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Discussion point: should you negotiate with crazies?

The Times reports,

North Korea’s senior negotiator with the United States has been executed by firing squad because of the failure of Kim Jong-un’s last summit with President Trump, according to a South Korean newspaper.

Some of these grisly stories about executions in North Korea have turned out turned out not to be true – although with a ruler who shares the penchant of so many tyrants for suddenly turning against those closest to them, any statement offered by the North Korean government that Mr Kim Hyok-chol has not been executed should probably be followed by the word “yet”.

How should we deal with the likes of Kim Jong Un? I noticed that President Trump was denounced for being incapable of diplomacy before the ill-fated summit, lambasted for cosying up to dictators when it seemed to be going well, and excoriated for having caused relations to break down now. Some commenters seem to blame Trump for the deaths of Kim Hyok-chol and his team.

On the other hand perhaps the denouncers, lambasters and excoriators have made a good point despite themselves: whatever Trump did vis-à-vis Kim was likely to go horribly wrong. Maybe it would be better not to talk to unstable nuclear-armed tyrants at all?

Edit (3rd June): Another Kim among those reported to have been purged, Kim Yong-chol, has reappeared. This is a different man from Kim Hyok-chol (Korea has a very small range of both family and personal names) but the presence of Kim Yong-chol at a concert in the company of the dictator, combined with the absence of any official report of executions among the other members of the team sent to America, suggests that the earlier report that Kim Hyok-chol was executed may have been a false alarm.

33 comments to Discussion point: should you negotiate with crazies?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gosh! I noted the reported executions myself, either here or at thenewneo.com. :>(

    Just goes to show. Don’t believe half of what you hear, any of what you read, and a negative percent of what you see yourself.

    “Should you negotiate with crazies?” I’d say you play the odds. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it backfires.

    This is also true when you negotiate with non-crazies, or at least with people no crazier than anybody else.

    It is also true that on any given morning it might have been better you should have stood in bed.

    Hope that helps. :>)

    .

    BTW — There are those who speculate that KJU is not, in fact, crazy — just in fact trying to ride a wild bill that also has very sharp fangs and claws, is hungry, and is in a bad mood. Personally, I wouldn’t know.

  • Itellyounothing

    Not talking to him doesn’t give him ant resonance to stop being an unstable nuclear armed tyrant then does it?

    Also chopping of his own folks head seems to be their problem. Not ours. Launching nukes is probably ours, so talking to him seems the right side of the risk profile…..

  • Eric

    Kim has been executing people since he came to power in 2011. Why would this particular execution, assuming it happened at all, be the reason to stop talking to him? Diplomacy is all about talking to people you don’t like.

    And I’m one of Julie’s speculators – I don’t see any indication he’s crazy. Ruthless, cruel, arbitrary, and tyrannical? Sure. But not crazy. He seems to play his cards very well for someone running an impoverished backwater.

  • Umbriel

    Executing one’s negotiation team is presumably a way of deflecting blame for the failure of the talks. At face value, doing that rather than simply blaming it on Trump’s unreasonableness seems like a way of clearing the air for a resumption of talks down the line.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard that the North Koreans were claiming the execution of at least some of the team was because they’d been “spying” on behalf of the US, so perhaps the team screwed up by suggesting that North Korea was prepared to make concessions that Kim wasn’t actually willing to follow through on. Still, this doesn’t seem like the lunatic super villain gesture of someone who wants to actually break off negotiations.

  • bobby b

    Long ago, I got sent to Chester Karrass’s negotiation school.

    He never mentioned firing squads. It was a happier time.

  • I think the key thing is not to get taken and not to lose anything you mind losing.

    – Trump obviously did not mind in the least flattering Kim’s vanity to the top of his bent if that had any chance of getting anything (the reputation he already had with the chattering classes probably helped in that respect, as it did with the “I have a bigger button on my desk” warning of the earlier phase).

    – What Trump did care about, I’m guessing, was not getting taken in a deal that was a fraud. He did not fall for Kim’s wanting the US to do their side of any bargain first and trust him to do his side next.

