Tag: negotiatons

Kim Jong Un’s Ascent (2): Rocket Launch as a Sign of a Power Struggle?

Here is part one, where I argued that Kim’s rise scrambles our conventional wisdom on NK, opening a lot of unexpected room, at least early in his tenure, to try to deal. The cold war stand-off in Korea is now so bad, that there is little to lose in trying to talk with him, and it would seem like a huge missed opportunity to simply blow him off as identically awful to his father. For my regular argument that negotiating with Kim Jong Il was impossible, try here and here (or if you’d rather just read about the ridiculous Homefront video game, try this).
The tentative ‘Leap Day deal,’ from the recent US-NK high level talks, of aid for a nuclear halt, represents just such a possible opening. As predicted, the extreme centralization of NK allowed a dramatic policy U-turn once Kim Jong Il was replaced. The deal is tentative, but it is almost certainly a direct consequence of the change at the very top. It is hard to imagine that Kim Jong Il would have agreed to this; his prestige was too tied to the nuclear program. So if Kim Jong Un is already willing to deal, only ten weeks after his father’s death, this is very promising. It hints at wider possibilities for change. A new leader with such wide policy-making authority, who is not yet heavily tied to the nuclear program, military, or other vested interests, is encouraging. Talks should be pursued, if only because confrontation is always an easy fall-back position. The threatened rocket launch might also be interpreted in this way. Vested interests in NK (probably the military), worried about any opening or change, are pushing back. Rather than reading the contradictory progression from Leap Day deal to rocket launch as typical NK back-and-forth shenanigans justifying the cancellation of the Leap Day deal, it might instead be a sign of the widely-expected post-Kim Jong Il power struggle. If so, then abandoning the Leap Day deal over the rocket launch would set back Kim Jong Un internally against the military. But it is so frustratingly hard to tell.

Hawks will argue that Kim’s room to move is less wide than I suggest. He will clearly face constraints, from the military, and from the regime elite’s expectation that he will keep the kleptocracy rolling. Worse, in the back of the mind of everyone associated with the extreme repression of the DPRK is the fate of Gaddafi, Ceausescu, and the Nazi war criminals. So the new Kim is not likely a Gorbachev, because no one in Pyongyang wants to face an Arab Spring-style uprising, or SK post-unification courts with access to the death penalty. But Kim will also have room to change course, simply because the regime requires his lineage. Many observers expect a radical course change would provoke a coup. And indeed it is likely that Kim Jong Un’s toughest years will be his earliest. There is almost certain to be a power struggle to establish the pecking order of the new regime. But Kim Jong Un will likely be retained regardless. With the collapse of communism, juche and other legitimizing ideologies, the Kim family cult is central to the DPRK as we understand it today. It is almost impossible to imagine a recognizable NK without a Kim monarch, as that is now the effective legitimating ideology of the country.

Hence a military backlash to any changes by the new Kim will be limited by the need of the regime to keep him and his family. While the military might be tempted to ‘evolve’ into a junta like Burma and dispose of the Kims, that would be uniquely risky in this case. The standing alternative of unification with SK requires that NK continually gin up unique and extreme justifications for its separate, poorer existence. The Kim god-cult provides this. It is therefore unlikely the Kims will be replaced, and if Kim survives the coming years as more than a figurehead, he will increasingly set the tone of NK foreign policy as his father did.

Hence engaging with him now is a unique chance to draw him out early, before he is locked into routines by other regime elements. International engagement and success may generate internal legitimacy for him and may vest him in further international successes as a route to greater legitimacy and autonomy when those around him seek to control him for his youth and inexperience. There is much to gain from a major SK-US-Japanese effort to engage the new Kim and little to lose, as the standoff with NK is already in deep freeze.
Clearly negotiations will follow the established pattern of inch-by-inch concession and counter-concession. Kim Jong Il’s unexpected death does not alter the North’s ministerial or bureaucratic players for talks, at least not yet. The regime is still desperately dependent on foreign imports of almost every variety, and Kim Jong Un apparently shares his father’s outsized appetites. The usual gimmicks and twists will certainly apply, but these are now old hat for American and SK negotiators. After twenty years of this, it is extremely unlikely that the democracies will get conned at the renewed Six Party Talks. There is no reason not to try. The new Kim is probably no Gorbachev, but what do we have to lose?

