Robert J Traydon

US-North Korea Summit: Lessons from South Africa

2018-06-08 09:10
FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela (File, AFP)

FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela (File, AFP)

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On Tuesday, June 12, 2018 the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, will meet with United States (US) President Donald Trump at the much-vaunted North Korea (NK) – US Summit.

This will be the first time in history a sitting US president meets a North Korean leader face-to-face. The summit has all the hallmarks of another equally prodigious meeting, one that happened in South Africa on December 13, 1989 when then-president FW de Klerk met with Nelson Mandela for the very first time.

With the odds stacked heavily against De Klerk and Mandela having a successful meeting, they ended up doing just that. Not only was their meeting a success, it opened a channel of dialogue that ultimately led to South Africa's first democratic election.

Similarly, the meeting between Tump and Kim in Singapore is being portrayed as one of Trump's rash publicity stunts rather than a sincere effort to engage with Kim. But, as was the case with De Klerk and Mandela's meeting, this NK – US summit marks the first serious attempt to get relations between these two 'hot-headed' nuclear-armed nations moving in the right direction.

At stake in South Africa, back in 1989, were crippling international sanctions and the prospect of a devastating civil war. At stake in 2018 are debilitating economic sanctions on North Korea and the prospect of all-out nuclear war between North Korea, South Korea, Japan and the US.

Mutual respect and understanding

Imagine if De Klerk had barged into his first meeting with Mandela and threatened to use his world-class South African Defence Force and six fully deployable nuclear weapons to 'totally destroy' South Africa's homelands if Mandela refused to submit.

Imagine if De Klerk had threatened Mandela with the Congo model of 1961, where the Democratic Republic of Congo's first democratically-elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated.

Imagine if De Klerk had treated Mandela as anything less than an equal.

In truth, if any one of the above "imagine ifs" had materialised, then the road to peace in South Africa would have been severely compromised.

What made the meeting between De Klerk and Mandela such a success was their mutual respect for one another and the understanding that they needed each other to bring about a peaceful solution that was in the best interest of all South Africans.

Similarly, Trump would be ill-advised to barge into his meeting with Kim and threaten to either "totally destroy" North Korea with his more powerful nuclear button, or carry out the Libyan model of 2011 if Kim refuses to submit to Trump's demand for immediate and absolute denuclearisation.

If Trump and Kim are able to establish a climate of mutual respect and understanding from the moment they meet each other, then the summit will take a huge stride forward.

Negotiations require compromise … on both sides

Just because a president possesses greater military strength than his "rival", does not mean he's above negotiation when making a deal. In fact, as De Klerk showed in 1989, negotiation and compromise were the core ingredients that brought about the new South Africa deal, not bullying.

Trump, on the other hand, has the propensity to be a bully. And, if past experience has shown him anything, it's that Kim doesn't react well to patronising bullies and US hegemonism. Thus, if Trump flexes his Western-style authority and appears unwilling to negotiate or compromise on key issues, then the summit will likely end in a premature stalemate.

As for Kim, he would be wise to study Mandela's negotiating prowess. Mandela, a convicted terrorist at that stage, managed to win the trust of not only De Klerk, but also the vast majority of South Africa's population through his ideals founded on unity, reconciliation, peace and cooperation.

Most importantly, Kim must aim to retain the moral high ground at all times … as did Mandela.

NK and US should follow South Africa's denuclearisation lead

South Africa seldom gets the credit it deserves for having voluntarily dismantled its six nuclear weapons and abandoned its nuclear weapons programme. Not only that, it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996, and then the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017.

Both Kim and Trump should take inspiration from the decision of the South African government to take this leap of faith – especially at a time when South Africa faced such daunting uncertainty in its march towards democracy.

Nuclear curve ball

Kim should throw Trump an ethical curve ball and state that North Korea will follow in the footsteps of South Africa with respect to denuclearisation … as soon as the US does the same: "North Korea will sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons when the United States signs."

In fact, like Mandela called out the national government on its policy of racial discrimination, so too should Kim call out the US on its policy of nuclear weapons entitlement discrimination.

And, let's be honest, Trump's offer of sanctions relief and economic prosperity upon North Korea's comprehensive denuclearisation is hardly a win for Kim … especially when one considers what the promises of economic prosperity meant for Iraq and Libya.

Kim should also remind Trump that the US's unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and its undiminishing possession of over 4 000 nuclear weapons, are both far greater threats to the future of humanity than North Korea's relatively insignificant nuclear arsenal.

In an ironic twist of fate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has offered to use its Nobel Peace Prize money to bankroll Kim's delegation in Singapore. Let's just hope Trump doesn't cancel the summit because of a last-minute hair appointment…

- Robert J. Traydon is a BSc graduate of Engineering and the author of 'Wake-up Call: 2035'. He's travelled to over 40 countries across six continents and worked in various business spheres. His articles explore a wide range of current affairs from a uniquely contrarian perspective.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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