    I presume that is why the advisers were executed. Kim planned to rip off Trump as he had prior governments – getting some goodies from the US and then cooling off the mark by never quite getting around to disposing of his nukes.

    Talking to crazies may also create opportunities for spying on crazies, suborning advisors to crazies, etc. – or even getting crazies to kill those around them. Stalin died in part because, having executed all his doctors, he was receiving medical care from a guard who had some training as a vet.

    The alternative to talking to crazies is killing crazies, nuking crazies, etc. The modern world is too cautious about such things – I only wish I could believe some of what the PC believe about Trump in that regard – but just because they are idiots doesn’t mean some caution is not appropriate.

  • I think this should be a Samizdata QOTD:

    [A]ny statement offered by the North Korean government that Mr Kim Hyok-chol has not been executed should probably be followed by the word “yet”.

  • neonsnake

    “Should you negotiate with crazies?” I’d say you play the odds. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it backfires.

    This is also true when you negotiate with non-crazies, or at least with people no crazier than anybody else.

    Same.

    (I would venture, Julie and bobby b, that having a negotiation where the opponent then executes his negotiation team would not be a “you win, I win more” outcome…)

    Long ago, I got sent to Chester Karrass’s negotiation school.

    He never mentioned firing squads. It was a happier time.

    It wasn’t mentioned in GAP, either. There was “pretend you don’t have the authority to make the deal”, which is probably close to “I need to speak to my leader, else he might execute me with an anti-aircraft gun”?

    *tongue in cheek*

    I assume of course that any conclusions drawn here will also apply to Comrade Corbyn?

  • I don’t think Kim Jung Un is crazy though, by the classic definitions (rather than this modern nonsense). Sure, he had an unusual upbringing, but nothing that different than the children of diplomats the world over.

    We could say “The guy is paranoid”, but it’s not exactly paranoia when THEY ARE OUT TO GET YOU.

    This seems to include elements within the Nork military and diplomatic elite who would like to get rid of the entire Kim dynasty (presumably so they can put themselves in charge). On that basis, Kim Jung Un getting rid of his enemies through prison or execution doesn’t sound THAT crazy, just extreme.

    As for dealing with Kim Jung Un or his predecessors, if it reduces the risk of him nuking his neighbours without providing support for the regime then it seems like a risk worth taking, but as Trump has shown, you need to carry a big stick when doing so. Trump style diplomacy being a very different beast from that shown by the liberals such as Kofi Anan or Jimmy Carter.

    You don’t make peace with your friends, only your enemies.

  • Long ago, I got sent to Chester Karrass’s negotiation school. He never mentioned firing squads. It was a happier time.

    Maybe that is where he went wrong @bobby b!

    If execution was on the table if BRExit failed maybe Olly Robbins and others wouldn’t have been such traitors.

  • Mr Ed

    The Norks are not crazy, I agree with JG. They are sincere and dedicated socialists intent on preserving their rule.

    There might be ‘crazies’ in Iran, amongst the ‘hasteners’ who wish to bring forth the hidden one by stirring up trouble, in line with their theology, and for whom death is part of the process. I cannot see how one could negotiate with that faction, but they appear to be a noisy background to those sincere imans who want power and to maintain it.

  • Barry Sheridan

    If there is any chance of diverting the path of a dictatorship by diplomacy then it should be taken. The overtures by President Trump have made some limited progress in easing the long running tensions between the Korea’s, this is a benefit to be welcomed. That said, progress was always going to be subject to the whims and vulnerabilities of Kim Jung Un’s own position. As for further talks, yes they should go on if possible, as should efforts to reduce the heavily defended border between the two sides, it was always going to take lot of time to bring about real change in the situation.

  • Tim Worstall

    True story, I once did a business deal with the N Korean government. A very weird time was had by all. At one point their bank refused to issue a $250,000 letter of credit because they didn’t think the country was credit worthy for that amount. At another I rather shocked the negotiators on their side – two generals and a KGB style guy to keep an eye on them. I insisted on that LC. They couldn’t understand why. Well, because perhaps I don’t trust the government to pay for the delivered goods. But, but, not trust the government? How could this be? And anyway, if it doesn’t pay that would be the right decision anyway.