At the one of countless conferences I have attended on the NK question, a colleague once remarked that just about every theory, idea, concept, bargaining tactic, negotiating ploy, gimmick, and other tactic has been thrown at NK over the years to no avail. At this point, we’re so desperate that we’ll try almost anything that has a chance of moderating the regime. This is, however disturbing, correct. As Churchill said, ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war,’ and NK is so cruel, capricious, indecipherable, and dangerous, that just about anything that offers a chance to temper the regime is worth a try at this point. This does not mean the Six Party democracies should ‘undersell’ concessions to get any deal at all, but it does mean that we should be constantly trying to engage NK, always suggesting ideas, looking for opportunities. Like Europe’s militaries before WWI, the militaries in the peninsula are highly attuned to each other’s moves. The risk of escalation from a spark like Yeonpyeong is pronounced. The democracies should negotiate from a position of strength, but they should return to the Six Party Talks given this extremely unique opportunity.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog and Korean National Defense University.


Kim Jong Un’s Ascent (1): A Unique Negotiating Opportunity

Kim-Jong-un-Meme-GeneratorOr maybe not…

The following short piece for the Korean National Defense University was written after the Leap Day Deal, but before the rocket launch announcement. In the interim, the US has decided to cancel the leap day deal, which is entirely understandable, but a mistake nonetheless I think. NK’s elite has to do something for Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday this month (the cause of the launch); the regime depends on these sorts of shows. But this is a lot more tame than other possible hijinks, like another clash in the Yellow Sea, could be. Kim Jong Un might be signaling us from within the almost certain, post-Jong Il quiet power struggle now gripping the Pyongyang. For a similar and, I think, persuasive argument, try this. My full text at KNDU can be found here.

Kim Jong Il’s death is more than just the passing of a chief executive; given North Korea’s (NK) hyperpersonalization, it is transformational. As such, Kim Jong Un’s ascent offers a unique opportunity to try engagement once again with NK. It may fail, as it has so often before, but the very fluid new circumstances make it worth a major effort. NK is such a dangerous country and the cold war standoff with SK so severe now, that to pass up this rare window would be a tremendous missed opportunity.

Negotiating with NK has been deeply frustrating for the three democracies (US, SK, Japan) of the Six Party Talks for two decades. Even China clearly finds NK fatiguing at this point. The general consensus is that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not serious about denuclearization, unabashedly lies to interlocutors, and otherwise games negotiations for its own internal interests. Negotiations, at least under Kim Jong Il, seemed an end in themselves for the DPRK. They served the prestige of the regime, by keeping it in the global limelight. They served NK’s state survival, in that every Northern concession could be ‘sold’ for rice, fuel oil, spare parts, and other necessities. Frequently these concessions would then be retrenched under some fatuous circumstance in order to be re-sold again. US officials have noted repeatedly how America ‘will not buy the same horse again’ from NK.

Perhaps most disturbing, the seemingly endless negotiations provided myriad opportunities for NK to ‘shake down’ interlocutors for elite personal comforts like alcohol, HDTVs, and automobiles. Most famously, Kim Jong Il was personally bribed $500M to attend the 2000 inter-Korean summit. In general, the broad public perception among the relevant democracies is strongly negative; negotiations had devolved into a gimmicky venue for NK to ask/demand/blackmail for aid, concessions, and favors. Despite the Sunshine Policy and the 2005 Joint Statement, NK cheated and went nuclear anyway. Hence, aid to NK seemed more like appeasement – leading to ever greater Northern appetites rather than pliability. This is most clear in the SK population’s turn against the Sunshine Policy several years ago, and the Democratic Obama administration’s continuing unwillingness to extend any meaningful, unreciprocated aid (‘strategic patience’). By Kim Jong Il’s death last year, few in the democracies trusted NK to follow through on anything, and there was little interest anywhere in negotiation. Even China seemed unsure what to do with its ‘ally.’
But NK is – or, perhaps, was – a highly autocratic, neo-patrimonial system, in which almost all relevant policy flowed from Kim Jong Il and the tight coterie around him. That means that his death generates enormous uncertainty. In polities with established institutions that exist beyond their rotating office-holders, those institutions provide continuity as personnel change. Institutions are greater than their passing occupants, and future occupants will face precedents and long-established policies and procedures. These constraints prevent wild swings in policy. But in dictatorships, especially extremely personalized and centralized ones like NK, institutions are shallow and corrupted. Power flows not from one’s formal portfolio but one’s personal relationship with the autocratic clique. Hence the irrelevance of the NK presidency and the importance of the otherwise unknown National Defense Commission from which Kim Jong Il choose to rule. Therefore the replacement of a dictator, unlike the death of an elected president, opens huge policy space for change. Kim Jong Il’s death is more than just a chief executive passing; it is the personal-cum-structural transformation of the DPRK.

