Kim and Donald , who got trumped?
The historic meeting in Singapore between Kim Jong Un the North Korean dictatorial leader and Donald J Trump the quoted leader of the free world is certainly raining more than one or two interested eyebrows around the globe today. Was it Kim and Donald playing their game of Top Trump if so who got trumped?
2 Hours after the 13-second historic handshake between the 2 leaders they signed a Joint Statement that stated:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27,2018Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
The text of the statement is not as strong as Bill Clinton got in November 1994, but nothing came of that agreement and nothing in the Joint Statement is as groundbreaking as President Trump made out in his press conference. However, the one positive is that it is a start and like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.
President Trump’s post-summit press conference was interesting, he said some truisms and the most profound was, “The past does not have to define the future – our adversaries can become friends.” This is something politicians across the globe should listen to and in particular Sinn Fein and the DUP in Northern Ireland.
However, try as he might he had some veiled threats pointed at Chairman Kim when he said, “Chairman Kim has an incredible opportunity to seize…” and highlighted, “I had 300 sanctions, very big and very powerful ones, I didn’t apply last week as I thought it would be disrespectful….” Trying to suggest that he was leading the talks. Chairman Kim won’t like that.
There are lots of things that Chairman Kim will like. He hasn’t actually made any new concessions. The suspension of joint exercises between the US military and South Korea has been a long-standing desire and he has been given that assurance, without the South Koreans having been informed apparently.
More importantly to Chairman Kim, he has been given legitimacy and it is based on his possession of Nuclear weapons. He will see the possession of his nuclear weapons as the reason he has been able to get the US President to come to meet him, the reason why he believes the world now sees him as being at the top table alongside President Trump.
So, what is Trump’s motivation? President Trump genuinely wants to be seen as a good guy, as someone who when he threatens another nation, they back down and he gets the glory. He sees North Korea as an opportunity, an opportunity that may see the world moves closer to peace, an opportunity for him to grandstand on the world stage, an opportunity for him to continue his rhetoric against his predecessors, an opportunity to achieve something on the scale Obama did when he found and had Osama Bin Laden killed, an opportunity to have his ego stroked with the smell of a Nobel Prize. He is a bit like Muttley in ‘Chase the Pidgeon’ when offered a medal by Dick Dastardly (now I’m showing my age).
What does Chairman Kim want? Legitimacy and an easing of sanctions so he can increase his wealth, he wants to be seen as an equal on the world stage. He has got most of that already! China and Russia are likely to increase sanction busting trade relatively quickly to ensure they remain in favour with Chairman Kim and in the knowledge that to preserve the negotiations, America will turn a blind eye.
He also wants to court increased favour with other like-minded world leaders. He admires Xi Jinping who he will see as a grandfatherly figure and is pleased with President Putin, after all as Trump stated Xi has been sanction busting already and Putin has put a fast internet connection into North Korea. The one thing he doesn’t want is to give up the very weapons that have put him on the world stage, but he knows he can string negotiations along, eking out concessions and he can hide technology whilst putting a show of destroying it on.
So, who are the other players and what do they want? President Moon Jae-in of South Korea was elected on a promise of seeking Korean reunification. He wants peace on the peninsula and all Korean people to be free. He has been the warm-up act for Trump and has arguably contributed most to facilitate the current position and cooperation with Kim Jong Un.
Xi Jinping is next, he wants the US focus off his border region, he doesn’t want the prospect of a nuclear conflict near his borders and certainly doesn’t want a regional conflict of any kind as he is not ready yet. He wants the US military presence in the South China Seas area to decrease rather than the escalating presence with 3 carrier groups that has happened because of Kim Jon Un’s activities. Xi has developing ambitions around the Spratley and Paracel islands that he wants to be able to get on with quietly.
Xi Jinping wants to strengthen his hand in negotiating away any trade barriers with the US and wants his long-term plan to progress without interference. By positioning himself as a “Grandfather” figure to Kim Jong Un, keeping Chairman Kim sweet with trade, he can keep President Trump sweet with promises of keeping Chairman Kin in line. It is not by accident that Chairman Kim went to meet Xi Jinping twice before this meeting.
Then we have the final player. One not immediately associated with North Korea, but one who has been developing his relationship with Xi Jinping and with Kim Jong Un, but we don’t know why. He keeps popping up in many global scenarios and it is President Putin of Russia. Last year TransTelekom a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables and is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation put a fast internet connection into North Korea.
Around the same time, the North Koreans went from having a small nuclear capability with short-range missiles that failed more often than not, to have a hydrogen bomb capability with ICBMs that worked more often than not. None has explained how that technological advance happened so quickly in a country under strict international sanctions.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Xi Jinping hailed ties with Russia as he held talks with President Putin who was on a state visit ahead of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with the Chinese leader calling Putin his “most intimate friend “and presenting him with the Friendship Medal. The dots start to join up!
We have a new world order developing – and it is those countries who can plan 20+ years out as they have predictable political conditions versus those countries tied to prime ministerial or presidential elections every 5 ish years. Add in a pinch, nay glug of ego with a sniff of Kompromat that may or may not exist and we have a recipe for changing political times.
The Alternative War espoused in JJ Patrick’s book of the same name has just taken on new dimensions. Donald Rumsfeld was so right when he said “you don’t know what you don’t know” and the reality is you can’t see it unless you open your eyes. So in the game of Top Trump, Kim trumped Donald but Xi and Vladimir are yet to play.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus and visited the Far East, having recently walked the path in Singapore the 2 world leaders took. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE
The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong
As the globe breathes a sigh of relief over the positive tones regarding a formal end to the Korean War and working towards a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula, after the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the North and South Korean leaders, we will start to see Donald Trump taking the credit for saving the world from a North Korean nuclear Armageddon. However, we have to ask is all as it seems?
It is very easy to see what we want to see, and a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula is what we want to see in the same way George Bush and Tony Blair wanted to see Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), so they ensured the world saw that threat…….
We all know how Iraq has turned out because we didn’t open our eyes properly. The intelligence game is all about keeping our eyes open and acting as the conscience for decision makers. Sometimes they listen, often they don’t and when they don’t and it all goes wrong, the intelligence agencies get the blame, not the politicians who made the decisions.
As I look at the Korean issue, I want to start with Russia and ask some of the intelligence game questions.
65-year-old Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин) takes a long and global view of his vision to rebuild mother Russia in the image of the USSR but utilising his version of capitalist principals, not communism.
He has effectively been in power since 1999 when he was first Prime Minister of Russia, becoming President in 2000, engineering a break back to Prime Minister from 2008 – 2012 where his close ally Dmitry Medvedev became President, Putin has now been elected for his second 6-year term of this Presidency. He will be setting the conditions to ensure he can retain power long past this second term even if this means another ‘flip’ with Medvedev.
The ‘So What?’ from this is that Putin can afford to take a long-term view of what he wants to achieve for Russia and can use that longevity to bypass any sticky overseas opposition just by playing the long game. He knows perfectly well that the leaders of the countries that oppose him are in power for relatively short periods of time and have adversarial political systems which he can easily manipulate so that dealing with the Russian bear remains a relatively low priority.
Putin is an old-school Russian, almost genetically disposed to see conspiracy from the West aimed at destroying Russia. He hankers after the days of the cold war where things were easy but loves the power and wealth he has in post-Soviet Russia; he is a Russian nationalist almost to fanatical levels, but that is his role, after all, he is President.
As you would expect his politics have created domestic enemies and friends; the difference between them and western political allies and opposition is that they are on the whole hugely wealthy and in their own spheres, hugely influential. Like all wealthy influential people, they also have ambition. Those such as Roman Abramovich and Arkady Rotenberg keep their ambition in line with Putin’s and are considered as friends. Those such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are sent clear messages to toe the line or are exiled or imprisoned. That messaging, as we have seen, is delivered by Polonium 210 or Novichok.
Putin, whilst he is more than happy to ‘go it alone’ is very conscious that his fortune comes from global business and from his long-term view position and historical mistrust of the USA and other NATO countries, he wants to make political and global business alliances. He knows he can control the EU and USA from anti-Russian excesses; Trumps change of mind regarding additional sanctions against Russia whilst Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN, was outlining when they would be implemented is one sign of this. Not quite the eagle has landed and more of the eagle has been warned. Germany signing a gas contract with Russia on the day they issued a statement of condemnation over the Salisbury Novichok attack is another.
Putin sees his route for alliances to be with non-NATO like-minded countries and when their economies are growing, even better. We have been seeing greater cooperation with China and India, we have seen tolerance of Iran and continued massive support for Assad in Syria, but it is China and India I am interested in here.
The South China Seas/Indian Ocean region is seeing the fastest growth of power projection military capabilities of anywhere in the world. India is developing their naval blue water capability, China is doing the same, Japan is responding with constitutional changes and expeditionary capabilities and the disputed Paracel and Spratley Islands are being militarised.
Xi Jinping’s economy continues to grow at almost 7% and he has cemented his political longevity in a way I am sure Putin is envious of. However, with only one-year difference in age, we have two P5 leaders with very long-term political stability and greater economic interaction, in 2015 Russia signed a $400 Bn 30-year natural gas supply agreement with China. They are natural global bedfellows and Russia’s courting of India makes them a natural focus for defence exports as they can pay!
Xi has been seen for a long time as Kim Jong Un’s only ‘ally’ and he is more like a great uncle trying to keep an errant, badly behaved distant nephew in check. However, Dan North from the North Korean Monitoring site 38North.org has identified a company called TransTelekom (ТрансТелеКо́m) has put a fast internet connection into North Korea alongside their older and much slower Chinese supplied connection. TransTelekom is a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables. The company is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation. Putin has his fingers in North Korea!
We have seen North Korea blamed for the sophisticated cyber-attack on Sony and the 2017 global WannaCry attack. At the same time, we see North Korea’s nuclear capability go from a warhead of less than 1Kt detonated in 2006 to in 2017 a warhead of an estimated 120-160 Kt exploded. His ballistic missile technology goes from short range to ICBM and failure most times to success most times, over an even shorter period of time. Where is North Korea getting its cyber training and awareness and where is it getting its newfound nuclear and missile know-how and technologies? What has Russia to gain from a relationship with North Korea? These questions have never been successfully answered.
And what of the young dictator, Kim Jong Un the man who starves his people, executes his relatives with anti-aircraft guns if he suspects them of being disloyal or if exiled, executes them in an international airport with VX, a deadly persistent military grade nerve agent? He has new friends who are helping his cyber capability and his missile technology. He has his Chinese ‘great uncle’ who has scolded him for poking Trump bald eagle with his ICBM nuclear stick. He has a need for investment and a pause in his nuclear programme, as his test site has collapsed. He has a long-term view just like Xi and Putin. He has, from his perspective, joined the ‘big boys club’ by getting the US President to come to him and showing the world his conventional and nuclear capabilities. He has given Putin an idea of what using a nerve agent as an assassins’ weapon is like. He has nothing to lose by having talks with Moon and Trump and everything to gain. He has a smug feeling in his belly.
The manoeuvring that is going on between Xi, Putin and Kim Jong Un, whilst it all seems to be separate and not interconnected, is likely to be just that, interconnected. What are Russia and China’s long-term goals and why are they playing with North Korea? There is a wider game at play here and it is probably 3 wider games, the Chinese one of global economic dominance, the Russian one of nationalistic resurgence and the North Korean one of sitting at the top table. The short-sighted view many Western countries will have of what is going on will force them to see what they want to, the cries for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘solving’ the North Korean issue have already started. There is a global alliance here and it may have something to do with the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
We just have to remember some recent historical examples of success and failure. The Chinese economy grows when everyone else’s recedes. Putin annexed Crimea successfully and has a strong foothold in Eastern Ukraine. He has turned Assad’s assumed demise into a winning home run. He has clearly demonstrated the power of маскировка (maskirovka) in influencing elections, referendums and political debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Kim Jong Un has got the President of the USA to come to him. We the West have a less successful record, the debacle of Iraq that resulted in the creation of ISIS and global terror, the failure in Afghanistan allowing the Taliban and ISIS-affiliated groups, to retake many of the areas soldiers blood was spilled to secure initially and Libya with the humanitarian disaster we see with refugees in the Mediterranean.
Who has the long-term vision and who sees what they want? Should we be worried? My view is, hell yes !!……….
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