    Weird times.

    That deal didn’t happen but the earlier one did. Which led me to dropping off the $10,000 cash douceur in person at the N Korean embassy in Moscow. Yes, this was all legal back then.

  • APL

    I am amused that we are all worked up about ‘dealing’ with North Korea because it’s a totalitarian regime. Yet we buy loads of cheap goods* from China, which is as bad, worse if you consider the sheer scale if its sphere of influence.

    *98% of the time, those goods are ripped off versions of Western products, or based on stolen** IP from Western countries.

    ** Or sold to the Chinese Communist regime, by Western Politicians out to make another corrupt fast buck at the expense of their own Nations. For example; the Clintons selling nuclear missile technology to the Chinese or the Clintons selling US Uranium resources ( in cahoots with Robert Muller ) to Russia and, more recently, Theresa May offering preferential terms to Huawei.

    By the way. Do we even need 5G?

  • ROBERT SYKES

    The real question is, Can you negotiate with the US? The Russians say no. And no deal with the US is ever stable. The US withdrew from the ABM and INF treaties on a whim. It never ratified SALT II. Bolton and Pompeo were able to veto Trump’s deal with Kim. A few years ago, the Pentagon vetoed Obama’s deconfliction deal with the Russians.

  • I am amused that we are all worked up about ‘dealing’ with North Korea because it’s a totalitarian regime. Yet we buy loads of cheap goods* from China (APL, June 2, 2019 at 10:22 am)

    China is a very real danger, but I think the discussion point of the OP is focussed on whether to negotiate with ‘crazies’, not necessarily meant literally, but with people who – unlike the calculating Chinese leadership – are very capricious and unpredictable.

    The Norks are not crazy, I agree with JG. They are sincere and dedicated socialists intent on preserving their rule. (Mr Ed, June 2, 2019 at 8:37 am)

    Such words as ‘sincere’ and ‘dedicated’ need caution when used with communists. I think it was Robert Conquest who asked of Stalin

    Did he think his rule was the communism he had been taught long ago, or did he merely see it as an autocracy suited to Russia’s conditions? There is no way to know.

    Chang and Halliday (Mao: the Unknown Story) argue that Mao was not so much a communist who sought out a communist party to join as someone who just chanced to be on the scene at the founding of the Chinese party.

    The Kims’ evolution of communist theory to include the world’s only communist dynasty solved in a very literal way what Hannah Arendt called the succession problem of totalitarianism, but I suspect some marxists would question its orthodoxy. 🙂

  • Itellyounothing

    Marxists have always embraced anything that resulted in more Marxism. No matter how cruel or insane

  • Snorri Godhi

    The Norks are not crazy, I agree with JG. They are sincere and dedicated socialists intent on preserving their rule.

    What’s the difference??

  • Lee Moore

    Robert Sykes : The US withdrew from the ABM and INF treaties on a whim.

    But entirely in accordance with those treaties’ specified procedures for withdrawal.

    Bolton and Pompeo were able to veto Trump’s deal with Kim. A few years ago, the Pentagon vetoed Obama’s deconfliction deal with the Russians.

    By which you mean the US never made a deal.

    Returning to Earth, it is absolutely right and proper that Country A should not rely on a “treaty” that Country B has not actually ratified. And it is absolutely right and proper that countries should withdraw from treaties when they no longer wish to be bound by them, by following the agreed procedures for withdrawal.

    While we’re on the subject of treaties and scandals, the real current scandal is the attempt by the EU and the UK government to set up a treaty that has no procedure to withdraw, and which is deliberately drafted to evade the fallback provision in the Vienna Convention to allow countries to withdraw, with notice, from treaties which have no explicit withdrawal provisions. In other words Mrs May and the EU have tried to stitch us up with a perpetual treaty, so that the UK is bound forever unlsss the EU chooses, at its absolute discretion, to let the UK leave.

