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The Morality of Politics
Posted: Saturday, March 9, 2019

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 09, 2019
"The lesson that Kim Jong-Un has learned [is this]: If you give up your weapons, American will kill you."

—Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association.

Basdeo Panday once said famously: "Politics has a morality of its own." As one looks at the unfolding of the political atmosphere in the United States, one can't help but reflect on Panday's prescience. Panday's insights were not original, but he uttered a truth that is being played out in the U.S. today.

On Wednesday, as President Donald Trump was meeting with Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader, about the prospect of taking steps toward nuclear disarmament in North Korea and other measures to ease tensions in the Korean peninsula, Michael D. Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, was pouring his guts out about the president's amoral actions before and after he attained the presidency.

Trump is asking Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear facilities completely in exchange for lifting the harsh economic sanctions the U.S. has imposed upon North Korea. He promised that if Kim Jong-un gives up his nuclear weapons the U.S. would assist North Korea to become an "economic powerhouse" (New York Times, February 28).

Kim-Jong-un is 35 years old but he is no fool. Trump is 72 years old but may be deficient in political wisdom, particularly when it comes to international affairs. He has little sense of what it means for the developing countries to hold on to their nuclear weapons for their own security. Countries do not give up their military advantages because an unethical real estate developer asks them to do so.

Kim Jong-un remembers that rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's president, after he gave up his nuclear arsenal, as U.S. air strikes pulverized his country. Saddam Hussein was executed by his own military when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 on the pretext that there were weapons of mass destruction in his country.

An astute observer said: "Gaddafi gave up the bomb and lost his head, Saddam was toppled because he did not have it." The Libya model, according to my South Korean friend, "is constantly discussed, by both the North and the South, because survival for this family regime is Concern #1."

Sometimes misinformation encourages us in the West to believe that we, the paragons of virtue, know what's best for the world. But North Koreans are not unaware of the symbolic and practical importance the possession or the possibility of making a nuclear bomb holds in international diplomacy.

After Pyongyang's' nuclear test in 2016, the North Korea media reported: "History proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasured sword for frustrating outsiders' aggression. The Saddam regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programmes of their own accord" (Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul, September 9, 2016).

Technically, the U.S. and North Korea are still at war. The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In the 1950s, 70,000 U.S. troops were stationed in South Korea. Today, with 23,468 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines stationed in South Korea, North Korea has every reason to be cautious about America's motives.

Prof. John Delury, of the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, Korea, told the BBC: "Above all else, North Korea's nuclear programme is about security-it is, by their estimation, the only reliable guarantee of the country's basic sovereignty, of the Communist regime's control, and of the rule of Kim Jong-un."

It may not be wise for Kim Jong-un to take President Trump at his word on anything. Cohen portrayed Trump as "a lying, cheating, racist president who used money and threats to conceal immoral and illegal behavior" (New York Times, February 27). The Washington Post (February 21) claimed that Trump made 8,158 false or misleading claims since he came into office two years ago. Trump, as Cohen says, would do anything to gain an advantage, even if it means outright lying and downright deception.

During the Gulf War of 2003, Kim Jong-il, the father and predecessor of Kim Jong-un, disappeared from public view for 44 days. It is surmised that he feared being "assassinated by U. S. Tomahawk missiles." Seeing Kim Jong-un acting as cautiously as his father did, I wouldn't be surprised if Kim Jong-un keeps Saddam and Gaddafi's fate uppermost on his mind any time he enters into negotiations with Trump.

Although Trump sometimes behaves like the don of a Mafia family, it might be difficult for him to outwit a dictator for whom purges and executions are routine exercises, simply par for the course.

Unless the U.S. can guarantee North Korea's security and allow the country to be part of the world's nuclear club, it would be difficult to entice Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons. "The best thing that can happen," according to my South Korean friend, "is for the North to escape sanctions with some nuclear capacity so that if we ever reunite, we'll have arms to protect ourselves against Japan, China, the US and Russia."

Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un's father, relied upon "carefully targeted military provocations called brinksmanship" to achieve his objectives (Dan Sutherland, Radio Free Asia, December 12, 2011). Kim Jong-un will need his father's cunning to stay alive and assure this country's soverignty.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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