Hence Kim Jong Il’s death scrambles many of our established expectations of negotiations. It opens dramatic and unanticipated space for talks. This is a unique opportunity to engage NK in search of an alternative to the severe, cold war-style confrontation that has become the Korean norm. The new Kim may not be a Gorbachev, but there is no good reason not to engage as if a break with the past were possible. At worst, if NK falls back on its old, well-known bargaining tricks, the democracies can always retreat to their established confrontational postures. Furthermore, a democratic response to a Kim Jong Un outreach may be an external way to bolster his position against the military and others fearful of change. As Gorbachev parlayed international acclaim into domestic legitimacy to contest reactionary elements in the USSR, Kim may be able to do the same. We just do not know, but the current opportunity is so rare, that it would be a huge missed chance to not make a real effort.

The rest in three days.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog and the Korean National Defense University.


Syria: The Exile or Justice Ultimatum


Marc Lynch’s policy brief for the Center for a New American Security, titled “Pressure Not War:” A Pragmatic and Principled Policy Towards Syria” raises a provocative possibility for ICC judicial intervention. Lynch argues that pressure should be put on Assad and his officials to either go into exile to allow for a political transition or risk facing war crimes charges at the ICC. In his own words:

“To date, Syrian officials have not been referred to the ICC, in order to keep alive the prospect of a negotiated transition. Asad must have an exit strategy, by this thinking, or else he will fight to the death. However, Asad has shown no sign of being willing to take a political deal, an in any case, his crimes are now so extensive that he cannot have a place in the new Syrian political order. He should be forced to make a clear choice: He can step down and agree to a political transition now, and still have an opportunity for exile, or he can face international justice and permanent isolation.”

The war criminal accusation is already part of the diplomatic discourse on Assad. UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay’s statements and a UN inquiry report’s assessments concur that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the Syria regime’s siege on civilians. (Hillary Clinton also sort of called Assad a war criminal – considered unhelpful by David Bosco.)

But as we all know, Syria is not a State Party to the Rome Statute and Russia and China would block a Security Council referral of the situation to the ICC. Putting this obstacle aside, the “exile or justice” ultimatum is a frustrating position to take. Despite the sub-title of this policy brief, this ultimatum is based on assumptions that are neither soundly pragmatic nor principled.

On pragmatics, the offer of exile can no longer be viewed by war criminals as a credible guarantee of impunity – and won’t by Assad and his regime officials. Recall Charles Taylor, who abdicated his Presidency in Liberia in 2003 when the Special Court for Sierra Leone unsealed an arrest warrant for him and he took the negotiated offer of exile in Nigeria. He was arrested and transferred to the SCSL three years later. Recall the Khmer Rouge, many of whom were guaranteed exile and impunity for decades by a sympathetic Cambodian government and a passive UN; several of them now face justice and their victims at the ECCC. Political and security climates that may permit impunity in the short term will inevitably shift in the long term.

On principle, ICC officials and human rights advocates consistently balk at suggestions that the Court’s investigations and arrest warrants, and justice in general, should be used as a bargaining chip in conflict resolution. They have argued as much in the Libya, Sudan, and Uganda situations – all of which are delicate sequencing of peace and justice scenarios. In line with my belief that the “principles vs. pragmatism” dichotomy is unhelpful, such advocates also make consequentialist arguments that impunity is likely to lead to a resurgence of violence and instability. Look to the ICC’s justifications for intervening in Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya as evidence of this causal argument.

All in, the ICC cannot be viewed as credible if it endorses such “exile or justice” ultimatums. Moreover, the developing bond between the Court and UN Security Council as co-defenders of justice and peace will be severed by such unjust political bargains.

(Note: Michael Scharf provides an interesting legal analysis of the exile option, comparing Hussein and Taylor. See, Scharf, Michael P. “Trading Justice for Peace: The contemporary law and policy debate” in Atrocities and International Accountability: Beyond transitional justice.” Hughes, Schabas, and Thakur (eds). 2007.


Nuclear Disarmament: Looking Back at Reykjavik

I’ve been looking at some of the documents in “The Reykjavik File” at the National Security Archive. This coming October will mark 25 years since Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost completed a startling nuclear disarmament deal.

Had they been successful, both superpowers would have been disarmed 15 years ago!