    Roughly item 1 for any genuinely democratic government should be to pass a law forbdding Ministers from making perpetual treaties, unless they pass a law through Commons and Lords first. Even if you’re a Remainer, the attempt to foist a perpetual treaty on her successors should place Mrs May in the doghouse of history.

    (Parliament can always pass a law repealing a past law that has given a past treaty domestic legal effect, but doing so without actually withdrawing from the treaty in question would be very damaging to the remainder of our treaty portfolio.)

  • bobby b

    “Parliament can always pass a law repealing a past law that has given a past treaty domestic legal effect, but doing so without actually withdrawing from the treaty in question would be very damaging to the remainder of our treaty portfolio.”

    Do you think this is true even when the rest of the world understands that your government has wrongly entered into a “perpetual treaty” which purports to bind forever? That this is exactly the type of manipulation that following governments are going to be most eager to immediately repudiate?

    We all understand the dangers of extending “odious debt.” Isn’t this just “odious treaty”?

  • NickM

    In the official biography of Kim Jong-il, the author writes that the North Korean leaders were too perfect to need to urinate or defecate. “…Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were perfect beings, un tarnished by base human function”.

    Kim Il-sung was the leader of North Korea after it was established in 1948.

    From here.

    All negotiations need the odd toilet break…

    Just as seriously the whole mythology about the Kims draws (oddly enough) on a seriously twisted version of Christian belief* (amongst other religious stuff). Try this…

    The question could perhaps be refined. It’s not about negotiating with “crazies” but specifically self-appointed “Gods”.

    How does one negotiate with God? And a third-gen God at that!

    *I seem to recall stories of the birth of at least one of the Kims drawing from the Christian nativity story. Sorry – no links and i anyone can find ’em that would be grand.

  • Rykehaven

    Maybe it would be better not to talk to unstable nuclear-armed tyrants at all?

    Hardly.

    The United States talks to many nuclear-armed despots.

    The USA literally fought a war in nuclear-armed Pakistan while running supply lines through that country, all the while conducting cross-border attacks into Pakistan’s safe-haven’s for its terrorist/”insurgent” allies, as early as 2004 (and possibly before 2004). In all this time, America was talking to Pakistani “tyrants” from Musharraf to Zardari.

    The charade had all but ended long before the Americans struck more than 100 miles into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; deep into the heart of Pakistan’s physical military and intelligence infrastructure, after long since deeming the nuclear risk as acceptable. Why acceptable? Because President Bush broke the “faux pas” and decided Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent was either inoperable, effectively neutralized….or lacked the political will to pull the trigger. Or he just didn’t care at that point, who knows – but it became US policy. All probably played a part in this assessment. And when Obama became President, he basically left inertia to its own devices.

    It’s a critical assessment; sizing up your opposition. Businessmen know it. Military officers know it. Political leaders should know it too.

    And there’s no better way to make this assessment than looking your opposition directly in the eye. You don’t leave those kinds of assessments to bureaucrats, weak actors, or untrustworthy individuals. And if you want to assess China’s negotiating leverage in that part of the world, North Korea is one of its key strategic assets.

    So Trump has the measure of North Korea’s and China’s leadership. Kim and Xi have their own assessments.

    That in itself has value, depending on who the stronger actor is. It’s one of the reasons why Trump entered into negotiations – because you never go into a negotiating room unless you have the ability to walk out – it’s business 101.

    And to this point, America is coming up Aces.

  • MadNumismatist

    I have just started the chapter on North Korea in Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. The first sentence:

    “How do you solve a problem like North Korea? You don’t, you just manage it.”

    My edition is the updated 2016, before the Orange Man. Considering this has been ‘Managed’ for 65 years, with everybody, crapping themselves as to what the lunatic Kim’s will do next, Trump seems to be the only person to have even tried making headway.

