The second summit on the denuclearization of North Korea between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on Feb 27-28, 2019 ended abruptly with a breakdown in the negotiations. The reasons given by the US and N. Korea for the breakdown differ substantially. President Trump maintains that the summit ended because the N. Koreans made a demand that all sanctions on N. Korea be lifted, a demand which Trump said he could not accede to.
The North Koreans maintain otherwise. In particular, the Foreign Minister of N. Korea, Ri Yong-ho maintains that North Korea asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear complex. Yong-ho blamed US National Security Advisor John Bolton for disrupting the talks by demanding that North Korea disclose its chemical and biological weapons as well as its nuclear arsenal.
In a further twist to the situation, President Trump tweeted on March 4 that the Congressional hearings featuring Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, were a factor, if not the main factor, in the breakdown of the negotiations. After an official press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, held by Trump and Kim Jong-un, a press reporter asked Trump about the Cohen hearings. Trump was obviously outraged that here in his moment of fame, when he was angling for a Nobel Peace Prize, he was haunted by revelations of his financial wheeling, dealing and corruption. The full story is not yet clear but it seems that Trump’s original version of events is not the authentic one.
The failure of the talks, however, brings up a number of deeper issues that have to be tackled. The most fundamental issue is the deadly danger nuclear weapons pose to the survival of humanity and the planet, and therefore the supreme importance of the abolition of all nuclear weapons. The task facing the human race is not just the ending of N. Korea’s nuclear ambitions but the abolition of the nuclear weapons of the United States and those of the other eight nations who possess them. Should the solution to this grave problem, even the fate of the world as we know it, be entrusted to two leaders given to rather irrational behavior and outbursts? It certainly does not seem rational that the resolution of this gravest of human dilemmas be in the hands of such people. Not so long ago, Donald Trump was threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and was insulting Kim Jong-un as “little rocket man”. Kim Jong-un returned the sentiments but not in such frightening terms.
The global situation with regard to nuclear weapons is somewhat as follows: Nine nations in the world, namely the US, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and N. Korea, cumulatively possess approximately 14,500 nuclear weapons. Just one of these weapons is capable of immense destruction. These 9 nations constitute a kind of nuclear club and none of them is making any attempt to abolish them or reduce their arsenal. The latest move of the US is, in fact, to increase its arsenal and its nuclear lethality by withdrawing from the INF Treaty (IntermediateRange Nuclear Forces) signed in 1987 by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev.
Placing the focus on N. Korea as if they were the major threat in the nuclear problem makes little sense when the other partner to the negotiations, the US, poses a far, far greater threat. Whenever the US uses the euphemism “all cards are on the table” you can take it for certain that that means a threat to use nuclear weapons. The US is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in its destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Further, as Daniel Ellsberg points out in his recent book, The Doomsday Machine, the US has “used” nuclear weapons hundreds of times, as it threatens other countries with fire and fury.
In 2017 the United Nations passed a resolution banning all nuclear weapons. This Treaty is called the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. Seventy nations have already ratified this Treaty and it is supported by 122 countries. However, not one of the nuclear weapons possessing countries has taken part in these discussions or has signed this Treaty. This is where our focus should be. Surely it is a good thing that negotiations have taken place between the US and N. Korea on the abolition of N. Korea’s arsenal. It is surely an improvement on the days not long ago when Trump was promising “fire and fury like they had never seen” on N. Korea. But let us not entertain the fantasy that more of the Kim Jong-un/ Trump summits are going to remove the sword of Damocles that hangs over humanity.
by Michael Drohan, a member of the Editorial Collective.