A game of Top Trump – Kim Jong Un wins…
In a letter to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, released on Thursday 24th May, the US President Donal Trump said, “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have the long-planned meeting.”
So, what does this mean? What led up to this and what will Kim Jong Un’s response be? Philip Ingram MBE an intelligence and military planning expert gives his thoughts.
When looking at any issue from an intelligence perspective it is important that you put your own views, opinions, and prejudices to one side and look at it from the perspective of those involved. It is only then that you can get a true understanding of what has happened and why. You then look for the unusual, ‘the things you know you don’t know,’ to paraphrase another American.
My first perspective is Donal Trump. Over the past weeks and certainly since Mike Pompeo’s visit to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un and start the work for what had the potential to be a ground-breaking summit, Trump, and his staff will have come slow realisation that they were being played.
Kim Jong Un, by making all of the noises he did with regard to the Olympics, his disarmament rhetoric and statements, with his meetings with the South Korean Leader Moon Jae-in and ‘destruction’ of his nuclear test facilities at Punggye-ri – Trump saw what he wanted to see, his name in lights, a Nobel Prize and a large ‘I saved the world’ badge on his lapel. Mr Kim saw recognition.
Trump saw this through the one lens that is the most dangerous for any leader to have, it is the lens of EGO and it is his ego that led him to see what he wanted to see. The dangerous issue with this, if a leader blinded by his own perspective isn’t dangerous enough, is that his staff are clearly so scared of disagreeing with him that they fell into a group think scenario and everyone believed. That is a damning criticism of the US intelligence machine as Intelligence should always act as a commander’s conscience.
Trump got out of the summit by getting Mike Pence to say North Korea “may end like Libya”, knowing that this would enrage Kim and Kim’s response through a North Korean official, Choe Son-hui, was to refer to US Vice-President Mike Pence’s comments as “stupid”. A quick diplomatic tussle to give an excuse to cancel the talks. However, Kim’s response was to use Trump’s language back at him and keep the option for dialogue open.
From Kim Jong Un’s perspective, his nuclear rhetoric, turned into a capable nuclear reality (so who helped him? Read my Blog The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong) had allowed him to join the ‘big boys club’ and show he was a leader of global importance by getting the US President to come to him and showing the world his conventional and nuclear capabilities.
Kim never had any intention of getting rid of his nuclear capability, he wanted to cement his place at the top table, ease sanctions so he could make more money and swan around the world like the global leader he sees himself as.
He has probably been given a quite scolding by his elder ‘grandfather’ type figure Xi Jinping telling him to calm the rhetoric down and showing how he can make more money. But he has the ear of Mr Xi.
He has given Putin the idea of using a nerve agent as an assassins’ weapon and shown he can be a plausibly deniable outlet for cyber-attacks. He had nothing to lose by having talks with Moon and Trump and everything to gain. He had a smug feeling in his belly and with his new Russian installed internet pipe, he had the ear of Mr Putin.
However, Kim Jong Un like Donald Trump has an ego and his petulant, childlike ego has just been smacked very hard. Not only will he be reeling from the letter that reads like it is scolding an errant school child by comparing asset sizes, but it was sent on the day he was showing the world’s journalists the supposed destruction of his nuclear test facilities. This could not have been worse from a timing perspective. Very publicly, and almost certainly known by the North Korean population, Donald Trump has caused Kim Jong Un to lose face, something that is culturally unacceptable.
Xi Jinping has no doubt told Kim to count to 100 if he gets wound up by Trump and this is probably why North Korea has said it is still willing to talk “at any time in any form” and vice-foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan said Mr Trump’s decision was “extremely regrettable”. North Korea is trying to and probably maintaining the higher moral ground. Xi Jinping will want to use his influence to undo any potential trade tariffs between China and the US and will be working his diplomatic links with President Trump hard. Once that is off the table he will probably let Kim Jong Un have more of a free rein again.
However, I suspect Kim Jong Un has gone well past 100 and is still reeling. He will be planning his next action; his ego will not let the loss of face subside and unless Trump puts his ego to one side and reaches for an olive branch again; rather than progressing peace this could sink any opportunities whilst Trump remains in the White House and could make the doomsday clock tick even closer to midnight. The one saving grace is that Xi Jinping is taking a long-term view and is acting as the quiet hand of sense.
One person who remains smiling at the continuing international hiatus is Vladimir Putin. His global freedom of manoeuvre just got a little easier…
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE