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Peace on Korean Peninsula: When Common Sense Trumps Political Punditry

Political pundits the world over have been working overtime attempting to predict the outcome of the Kim-Trump summit and the prospect of peace on the Korean Peninsula more generally. As usual, most of them have gotten it wrong because they have insisted on adhering to conventional modes of thinking, many of which are tied to the more extreme sides of the political pendulum. For example, some former CIA analysts, conservatives, and traditionalists have been insisting that Kim cannot be trusted, will never give up his nukes, and that Trump is on a fool’s errand. Some on the Left and in the anti-Trump camp maintain that Donald Trump is merely doing what he is doing to disrupt the international order and stroke his own ego. While there is some truth in both camps, most pundits will prove to have been wrong simply because the Kim-Trump bromance is neither conventional nor predictable.

Those attempting to predict what Kim and Trump will do have generally been proven wrong because only both men know what their objectives and game plan are. They have both defied convention and appear to know something the rest of the world does not. While the unlikeliest of comrades, they have taken a leap into the great unknown, knowing that it is only the two of them who can formally end the Korean War, denuclearise the Korean peninsula, and craft a lasting peace. That requires bold thinking and a willingness to throw out the old playbook.

A year ago, I published an article stating that Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump actually think a lot alike and suggested that they should take advantage of it in an effort to find common political ground. I stated that there was no need to engage in too much geopolitical strategising, intelligence analysis, weapons capability calculations, or predictions about the future, and that there was nothing to lose by breaking the mould regarding the West’s approach to North Korea.

Back in April I published another article arguing that if we assume that Kim is coming to the table genuinely intent on radically altering his country’s place among the family of nations, then both he and Trump will need to enter negotiations with the understanding that any bargaining positions either may have had that are seen as “extreme” by the other, and which were crafted to either posture ahead of negotiations or were designed for the benefit of public consumption, were unlikely to result in a solution. Both of them needed to embrace the art of the deal, which they appear to have done.

In my mind, these recommendations were based on little more than common sense. Given where we now are in the process, common sense tells me that these negotiations will indeed prove to be successful. I am now prepared to make the following prediction: the Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result. I say this in part because both men have staked everything on the commencement of direct dialogue, both can see the finish line within reach, and both men’s egos will not permit them to fail. They also both want to go down in history as the two who finally resolved the North Korea imbroglio.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also clearly deserves a lot of credit for helping to nurture the process and get it to this point. If there is to be a Nobel Peace Prize awarded for this effort, it should by all right go to all three men, for peace cannot have been achieved without all three working in sync towards this common objective. In the end, though, the pursuit of peace on the peninsula is not about prizes or egos—it is about disrupting the status quo, which makes a variety of Asian nation nervous. It remains to be seen whether the disruption that will inevitably result is a net negative or positive for each nation concerned.

China, Japan, South Korea and Russia should all be in favour of an agreement that denuclearises the peninsula, brings North Korea into the family of nations, and stabilises and enhances its economy. They may not like the fact that they are not in the driver’s seat in the process, but each will have a direct or indirect impact on the peace process and will see to it that their concerns are factored into a final agreement. We need to get used to the idea that two men, who much of the world sees as unhinged, may in fact possess the secret sauce that has caused leader after leader in North Korea and the US to miss the mark. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

In the end, though, it appears that common sense is driving Kim and Trump to put their joint vision for peace on the Korean peninsula into hyperdrive. While much remains unknown about how, when, or even if a lasting peace can be achieved on the peninsula, it is clear that it now has the best chance of success, based on two bold and unconventional leaders taking a risk on each other. Sometimes, all the political punditry in the world cannot result in conclusions that simple common sense may otherwise dictate. This appears to be one of those instances.

This article was originally posted in The Sunday Guardian.