Letter to the Editor: The U.S., North Korea and the Art of the Deal

With the date of a possible United States/North Korea summit approaching, it is worth considering how the two parties might pursue a deal. The Western mind always starts the deal from the position of demanding everything, giving nothing, and threatening dire consequences if a deal is not reached. The Eastern mind typically starts the deal by giving everything, asking for nothing, and promising peace, love, and understanding after the deal is reached. The “art” part of the deal lies in how far a deal maker is willing to deviate from its initial position.  So how might the opposing parties apply these approaches?

President Donald Trump will certainly lead by demanding that North Korea halt development, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. His choice of threats is either applying drastic sanctions or unleashing fire and fury, but since North Korea is already under drastic sanctions it seems that fire and fury is the only viable threat.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un may very well promise to comply with this demand on the condition that the United States pull all military forces from South Korea. He has only one threat to back up his demands, which is also fire and fury.

It could very well happen that both sides actually agree to these demands, but then comes the real art of the deal, which is first setting up some mutually-acceptable mechanisms insuring that each side honor its promise, and then actually executing the mechanisms. Throughout human history this last step in the art of the deal has proven to be the undoing of virtually all deals of this nature, including the Iran deal.

But is it really so important whether or not the mutual inspection mechanisms are ever actually utilized? The answer to that question lies in the personal motives of the President and the Supreme Leader. What Donald Trump is after is the Nobel Peace Prize, and what Kim Jong-un is after is a seat at the table with the world’s most powerful leaders (not such different motives). Both parties can achieve their personal goals by simply agreeing to the major demands of their opponent without any intention whatsoever of ever actually allowing inspections by their opponent.

Looking at the deal from this perspective, we can say that there is a high probability that the summit will be a success, with both individuals claiming victory by forcing their opponent to accept their demands while simultaneously avoiding nuclear holocaust. The problem, of course, is that no-one besides Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un wins anything from such a deal.


Mark Polczynski

Baileys Harbor, Wis.

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