Well, to everyone’s surprise, it seems that Trump and Kim are going to meet. So this is no longer a hypothetical question. (This originates as my answer on Quora to: What would happen if Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump could meet and talk to resolve the tension over North Korea?)

So first, this is good news. Whatever comes of it, it's major progress that

  • NK has said it will not do any tests until the meeting with Trump
  • It accepts that US and SK will do a joint military exercise before then, as they do every year (this is a big step as they usually protest strongly and fire missiles during it)
  • Have put denuclearization on the table.
  • Trump accepted and is due to become the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean leader.

All of that combined together suggests they are serious, and it's remarkable progress. Rex Tillerson said:

"What changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way.

"In all honesty, that came as a little bit of a surprise to us, as well that he was so forward-leaning in his conversations with the delegation from South Korea."

At the least it means continuing the current warmer relations through to May.

Now Trump doesn’t have a stellar reputation as s negotiator. At least in the conventional sense. I can imagine him coming back and saying "The situation in North Korea is complicated" as if nobody knew it.

But - well he seems to have managed to get China to join in sanctions against NK even though when he had a meeting with the president in the US they were surprised how little he knew about China.

I think he is not an ideas person. By that I mean, no complex web of ideas he operates on and has to negotiate and rewrite as he thinks through the situations he encounters. He has no ideology, a remarkable thing about him, and very unusual for a politician.

That's why people say he is not a negotiator - it's hard to do normal negotiation without an ideology.

But the personal dynamics are interesting and though conventionally he would be a very bad negotiator or ambassador, it's hard to say, he might be just the person for Kim Jong Un. There seems to be some mutual respect there, surprisingly. And Kim Jong Un is also inexperienced in diplomacy as he so rarely meets other world leaders.

Is Kim Jong Un genuine about his interest in denuclearization? Well time will tell. But Kim Jong Un has done all the things he would do if he was genuine. And the sanctions are biting, more than we may realize in the West.


This is a central thing for both Koreas and part of their unique perspective. They both see Korea as split by the Korean war and they want reunification as a single nation.

This has got more attention since the Winter Olympics but I think few realize quite how deep this runs in NK politics. They do not see themselves as communist, and they see their eventual aim as a united Korea - peacefully united, not through conquest of South Korea.

And many South Koreans want the same thing. How that can happen with a totalitarian state in the North based on a strange version of Confucianism called “Chendoism” with the aim to bring about an ideal order in the current life - and South Korea with its major religion Christianity, Buddhism second and oldest religion and many of them having no religious affiliation - and very different politics based on democracy and capitalism? It’s hard to imagine how it would work.

However, in a survey of 100 North Koreans who were visiting China on business or to visit relatives, then a surprising picture emerges. Only a minority want a country unified under the North Korean government. Nearly all think it will be a peaceful process and not the result of collapse of their government. But most think it will be either a mixed system of government or the South Korean political system extended to North Korea.

Few of them have degrees - so they are not the intellectual elite of NK, just ordinary folk - and not defectors so not people of unusual views either. The main thing they may have that sets them out from their compatriots is that they do have some exposure to conditions outside their country. The author of the article describes these results as "startling".

Korean unification flag which has been flown on several occasions when the two Koreas participated as one team in sporting events. For instance both countries usually walk in together under the same flag during the Olympic opening ceremonies, even though they then go on to compete separately

Also interestingly - China is keen on reunification too, so long as the unified Korea is not hostile to China. They don't require it to be an ally. just not hostile to them - and that the foreign powers withdraw from any military involvement in Korea after reunification.

The article is here: Korean Reunification: The View From the North

This is the wikipedia article on Korean reunification - the South are already preparing for it and wondering about how to deal with the cost estimated at around a trillion dollars - though less interest amongst young Koreans than older Korean reunification - Current status

This is Kim Jong Un's New Year speech where he gives the government official line on reunification towards the end. It's interesting to read as we seldom hear the NK official perspective on their own situation in the West.
Kim Jong Un’s_2017 New Years Address

(More background in my article here: Winter Olympics Talks - Korean Hopes For Reunification - US Can't Attack Without Warning US Civilians In South Korea)

So - the US just want denuclearization and to neutralize the threat. North Korea however want reunification. Anything, even if it is a minor gesture but of symbolic importance, would help a lot with that.

