The Peace for our Time & The Art of the Deal | Swagat Baruah

“Anybody can wage a war, only the courageous can make peace”

                                                                                                       – Donald J. Trump

The importance of personal realtions among leaders and of the existence of an underlying harmony among nations continues to be affirmed

Having negotiated with Hitler and Mussolini, two of the many madmen in the early 20th Century, Neville Chamberlain the former British Prime Minister, having returned from the concluded Munich Agreement, declared to the British public that the agreement had brought the “peace for our time”. It didn’t take Hitler long to shatter the illusions of the appeasers, thereby hastening his own ultimate downfall. In March 1939, less than 6 months after Munich, Hitler occupied the rump of Czechoslovakia. The Czech portion became a German protectorate; Slovakia was designated a technically independent state, if a German satellite. All agreement and treaties were violated, they were never more than mere paperwork for Hitler.

On June 12, 2018, the President of the United States and the Supreme Leader of North Korea sat down together in Sentosa Island, Singapore for a historic meeting and signed a joint statement, agreeing to security guarantees for North Korea and a reaffirmation of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula among other things. But there is an essential difference between the Singapore Agreement and the Munich Agreement, in that the former came to be negotiated and concluded between two madmen among the many of the early 21st Century. It more resembles the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact than the Munich agreement.

In what has been a historic week for Trump, the liberals and the anti-Trump have been silent and of course, in some strands, blatantly ignorant. What Trump and Kim Jon-Un have achieved is indeed historic, given the two country’s rather accidental enmity which has now become a historic tryst.

The Korean War presented America with its first and most decisive dilemma of its containment policy. Ever since the containment, America hasn’t had a strong and unitary diplomatic approach and Trump brings some uniformity to his idea of the New World Order, or at least, in theory: ‘America First’. The Trump Doctrine is a very bastardised version of the Monroe Doctrine, in a sense that it conveniently eliminates the Trump administration’s obligations and yearlong friendships with its allies, and puts America first, be it against the wishes of its enemies or allies.

Every foreign policy doctrine or theory is built on certain premises which are considered threatening to the country. And sometimes these are greatly full of flaws. The containment theory, for example, had a major flaw, causing American leaders to act on the basis of two erroneous premises:

  1. That their challenged would continue to be of as unambiguous a variety as they had been during the Second World War; and
  2. That the communists would wait passively for the disintegration of their own rule, as postulated by George Keenan.

The Trump Doctrine, similarly is based on catastrophic and highly misleading premises:

  1. That the liberal democracies of the world are conspiring to pull America down to a level of a “third world country”. This is very telling from the language Trump uses, and even his reactionary policies against America’s allies. According to Trump, every deal with America has been to rob America off its fortune, whereas critics and other actual “third countries”  and “shithole countries” would rather believe otherwise; and
  2. That the War on Terror must indeed be a War on Muslims. This is an extension of American foreign policy and domestic policy for the first decade of the 21st Century, and indeed a dangerous one.

The conclusions drawn and policies derived, as wee see are appeasement of dictators including Putin and Kim Jong-Un and an “attack on the West”.

America’s entry into the Korean Peninsula is rather peculiar, even for the tastes of expansionists such as Henry Kissinger. He writes, in Diplomacy:

“Thus, the Korean War grew out of a double misunderstanding: the communists, analysing the regions in terms of American interests, didn’t find it plausible that America would resist at the tip of a peninsula when it had conceded most of the mainland of China to the communists; while America, perceiving the challenge in terms of principle, was less concerned with Korea’s geopolitical significance – which American leaders had publicly discounted – than with the symbolism of permitting communist aggression to go unopposed.”

Nikita Krushchev’s memoirs claim that the invasion of Korea was the brain child of Kim II Sung, the North Korean dictator. Stalin, initially wary, had allegedly gone along with the plan because he permitted himself to be convinced that the enterprise would easily succeed. Both Moscow and Pyongyang had failed to understand the role of values in America’s approach to foreign policy. It was a dangerous cocktail of headstrong American values (more of paranoia) and expansionist aspirations that led America into the Korean Peninsula and the first major battle of the Cold War.

North Korea hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, but America has and so has the world. In Kim Jong-Un, we have a dictator who is very young, in a society where elders are revered, but politically very shrewd – “Perhaps the shrewdest” if I may be allowed to use one of Trump’s superlative narratives. In Trump, we have a leader who is a loose cannon, who threatens nuclear war over tweets, calls his allies and enemies all sorts of names, a narcissist who is not very good with the specifics of aesthetics or the English language, a megalomaniac who is convinced that he is God and people are jealous and constantly trying to conspire against him. Which is why, the Singapore truce seems more a Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Stalin and Hitler more than the Munich agreement, which included at least one sensible and sane leader. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was a secret agreement between the USSR and the Third Reich, restraining the overarching influence of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. It was more of a self-restrainment agreement, in which both parties decided to not invade Poland. The object of the pact was not to bring peace, but to self-restrain themselves from killing each other, and its violation by Hitler triggered World War II.

The Singapore truce is much on similar lines: two madmen pick up a fight, and agree to not annihilate each other. The truce was arrived at after repeated threats and intimidations on both sides, and turns out, that Trump did manage to make Kim Jong-Un surrender to his tweets of “fire and fury”.  What must be noted is that the Korean Peninsula has not yet been denuclearised, as was Trump’s pivotal promise, it is still “in the talks” and might “potentially happen”, since Trump pitched the idea after the signing of the agreement, which didn’t contain anything about denuclearisation. However, and much to the huge credit of the both, the following were agreed upon:

  1. 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.
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

This is a giant leap for the world at large, and Trump deserves all credit for this. In very monumental terms, this may be one of the biggest diplomatic histories in the history of world politics, and one to be celebrated with gusto for sure. However, if this is the “peace for our time”, only time will tell, since what the world needs and demands is that Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear warheads which he treats like toys must be dismantled and that the North Koreans be brought out of their caves and gulags. What is deeply concerning is Trump’s affinity for dictators, and we can only hope that he doesn’t forget that he is dealing with a mass murderer. A similar mistake was made by Roosevelt and Churchill with Stalin, although the times then were very compelling. Let’s not forget that Trump’s ‘art of the deal’ ends with ‘you’re fired!’


Swagat Baruah is a write/editor at Catharsis Magazine.

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