Kim and his forefathers have been well served by playing all great powers against each other.
Historically, every peace negotiation between American diplomats with hostile dictators was premised on the idea that the adversary had made a decision to change course. The good thing is that often they have. Think, for example, of Anwar Sadat’s rejection of his quasi-alliance with the Soviets to join the Western camp and make peace with Israel; or Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up,” including his rejection of Maoism, that ignited China’s stunning three decades of growth. There is, however, no indication that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is following these models. Without a real change from Kim, there is no hope for peace with North Korea, no possibility of complete and verifiable irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of Kim’s weapons of mass destruction, and little genuine interest in opening up to America’s economy.
Kim cannot follow Sadat or Deng’s path without having come to the conclusion that his North Korean regime is at a strategic dead-end. Deng took a sober look at the ravages caused by Mao Tse-tung versus the economic advancement of China’s regional neighbors. He contemplated the threat of a hostile Soviet Union, and calculated he needed protection from Washington. Given these circumstances, U.S. negotiators were convinced that Deng would make a strategic change, and they were right. He opened the door to what could arguably be labeled one of the greatest transformations of the twentieth century.
More importantly for Kim’s calculus, Deng and his successors were able to stay in power notwithstanding “Western civilizational pollution”—as the Chinese Communist Party now calls it—that infected China. Yet that same civilizational pollution brought down the Soviet Union, and all of its East bloc vassals. So, does Kim believe he can survive the onslaught of trade and openness like Deng? Or, that he will face the fate of Mikhail Gorbachev and other long-gone Eastern European dictators who tried to open their countries to the West? Has anyone asked him? Then there is the issue of his geopolitical calculations. Has he, like Sadat and Deng, decided to change his security strategy and lean on the United States?