On June 2, 2018 a North Korean official hand delivered a huge envelope to President Donald Trump. North Korea insisted it be delivered in person and it was indeed an acceptance of Trump’s original invitation to hold the much-anticipated normalization talks with a goal toward further discussions about North Korean de-nuclearization.
During the previous days, POTUS announced that the U.S. would not meet with Kim Jong Un on the original agreed date, after high level North Korean officials spoke rudely of Vice President Pence and the National Security Advisor of the United States -John Bolton. In North Korea, insults are not hurled without permission from the top. In dictatorships there are no loose tongues or accidental faux pas. Such inappropriate comments would not be ignored.
International relations are fascinating to observe. This is a choreographed dance from both sides of the globe.
The enormous envelope which was ceremoniously handed to President Trump by North Korean senior official -envoy Kim Yong Chol -accomplished many things. The first is that it made this moment in time, significant. The photos taken and plastered on the front pages of the world’s newspapers- will one day be in history books around the world. In Eastern Asiatic cultures where “honor” is held above all, this is a symbol of serious intent. A great opportunity is about to take place for the North Korean people and their leadership is well aware of what is at stake.
In contrast to my observations are those of the Seoul Korea CBS reporter online who wrote of a “comically oversized letter.” He/she went to say in incredibly immature fashion “No one outside North Korea likely knows the real reason for the letter’s size.“ Perhaps, that is because the journalist (whose name was omitted from the article) is too young or too vacuous to think outside of his/her own limited Western mentality. It would be reasonable to place a sizable wager that this “journalist” has no knowledge of either the Korean War, nor of the importance of the current relationship between South Korea and the United States.
For years, North Korea has been seen as an evil empire. It has been run as such. It is on a road to nowhere. It cannot develop. Its economy cannot improve. On its present course it can only be isolated and an enemy to the free world. It is envious of its southern cousins who as friends of the United States, have flourished.
It is not hard to understand the motivation behind the apparent change in attitude. What is fascinating- is that once again, a bully responded to strength. The world in which we would like to live, is one where we kindly knock on our neighbor’s door and offer them a gesture of friendship and they hug us in response. We dream of a world where we can be gentle with one another and agree to live side by side in harmony. That would work if we did not live in a political reality where “greed and need” far outweigh pretense and polite conversation. Behind the potential for change in North Korea is a leader who is looking at the world around him, realizing that his current approach has left his nation isolated. Mr. Kim Jon Un wants to be an important world player and he wants to benefit from participating in the world that his father and ancestors disavowed. He sees in the future the opportunity for great wealth, trade and influence.
In essence Kim Jon Un, who has undoubtedly read “The Art of the Deal” – believes that this is the moment in time, with this particular American President, when an agreement can be negotiated which will change the future of his nation. North Korea’s real power is being wielded not with their atomic weaponry but with a simple gesture: An enormous envelope which symbolizes their sincere intent.
The future of our world will be much different than it is today. There is nothing that you or I can do which will change that. China will be the economic superpower in its region and one day will tower over the rest of the world in many spheres. The United States currently has the highest standard of living in the world, the most individual freedom and an outstanding economy. It may not however, remain supreme. The average American voter does not understand the connection between international issues and their own day to day existence. I suspect that most nations today realize that they do not need to blow “the other” to smithereens in order to move forward. They do however need to appear strong enough to stop the advances of others who may be so full of aggression and ideology- that they cannot control their own evil impulses. According to Rudi Giuliani, legal advisor to the President , this change of attitude came as a result of a blunt discussion between Un and Trump where the U.S. President explained unequivocally that the United States is powerful beyond North Korea’s wildest imagination…and that any threats from their ranks would result in a military response against which North Korea would have no defense. Once again, strength respects strength.
Those of us who have the good fortune to live in countries with many hundreds…even thousands of years of history, can observe the ancient walls which once protected our cities and kings from attack. The walls of Jerusalem’s Old City are similar to others around the world, built in a time of rudimentary bows, arrows, and spears…from the days of endless invasions from the Babylonians , crusaders, Romans, Mamluks, and the Ottoman Empire- Jerusalem as well as others needed to protect themselves from potential massacre. These walls today send us a message, that in the 21st century there are ultimately no walls to guarantee our populations will survive today;s warfare of nuclear or cyber- attack. The rules of survival have by necessity changed dramatically.
Facing our enemies over the conference table and addressing their financial needs is far superior to previous cold war periods of weapon development. One must however, have a negotiating partner that sees the benefits as a step forward, not simply a guise which will allow their own power grab and ideological warfare further advancement. At the present time, we must presume that North Korea differs from Iran. It does not appear to be intent on spreading its ideology around the globe. Negotiators will begin with the presumption of constructive intent and see where their discussions lead.
There is little doubt that North Korea sees before itself an opportunity for financial benefit which will bring its population a new future. Their current existence is certainly bleak. Power understands strength. History has proven this over and over again. The future negotiations will be fascinating to observe. At the end of the day, I believe that there could be tremendous benefits to global interests from what is on North Korea’s political horizon.
The enormous envelope brought to President Trump was the first move in the chess game of North Korean politics. Two worthy opponents have agreed to hold previously impossible discussions which could open the way to gains for all involved. This could take a very long time… but it is a historic beginning indeed.