    Setting aside the Nukes, he notes the article linked below:

    The North can fire 500,000 rounds of artillery on Seoul in the first hour of a conflict
    https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/25/think-again-north-korea/

  • Edward Malus

    the whole mythology about the Kims

    Michael Malice, whose work is essential reading on this topic recounts a particular anecdote in this vein:

    Kim Jong-Il was once at a meeting of his ruling council and one of his ministers was reading some sort of report to him. Every now and then Kim would look down and make some notes, and the minister would stop talking until he was done writing. After this happened several times, Kim eventually asked the minister why he kept stopping. He replied that Kim was obviously busy making notes and he didn’t want to distract him by continuing to talk, and Kim replied that the minister didn’t need to stop as he can listen and make his notes simultaneously. This led to the gathered leaders concluding that Kim could “shrink time” as it was the only explanation for this ability to multitask apparently possessed by him and him alone in the entirety of the country.

    That aside, the key point of any diplomatic rapprochement should in my view my focused entirely around one question: What can we do to improve the life of the average North Korean, no matter how little? Forget your John Bolton fantasies of regime change and denuclearisation – there are 2 million people there in concentration camps who have been explicitly told that if there is a foreign invasion they will be immediately killed as they cannot be trusted not to join the enemy, and the vast majority of the rest live in literal bark-eating poverty based on a class system determined now and forever by whether or not your ancestors fought alongside Kim Il-Sung to expel the wicked Jap devils and US imperialists from the peninsula. I for one don’t want their blood on my hands.

  • Lee Moore

    I certainly wouldn’t wish to rely on other governments’ reasonableness and goodwill, as compared with their political interests. (See the EU’s tactics on Brexit as Exhibit A.)

    If we take the US for example, one can easily imagine an Obama Mark 2 using a British “repudiation” as a good political excuse to apply pressure.

    Much of the Western world is run by its government bureaucracy rather than by the elected politicians, and they aren’t going to be amused by the UK Parliament trying to cut itself loose from the web so carefully spun by its brethren in Europe.

    The Swamp is an international phenomenon.

  • neonsnake

    I certainly wouldn’t wish to rely on other governments’ reasonableness and goodwill, as compared with their political interests.

    You’re right; I’d actually flip it round – I’d certainly rely on their political self-interests over their reasonableness and goodwill.

    The Kims’ evolution of communist theory to include the world’s only communist dynasty solved in a very literal way what Hannah Arendt called the succession problem of totalitarianism, but I suspect some marxists would question its orthodoxy.

    Between North Korea and China, I’d be willing to bet money that you’ll know as much about Confucius in about ten years time as you do about Marx currently.

  • there are 2 million people there in concentration camps who have been explicitly told that if there is a foreign invasion they will be immediately killed … I for one don’t want their blood on my hands. (Edward Malus, June 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm)

    Your argument would appear to say we should not have invaded the third reich. A great many concentration camp inmates were slaughtered as nazi armies retreated, right up to the end.

    Allied threats had various consequences. One man survived when a gestapo group killed all their other prisoners but kept seven – him and six others – so that having seven prisoners still alive “would show we did not kill our prisoners”.

    As the inhabitants of Kim’s gulag do not have long lifespans, doing nothing for a period will also see them dead. Why would action put their blood on your hands but inaction not?

    “The North can fire 500,000 rounds of artillery on Seoul in the first hour of a conflict” (MadNumismatist, June 3, 2019 at 11:56 am)

    Unless, of course, we start it, in which case unwarned tac-nukes on the artillery deployment sites will massively degrade their effectiveness. If Kim starts it then yes, Seoul may well suffer an hour or longer of their uninterrupted firing before we can react.

    This is just another example of the fact that inaction, like action, is a choice, with consequences.

  • Stephen W. Houghton II

    The Blood of the NK people is not on our hands at all. We do not rule Korea, Kim does. Who lives and dies is his decision not ours.

  • just a lurker

    Niall Kilmartin
    June 3, 2019 at 1:48 pm
    Unless, of course, we start it, in which case unwarned tac-nukes on the artillery deployment sites will massively degrade their effectiveness. If Kim starts it then yes, Seoul may well suffer an hour or longer of their uninterrupted firing before we can react.

    Your solution is preemptive war, starting with surprise nuclear first strike. This will not be cheap, and the political results would be … unpredictable 😛 😛 😛

    How about making a big capitalist deal, offering cold hard $$$?