North Korea also have a lot of national pride. See for instance, Jeffrey Lewis's article here about an unsubtle NK propaganda film
"The Country I Saw," or "How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love North Korea’s Bomb (Almost)"

So, how can we build on all this in a way that is a way forward for everyone. Not a lose lose situation. Not an uneasy compromise. But a “win win”?


I haven't seen anyone else say this but I wonder if NK might try to negotiate to keep a civilian space agency?

To stop development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, to destroy their nuclear weapons and facilities, allow inspection of them - but at the same time to ask to be able to continue with their peaceful satellite launches - their next one would be their first ever geostationary satellite, which they are keen to do.

Commentators wonder why they want to launch it and try to work it out as a military objective, but it is not easy to shoehorn it into any military program. It won’t be any military advantage to them, and it does need more powerful rockets but they could develop those directly without going to all this elaborate facade of a geostationary satellite.

Well - perhaps it really is just a geostationary satellite. They don’t have any special need for one, but it is a civilian space accomplishment that few countries can achieve, to get a geostationary satellite into orbit. What’s more, it advertises their civilian space capability to the world.

If they do ask to be able to keep their civilian space industry, I think this would be genuine on their part, and that the US should jump at it if they do, and if the US can find a way to make this possible consistent with eliminating the NK capabilities for ICBMs and nuclear weapons.

I think that the US has to find a way to let Kim Jong Un come out of the negotiations with a sense of having achieved something and of pride for his country. If they do that, there’s a much better chance of a deal that works, and that NK would stick to.

Recognizing their ambition for a civilian space program and not tying that to ballistic weapons, and relying on inspection to make sure they don't have ballistic weapon technology, just peaceful spaceflight might be a way forward.

Or more radically, since South Korea already have a civilian space program, and even a space port, their Naro Space Center , although with only one satellite launched from SK, perhaps a future where NK and SK co-operate on civilian space, in a jointly run operation?

Naro-1 - South Korea’s own native rocket which launches from their Naro Space Center (34°26' N 127°32′ E).- so far it has had only one successful launch and put a satellite into orbit.

North Korea have put two satellites into orbit successfully. Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit 2 and Kwangmyongsong-4 as part of their Kwangmyongsong program launched from the Sohai Satellite Launching Station (39.66°N 124.705°E).

So of course - the North Koreans have been accused of just launching these satellites as a cover to develop missile technology. And there may be some truth in that. It was because of the first one, when they were accused of using it as a cover up for developing ICBMs that they withdrew from the peace talks - and then of course went on to develop their program towards ICBM’s. That doesn’t prove or disprove the idea that their original motivation was to develop an ICBM of course. Perhaps their motivation for it was mixed.

But however mixed their motivation is, they do also have a lot of pride in their civilian space program.

Kim Jong Un chose to mention their second successful civilian satellite and their plans for a future one as the first of their list of “Technological breakthroughs” that he proudly announced to the people in his New Year’s address:

“Our resourceful, talented scientists and technicians, following the successful launch of the earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong 4, succeeded in the static firing test of new-type high-thrust motor of the launch vehicle for a geostationary satellite. By doing so, they have opened up a broad avenue to the exploration of outer space. Also, they established fully-automated, model production systems of our own style, bred high-yielding strains with a view to ramping up agricultural production and achieved other laudable scientific and technological breakthroughs one after another. All this will be of great significance in developing the country's economy and improving the people's livelihood. “

Well - to just let them go ahead with their own space program would be a difficult call for the US to make. But tie it with a combined space program with South Korea?

I think all those concerned could trumpet this to their people as a major diplomatic coup

  • South Korea’s president Moon can show his people that he has achieved a positive success story by collaborating with NK. He has a fair bit of criticism from people saying that his policy of negotiating with NK is getting nowhere. Well - this would be a great addition to their own space program, to add the capabilities of the North Koreans - and their rockets. And a major diplomatic coup
  • Trump can say he has lead NK and SK into the path of peace and giving up the NK nuclear weapons
  • Kim Jong Un can say that his country is continuing its technological breakthroughs and helping to “open up the frontier of space”.

I think this could eliminate many of the practical concerns about ICBMs if it was a single organization, maybe with facilities in both NK and SK, but jointly run like the Women's hockey team but written large as a whole company or government organization?

