 

[00:38:12] That also speaks to one of things they think is really interesting about the regime in North Korea is that it understands fundamentally the way the rest of the world sees it.

 

[00:38:22] Right.

 

[00:38:23] And it plays to that which shows you how wrong the West was for decades in considering the North to be a solipsistic state. That was the word that was so often used in regard to North solipsistic so wrapped up in itself that it had no clue how the rest of the world was operating and that really couldn’t be further from the truth. These are people who have always paid very close attention to political developments overseas. A lot of their propaganda novels their historical prop and propaganda novels reflect an astonishing knowledge of American politics for example and most importantly really they’ve got the bureaucratic institutional memory that we don’t have. I was talking the other day to a South Korean who has been going up and down to North Korea for about 14 years. And he said every time he goes there he talks to the same people. And you know we cannot boast of that kind of institutional memory in our own country. Every new administration seems to start out fresh.

 

[00:39:31] Are you the Trump administration’s favorite North Korean expert. You know I’ve seen your name in your book The Cleanest Race show up in some news reports that was in The Washington Post. You know people say that they are carrying around your book.

 

[00:39:43] How true is that well it’s kind of like this. I’m I’m the guy on the tropical island who for years has been saying that the local volcano is active and the other vulcanologists have insisted it’s it’s extinct and now the crater has started to belch smoke and ashes and the village council is saying you know that thing’s alive after all. And it’s like the vulcanologists are staring at me muttering you know why is that guy so influential all of a sudden you know in other words the course of events pretty much speaks for itself.

 

[00:40:28] North Korea reached a point there a few years ago where no one with an open mind could go on claiming it was only interested in self-defence. It was just going too far. It was. It had reached a point where its armament was clearly undermining its security was actually raising the likelihood of an American preemptive strike. And people also began realizing that even if the North wanted only to survive forever it still had no choice but to eliminate or at least establish dominion over the rival state. So all those pennies I think began dropping in Washington at the same time whereupon some people began remembering what I had been saying for years about North Korea’s goal. But you know I didn’t argue that point in earnest in the cleanest race. And if people are carrying that around and I certainly hope they are.

 

[00:41:23] It’s probably because it’s a very short and hopefully readable summary of North Korea’s main ideological myths and it’s possible I think to read my book and derive benefit from that summary without necessarily agreeing with my interpretation of North Korea as a far right ultranationalist state. I should also add you know various people were asserting a unification. Dr long before I started doing it and that that goes for Washingtonians as well you know Nick Eberstadt Joshua Stanton in the U.S. in Japan you I us I think he does she. I think though I was the one who was most insistent that the North was planning a more or less bloodless takeover. I was the one emphasizing the vulnerability of the South to the North’s unification drive. I think if if if if I have any distinctiveness in regard to the unification drive it’s on that point. But you know I don’t see unfortunately any clear sign that the Trump administration agrees with me that North Korea is a far right ultranationalist state. On the contrary I remember I think it was McMaster calling it a communist state saying that it wanted to read unification of the peninsula and of course the communist fallacy the fallacy of a communist North is what liberals want to go on believing to because it makes North Korea easier to sympathize with for some reason people find it easier to sympathize with a communist state than with a far right or a quasi fascist one. Well I think the I think that if you look at the history.

 

[00:43:07] People would feel that a far right or ultra nationalist state involves a certain amount of complicity on the part of the people where as in you know Nina this is just perception whereas communism feels more authoritarian as opposed to taala Tarion if that makes sense.

 

[00:43:27] That could be part of the reason why people are averse to acknowledging North Korea’s far right. But I think what is more operative in people’s minds especially on the doveish or soft land part of the spectrum is the reluctance to acknowledge that North Korea cannot be negotiated with. This is the big difference between our communist adversaries in the last century and our far right or fascist adversaries. We were able to reason with the Communists and we were not able to reason with Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. And this is I think is the reason why a lot of people simply do not want to acknowledge that North Korea is on the far right because it follows necessarily from that that no compromise can be reached with it.

 

[00:44:18] All right. So last time you were here you made some predictions and you’ve you’ve turned out to you were you were you know you had a really good hit rate mostly correct.

 

[00:44:26] I think if not entirely correct Yeah I was wrong about the economic cooperation starting immediately under Moon’s rule but pretty much everything else has come to pass the way that I predicted it.

 

[00:44:40] So what do you think happens when Trump goes to Korea. What’s what’s next.

 

[00:44:46] Presuming that he does come to Korea that that the summit is held here. North Korea is now at the height of its power and it’s at the height of its geopolitical fortunes. This is important. It’s not on the ropes. It was not sanctions that brought Kim Jong un to the table. It was Moon Jane’s accession to power and the stars have really aligned for for Pyongyang in an almost miraculous fashion. Of course it’s got a nuclear deterrent of some sort. However crude it might be its ally China has advanced to superpower status arguably its enemy. America is under the rule of an unpopular and inexperienced president and most importantly a confederation with a very friendly South Korean government is finally in sight. A half century after Kim Il Sung began proposing it which means Kim Jong un is going to be negotiating from a position of strength all the more so if the Americans really are unwise enough to hold the talks in Panmunjom which might as well be Kim Jong un’s home territory at this stage. I don’t see how this ends well for us and I don’t see how this ends all that badly for Kim Jong un because if Trump does fold and make concessions the sanctions will be loosened and Kim can stall for time until Trump leaves office.

 

[00:46:18] And if Trump just storms out of there after weeks of signaling uncritical approval of into Korean detente after weeks of sounding more dovish on North Korea than than than some of the perma doves in Washington I think the world is going to find him very unreasonable and the Chinese will begin to flout sanctions much more than they are already doing followed or perhaps even preceded by the South Koreans. And that would leave Trump with a choice between striking North Korea against South Korean opposition and that would really be the end of the alliance I think in spectacular fashion or coming to terms with North Korea’s nuclear capability. So if I were Kim Jong un I think I would have the confidence to demand bilateral incremental denuclearization and go from there. If Trump wants to take a hard line at that summit first of all he shouldn’t hold it in Panmunjom.

 

[00:47:22] But he’s also going to have to start sending clear signals in that direction. Now instead of stringing the moon Jane administration along and leaving it to to Bolten to make the hawkish noises as I said a year ago Matthew. The real problem here is not between Pyongyang and Washington. It’s really between Seoul and Washington and that problem should be resolved in the public eye. Before that Kim Trump summit and the summit should be delayed if necessary because the South Korean public deserves a right to know what’s going on and this alliance so that it can make a sober judgment of the choices that now face is one reason people are so enamored of moon Jane right now is because they consider them something of a miracle worker. They think this is a guy who is managing to cozy up to Pyongyang and to China while at the same time keeping Donald Trump very happy and not risking anything as troubling as the withdrawal of American troops. Now it’s not fair to the South Koreans to allow them to persist in this misunderstanding of the realities. I don’t think it’s fair if the White House and Bluehouse both conspire to keep the rift inside the alliance a secret from the South Koreans and that the American people. I think everybody all the stakeholders here and that’s every American and every South Korean needs to know what’s going on as soon as possible.

 

[00:48:58] B.R. Myers thank you so much for coming on to war college. It is always a pleasure. I will talk to you again in about a year.

 

[00:49:06] OK. Sounds good.

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