The US proposal at Reykjavik was fairly startling, as reported in the Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Final Meeting, 12 October 1986, 3:25 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – 6:50 p.m., October 16, 1986. Document 15 (or see this archive for educators):

“Both sides would agree to confine themselves to research, development and testing, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty, for a period of 5 years, through 1991, during which time a 50% reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals would be achieved. This being done, both sides will continue the pace of reductions with respect to all remaining offensive ballistic missiles with the goal of the total elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles by the end of the second five-year period. As long as these reductions continue at the appropriate pace, the same restrictions will continue to apply. At the end of the ten-year period, with all offensive ballistic missiles eliminated, either side would be free to deploy defenses.”

Obviously, the US was interested in the possibility of researching and testing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems during the offensive disarmament period and then potentially deploying the systems after a 10 year period.

This is the somewhat different Soviet counterproposal (as reported in the same document), which also aims at disarming offensive arsenals over a 10 year period. However, it includes somewhat tougher language about research and testing limits under the 1972 ABM Treaty:

“The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions. The testing in space of all space components of missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus through 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, the remaining 50 percent of the two sides strategic offensive arms shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, the strategic offensive arms of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated.”

Sadly, nuclear disarmament was blocked by a fairly narrow difference over a pipe dream technology.

For a U.S. government analysis of the negotiations, written in the first person and signed by Ronald Reagan, see Document 25: National Security Decision Directive Number 250, “Post-Reykjavik Follow-Up,” 3 November 1986, 14 pp.


Negotiating with the Taliban

He’s not alone, of course, but scholar Gilles Dorronsoro is quite pessimistic about the Afghan surge and ongoing counterinsurgency campaign:

The current counterinsurgency campaign shows little signs of accomplishing its mission. The surge is not enough to reverse the Taliban’s gains, or the quick decline of the Karzai government. Pakistan’s lack of support makes the Taliban sanctuary there a major strategic problem.

More troops and the latest strategy have failed to make progress. The war is not conclusive in the south — where stabilization could take years—and the Taliban is gaining momentum in the north.

Instead of being able to begin a withdrawal next summer, the United States could be forced to add more troops just to hold ground and compensate for our allies’ progressive withdrawal. Never mind turning back the Taliban’s gains.

He concludes that negotiation with the Taliban toward political solution is the only option. What are the prospects for negotiation — and for a successful outcome?

David Petraeus says this week that Afghan government and insurgent figures are already moving in that direction:

“There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government and, indeed, have done that.

…certainly, we support them [initiatives by Karzai government] as we did in Iraq, as the U.K. did in Northern Ireland; this is how you end these kinds of insurgencies.”

The Taliban deny that any talks have occurred.

I suppose that could be read as good news since the Taliban may not want the Afghan people to think they would make common cause with its enemies. American hawks sometimes employ the same logic

Some westerners note that the alleged talks are merely “embryonic” and even Petraeus admits “This is very, very early stages, I don’t think you would yet call it negotiations, it is early discussions.”

Even if serious talks emerge, I’d hold off ordering the champagne to celebrate. First, the US and Afghan governments have established preconditions for talks that likely pose a huge hurdle to meaningful progress — insurgents must lay down their arms and accept the constitution. The Taliban likewise have stated their own preconditions — foreign troops must withdraw first.

Jeremy White says negotiations are ultimately doomed because the political solution the US has in mind fails to recognize the nature of the insurgency and may increase violence in the short-term as locals left out of payoff schemes launch attacks in order to get their fair share of any loot. He references his own on-the-ground research experiences to bolster these claims.

In any event, stay tuned. If everyone agrees (a big if) that the only solution can be political, then we have to hope for some sort of political solution. Right?


Iran’s setbacks: Buying time?

According to Gary Samore, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has had some important recent setbacks. The AP, last week:

Setbacks in Iran’s uranium enrichment program have significantly delayed its progress toward building a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama’s top nuclear adviser said Tuesday.

…On Iran’s enrichment program, Samore said that Tehran had been set back by problems with its centrifuges and by disclosure of an enrichment plant near Qom that the United States alleges was part of a secret nuclear program.

Samore said that because of the setbacks, “the nuclear clock is not ticking as quickly as some had feared.”

Samore’s lengthy title is “Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism.” So he should know, right?

Samore seems to be saying that this threat is not yet technologically imminent. The statement is not quite as precise as the 2005 NIE, which reportedly said that Iran’s nuclear bomb was at least a decade away, but it’s still good news.