Both North and South Korea could present to their people as a major win-win. They both have a lot of pride in their civilian space industry. Fledgling though it is at present. And Trump could do so too, present it as a win to the US as well.

Also both Koreas would see it as a first step towards a unified Korea. To cooperate in space first, then in other ways. Longer term, as the process of reunification continues, then the US will no longer need to be involved to such an extent which will save a lot on the expenses of the military in SK which they can use elsewhere, That also will help China too, who are keen on the idea of a unified Korea so long as it is independent. If the US withdraw their forces - and no Chinese or Russian troops there either - then that would be a win win win situation as well for the US, China and Russia.


Remember that with those 100 North Koreans surveyed - they didn't see it as likely to be reunited under NK ideology. Yet they thought reunification was likely, they expected it, and peacefully, not through collapse of the country.

And SK want it too, at least many of them do. When there is a will, sometimes there is a way. It may take a lot of work. It will be a major expense - South Korea budget a trillion dollars for reunification, which they have plans to raise using a special tax. But it also is a major business opportunity too with so much needing to be done.

South Korea is already one of the most technologically advanced and wealthiest countries in the world. They don't just bring us Gangnam style, but also electronics, software etc. They are the rising new Japan not far off Japan in their technological capabilities.

And maybe there are intermediates between full reunification and total separation? Partial and progressive reunification, starting with a shared space industry?

Just sharing a few thoughts here. Not seen anyone suggest it. If you know of anyone who has explored this idea do say in the comments!


President Moon said

"If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest,"

What a breakthrough that would be! It would be the first country to do so since the break up of the Soviet Union. Only four countries have given up nuclear weapons so far after getting this far. Of those only South Africa had developed them independently, the other three are counties that ended up with large numbers of them after the breakup of the Soviet Union. And nobody has ever given them who got as far as NK did with the technology to deliver them on an ICBM within easy reach.

  • South Africa - had six nuclear weapons, dismantled them during the period of apartheid
  • Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus returned their nuclear weapons to Russia or dismantled them, not being able to maintain them.

There are many countries that could produce nuclear weapons and don't, either started and then stopped or never produced them including Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan. And others that were forcibly prevented from developing them such as Libya and Iraq. But to develop them and then voluntarily give them up is unusual. And would be a good message to send to the world, especially right now with many worrying that we might get more proliferation, to have some movement in the opposite direction.

It is far too soon to say, but I think if you want an excuse for optimism this is not a bad moment to be a little optimistic.


The Russian announcement with all those new weapons was actually Russia trying to pressure the US to return to the table for peace talks.

Here in the UK, for the first time ever we have a prospective prime minister who has said that (if elected) he will never use our nuclear weapons in any circumstances even if attacked. Also though our nuclear deterrent has been renewed, there was a lot of opposition on basis of relevance (including many generals who say it is of no use in any modern war situation the UK could find itself in). Also on the basis of cost. Nuclear weapons can be fabulously expensive. Trident's life-time cost is estimated at $266 billion, or £205 bn according to campaigners. You can do a lot with $266 billion.

However, that's not Corbyn's main motivation. He is a long term nuclear disarmament campaigner, and he just out and says that there is no situation where as PM he would find it acceptable to kill millions of civilians with nuclear weapons. Though he hasn't got support from all the Labour MP's he has a lot of support from the grassroots of his party in this stance.

Then, if Scotland ever becomes independent, the SNP have said we will denuclearize and not permit Trident (the UK nuclear defence) to be stationed on our soil. That we are even having this conversation at the highest level in the UK is major progress

Last autumn when many democratic senators and one republican became concerned about the "nuclear button" due to the volatile way that Trump does his decision making, General Kehler and other experts clarified the situation in a Senate special hearing. It is not a literal button; it is a device used by a president for authentification in a phone call to a military general to order an attack. He made it clear that Trump could not order a nuclear attack on a whim. He explained that it would have to be proportionate and necessary and if it didn't fit any of their playbooks pre-approved for legality then the lawyers would get involved and surely it would be kicked down the road to Congress to decide. He made a distinction between the case of an imminent attack, where the military calls up the president and they have minutes to decide and the other way round when the president calls up the military and they can spend days discussing it if needs be.

The UN has started negotiating a new treaty to eliminate all nuclear weapons. 123 nations have signed it, the main exceptions, apart from Australia, are the nuclear weapon states. Will they perhaps join it at some point in the future?



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