By Timon Osinga
On the 17th of October, JASON Institute organized a lecture regarding the current hot topic of the US under President Donald Trump versus Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea at the Nutshuis in The Hague.
The lecture started by a presentation by Assistant-Professor Alexander Bon of the Royal Netherlands Defense Academy. Being specialized in American foreign politics and US-Asian relations, he provided us with the American perspective. Beginning with a historical overview, he points to the important influence of the Korean war, which only ended through an armistice, not a peace treaty, and the beginning of North Korean nuclear capabilities in the 1980’s. In an interesting insight, he compares Donald Trump as a leader by the 1964 book by Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics. In this book, the paranoid style leader is defined as (1) feeling that you are the chosen one; (2) feeling that you are being persecuted by others; (3) believing a host of conspiracy theories; and (4) having a profound distrust of existing institutions. According to Dr. Bon, Trump fits this description like a glove. He then indicated the importance of the Generals Trump has appointed around him. Generals McMaster, Mattis and Kelly all have a major influence in US foreign policy, trying to calm Trump’s rhetoric and maintaining the American position worldwide. Especially as Trump is increasingly arguing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Next, Sico van der Meer took center stage. He is a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, focusing his research on non-conventional weapons such as WMD’s and Cyber weapons, and he has a special interest in North Korea and relations between North and South Korea. He provided us with a valuable insight from the North Korean perspective, even though, as he said himself, North Korea being the most closed country in the world means we don’t know a lot about them. From a North Korean perspective, the only thing different in the current situation, compared to the years before, is Donald Trump. They have always felt threatened by other nations, which forced them to focus on self-reliance. Having started the development of WMD’s in the 1980’s, North Korea has no intention of giving up. They refer to Iran for example, who made a deal with the US regarding nuclear weapons, but Trump is now altering the deal. This feeds the distrust of the US.
Despite the North Korean nuclear arsenal, and the increasingly aggressive rhetoric, actual operational use of nuclear weapons is not very likely. North Korea is, contrary to common Western thought, a rational actor. Being a dictatorship, their sole goal is survival and keeping the current elite in power. This entails not only balancing the relationship with other nations, but also the continuous indoctrination and suppression of its own people. The final issue he addressed was the consequence of the eventual fall of the North Korean regime and the possibilities. If it falls, the West is met with a brainwashed population that somehow must reshape and establish a democratic regime, eventually reuniting with South Korea. South Korea has done a lot of research on this issue and has concluded that an interim government should be put in place for 25 years, prior to unification.
Finally, the audience was invited to pose questions to the speakers, resulting in interesting debates on the effectiveness of sanctions, the US military options, the US willingness to aid South Korea in the conflict and the role of China.