I’m a physicist, not a diplomat. I’m an amateur student of current affairs and of history.
Physicists have circulated in the halls of power since creating nuclear weapons during WW II, and worked with military people, statesmen, and political leaders to deal with the catastrophic consequences of the detonation of even one nuclear weapon on a nation’s territory and people. These catastrophic consequences must be borne no matter the outcome of any subsequent international struggle.
The Trump administration, like all previous US governments, is concerned with the armed truce dividing North and South Korea, and the often bizarre and threatening behavior of the northern governments.
To understand present circumstances in Korea and with the United States, its allies, and Korea’s neighbors, and to understand what Donald Trump is doing and thinking, I have found a reliable starting point with the proposition that Donald Trump is profoundly ignorant, a malignant narcissist, and a Mafia-style bully. Indeed, Trump is worse than profoundly ignorant. He strongly believes falsehoods, including that he is smarter than others, and that he is knowledgeable. He is delusional. All these traits appear in today’s situation.
All Koreans agree that they are one nation, now divided, and that they should have but one state. Their division dates to the end of WW II. Japan had ruled Korea for 50 years as a harsh colonial master, and their army in Korea collapsed in the face of a massive, violent attack by the Soviet Red Army. By agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, their forces occupied southern and northern regions. Eventually Korean governments arose in each of these regions and then fell into conflict during the Korean War. The armed invasion by the North Korean army nearly won with their initial attack that pushed the South’s army and US forces to a small pocket on the southern coast. The United States, working through the United Nations, organized the defense of the South, and eventually pushed the Northern army backward past its starting point all the way to the Yalu River, Korea’s border with China. Then the Chinese army counterattacked the UN forces with a massive invasion of Korea and pushed the UN forces back to the original boundary between the Koreas. This led to an armistice, a stand-in-place by the armies, creation of a demilitarized zone, and 70 years of tense armed hostility.
The US does not recognize the North Korean government, and they have no ambassador to the United States either. Talks, such as they are, occur at the demilitarized zone between military people, or in New York city between US diplomats and North Korea’s UN people. Over the 70 years of tension, no US president has ever talked directly, by phone or in person, with any North Korean leader. All previous US governments have taken the point of view that the two Koreas must negotiate a peace, and when we have participated in talks we have worked hard to include the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Russians. Originally, I might add, the Communist nations sat on one side of the table, and we and our allies sat on the other. In recent decades after the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic transformation of China, North Korea’s behavior has been weird enough, that everyone sits on our side of the table facing them, or at least on the left or right side.
The North Koreans, on the other hand, profess to believe that the US, their main military antagonist during the Korean War, is still a great threat to them. They wish to talk to us, face to face, without bothering with the US lackeys who rule South Korea. Thus, when Donald Trump tweeted his agreement to meet with Kim Jung-Un, without bothering to discuss the matter with his professional diplomats and military people, he conceded to the North Koreans a major point without receiving anything in return.
There are reasons why normal, non-delusional, world leaders make sure that there are lengthy preparations for any meeting between them, particularly between adversaries. In diplomacy, summit meetings are carefully scripted. Each leader knows what he or she will say and has a good idea about what the other leader will say. This is not at all like negotiations between a couple of real estate or golf course moguls. If one of the Wall Street Masters of the Universe wants to demand that the other guy paint the lobby of his hotel blue or the deal is off, well no problem. That’s not the way it works when the survivals of nations is at stake.
Trump is notoriously unwilling to follow a script. He is unable or unwilling to develop a plan and strategy with knowledgeable people, since he believes that he already knows more than they, on any subject. He is unwilling to prepare for this same reason. This Time magazine report says that Trump believes he is ready for the talks and doesn’t plan to spend much time, if any, in further preparation. Here’s the headline of that story: “President Trump ‘Doesn’t Think He Needs’ to Prepare Much for His Meeting With North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.”
I’ll just say that these traits and his inability to distinguish facts from falsehoods are the reasons why his lawyers are so concerned about an interview with Mueller’s investigators.