    The offer: We demand complete surrender of North Korea, all of its land, sea, air and nuclear forces. In exchange, leader of NK, all of his family, all of the top functionaries of the regime with their families, receive complete amnesty for all crimes they committed, citizenship of any country of the world of their choice, and hard cash. Big heaps of cash 😎

    The offer is communicated to all NK leadership.

    First $ 10 billion for Kim personally
    Next $ 10 billion for Kim’s family
    Next $ 10 billion for next top 100 North Koreans
    Next $ 10 billion for their families
    Next $ 10 billion for next top 1000 North Koreans
    Next $ 10 billion for their families
    Next $ 10 billion for next top 10000 North Koreans
    Next $ 10 billion for their families
    Next $ 10 billion for next top 100000 North Koreans
    Next $ 10 billion for their families

    Total cost – $ 100 billion, pocket money compared to costs of potential war.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War

    The main problem is credibility one – can Kim & co. trust Western offer? Previous precedents (Qaddafi, Pinochet etc…) are not encouraging.

  • Niall Kilmartin … Your solution is preemptive war, (just a lurker, June 3, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I was actually rebutting (to my own satisfaction, at least) some earlier comments.

    Just as our only chance of getting a decent deal from the EU is if they think we’re ready to leave with no deal, so Trump’s only chance of getting a deal that is not a con job out of Kim is for Kim to think that Trump’s ‘bigger button on my desk’ quip will stop being a joke if Trump decides no deal is possible.

    One way – the most effective way IMHO – to convince people you are negotiating with of something, is for that something to be true.

    There is an alternative strategy: kick the can down the road, maybe bribe Kim with a deal that you know is a con job, and hope he goes on not nuking anyone or shelling Seoul, and that his WMD programme does not grow too fast, and that no other leader of a third-world tyranny learns the wrong lesson from the spectacle of your fearing him.

  • Lee Moore

    neonsnake : I’d certainly rely on their political self-interests over their reasonableness and goodwill.

    It occurs to be that this is rather a good summary of the essential principle of Trumpism, which is usually mistaken, either honestly or dishonestly, for racism.

    Captain Putin is doing a good job for Russia, because he is (in Trump’s view) battling for his team. Trump is trying to do the same for America. It’s the responsibility of any national leader to battle for his team, and not try to battle for other teams. That’s what their Captains are for.

    And what’s wrong with the last few Presidents, the political class, the DC Swamp etc, is that (when they break off actually stealing from their people) even the reasonably honest ones are focussing on the interests of foreigners. But the US Captain is not Captain of the World, he’s Captain of America, and if he wanders off trying to be Captain of the World, he’s deserting his real post, leaving his own team without a champion.

  • any statement offered by the North Korean government that Mr Kim Hyok-chol has not been executed should probably be followed by the word “yet”.

    Just FYI, Richard Wurmbrand (in his book ‘In God’s Underground’, about communist Romania) describes sharing a cell at one point with a communist who was being purged. One day, the guards removed the communist, bringing him back a few hours later. The communist explained that his arrest had been reported in the western media and denied by the party, so he had been taken to give a lecture at the university to show he had not been arrested – and “he, as a communist, subject to party discipline, had to go along.”

    This is not the only example of communists under Stalin being taken to a public appearance or two from their prison cell to show they were “not under arrest”. I would assume it happened under Mao and happens under the Kims.

    Mr Kim Hyok-chol may or may not be under arrest. It is unlikely he had been executed at the point when he made his public appearance, but given what we know of body doubles it might be rash to rely upon it.

    So maybe ‘probably, yet’ or ‘perhaps, yet’ are perhaps (or sometimes probably) the phrases to use.

  • Mr Ed

    Quite why negotiating with crazies came to mind when I heard this, I don’t know, but Mrs May is reportedly going to hang on in Downing Street if her elected successor as Party Leader is a Brexiteer er, might not command the confidence of the House. So she might be in post all summer.

    The basis for this is a convention that the PM does not resign if a successor doesn’t have the confidence of the House.

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