The comments seem to be directed at Iran hawks, of course, and also at the policy wonks who have recently been upset by Iran developments. For example, in a February blog post, my go-to source for proliferation information Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, emphasized the very bad news in Iran’s just-announced plans to enrich uranium to 20%.

If Iran enriches a significant amount of U235 to 20 percent — and that’s a stated goal right now, not yet an actual achievement — then Iran would be able to “top off” the enrichment [at] a small, clandestine facility like the one revealed near Qom.

In a comment to the Lewis post, Yale Simkin simplified the problem for those of us without a lot of nuclear physics:

Imagine a bowl with 1,000 ping-pong balls in it. 993 of the balls are green. 7 of the balls are red. The balls are at “0.7% Red Enrichment.”

Now imagine reaching in the bowl and pulling out unwanted green balls. You are doing “separative work”. You will be leaving the red balls in the bowl.

Remove 840 green balls, a long and tedious job. Now you have 153 green balls and 7 red balls.

You are now at “4.4% Red Enrichment”

Last step. This time remove only 152 green balls.

This leaves 7 red balls and 1 green ball or an “88% Red Enrichment.”

So note: It took EIGHT-FIVE percent of the work to go from 0.7% to 4.4%!

That is why “Peaceful” enrichment is a fraud…

What other wonks have been worried about Iran policy?

Back in February, the Leveretts argued that the Obama administration was dithering recklessly in the ongoing negotiations:

…the Obama Administration and its European partners have effectively rejected these Iranian positions—precisely because accepting them would mean that the Obama Administration would not have a year or more to sort through what it is prepared to do regarding the prospective substance of U.S.-Iranian engagement. Instead, the Administration would have to make strategic choices and develop real positions on important issues much sooner than it had contemplated. And, rather than do that, the Obama Administration is moving to embrace the same counterproductive and feckless policies aimed at isolating and pressing Tehran that the George W. Bush Administration employed.

I too have expressed fears that the Obama policy looks too much like the Bush Doctrine in the right light.

Sixteen months into this administration, the U.S. should clearly work “faster, please” to achieve results in the Iran negotiations. Election-year promises about bargaining without preconditions are beginning to fade from memory even as blustering threats are occasionally made public. The so-called “Zombie fuel swap” proposal may not be a sufficient solution.

In any event, this latest news is perhaps a sign that the world has more time to work out a reasonable compromise.


Good news on Iran?

Haaretz.com is reporting that Iran is suspending its uranium enrichment program for two months. This news arrives amidst a flurry of other related reports about Iran and its nuclear program.

Many political pundits have been blasting the Obama administration for its “total dud” diplomatic efforts towards Iran, noting that the U.S. deadline for Iran to make a deal about uranium enrichment elapsed in December. During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama repeatedly said he would talk to Iran without preconditions.

Did Obama say what would happen if the talks failed to produce results?

Is there any reason to believe the talks might still succeed?

Yesterday, General David Petraeus reminded the world what could happen if negotiations fail — Iran could “certainly be bombed” if necessary:

“It would be almost literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about the various ‘what ifs’ and to make plans for a whole variety of different contingencies.”

I doubt this comment was made flippantly as it echoes statements Senate candidate Obama made as far back as 2004. In 2007, Obama said “I don’t think the president of the United States takes military options off the table.”

The U.S. has also been talking about expanding the sanctions against Iran, though Chinese (and European) reluctance has made that threat seem perhaps even less credible than the idea of a U.S. strike on Iran.

I do not think Iran has been bullied into making an important concessions, but I do suspect that the Iranian government realizes the gravity of the situation. As Marc Lynch noted at the end of December, even the New York Times recently ran an op-ed calling for strikes against Iran. U.S. military leaders for some weeks have been saying that they do not see good military options vis-à-vis Iran and they support ongoing diplomacy. However, of course, they acknowledge their preparation to implement military options if the President orders their use.

Laura Rozen reported over the weekend that Iran has made a new offer in the ongoing negotiations:

While the Obama administration has stepped up talk of expanding sanctions on the regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iranian news reports and U.S. official sources say that Iran has recently returned a formal counter offer to swap low enriched uranium, or LEU, in exchange for nuclear fuel cells produced in the West…

One source told POLITICO that an agreement between Iran and the “P5+1” – as the group composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. is known – could be announced in “the very near future.”

Reportedly, the deal would ship LEU to Turkey rather than Russia, as the west proposed. However, the key point is that Iran would be left without enough nuclear material to construct a bomb — thereby creating more time for additional negotiations on broader issues.

That seems like a good deal for now.


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