18 iunie 2018

Main political and military developments - Week 24 / 2018

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: 123rf.com

[ Romanian Version HERE ]



The meeting in Singapore (June 12th) between the U.S. President Donald Trump and the North-Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was a real success. Regardless the surrounding uncertainties, it marked an important step towards both denuclearization and the diminishing of the nuclear proliferation risk worldwide. The meeting went well and ended with a joint Communiqué where the two leaders reaffirm the objective of denuclearization: ”…recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un state the following: 1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPKR relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity;  2. The U.S. and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula; 3. Reaffirming the April 27th, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. A fourth point refers to the recovery of the POW and MIA remains, which is a sensitive topic for the American public. Both parties described the meeting as a success and a starting point for a process offering peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. After the event, President Trump declared that the U.S. would cease the annual combined maneuvers with South Korea, a long sought goal of Pyongyang. In his turn, state secretary Mike Pompeo specified that the denuclearization of North Korea would proceed in phases, and he pointed at a two year horizon, by the end of this term in office of President Trump: “we hope to see ”major” nuclear disarmament in the next two and a half years”. Kim Jong-un mentioned that “big changes will come”. Donald Trump maintained that the denuclearization would be complete (which encompasses verifiable and irreversible, says Pompeo), and he was crystal clear that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea” and the world can ”sleep well”.

In spite of criticism that the final declaration lacks any actual details, the meeting stands out as a great success, as peace gets a real chance, although many questions remain to be answered regarding the nuts and bolts of the real deal. The duty of each party is also not clear, especially the Korean commitment to abide by the understanding reached in Singapore. The meeting sets the precedent that a dictator (and his country) was recognized[1] and offered worldwide legitimacy. This was actually the main objective of the Pyongyang regime: to secure its survival, no matter the means – from the nuclear weapons, hitherto, to the diplomatic tools bases on a strong bargain chip, henceforth. Given the problem complexity and lack of trust, as well as the domestic North-Korean context[2], more expectations were hardly possible, at least for a start.

How was this possible? Several prerequisites were met to secure both Kim’s regime recognition by the U.S. and the acceptance of a deal by the North-Korean regime. These prerequisite are: a/ Kim’s regime was granted the security not only of its present existence, but also the certainty of its future perpetuity. This holds water on the background of a political-economic solution, the quite valid Chinese capitalist communism[3]; b/ the pragmatic American president ignored the ideological values of the “Free World”[4] and thus made the acceptance of a harsh communist regime possible. The Washington Administration feels no longer responsible to act as guarantor of the free world, but merely the strongest democratic power, glad to lend a hand to the other democracies only as they secure their own defence. However, this posture puts the U.S. at war with everybody from an economic point of view, especially with the democracies able to be competitive. This strongest democracy takes the dictators as they are (Russia), with a couple of exceptions, such as Syria and Iran; c/ two special characters surfaced to shine upon this situation: Kim Jong-un “escalated to deescalate”, he made an epic arming effort, quite remarkable for an isolated and bankrupt nation. Now, he is able to apply ”the big stick policy”: ”Speak softly, but make sure you carry a big stick”. But the same did President Donald Trump, on fast-forward, from threatening with war, perhaps nuclear (“fire and furry”), to conceding to sign an agreement. Both leaders went bluntly against the politically correctness of their own countries’ traditions. Eventually, the two straightforward leaders reached an understanding which saved the region from the danger of a major war.

Almost everybody is happy: China sees its ally and heighbour safe, and its strategic situation consolidated; South Korea and Japan see the perspective to get rid of the greatest threat they perceive. But those who lived the history first hand, from the South-Korean opposition to the North-Korean ”new man”, have little to enjoy. However, they might get a silver lining of hope for the future.

The Rubicon has been crossed, but the problems are yet to come: the negotiation teams must implement the blanket Communiqué into a clear roadmap, terms and specific verification conditions. This will not be easy; one comment proved that an iTunes contract terms and conditions include more specifications about nuclear weapons than the Singapore Communiqué. Each signatory party will be interested to quickly and verifiably pursue its objective, not the one of its counterpart. On one hand, North Korea is not out of the woods yet, the sanctions will continue. On the other hand, the nukes are still there, even after the demonstrative decommissioning of the already collapsed testing grounds at Punggye. Most likely, the tough head of North-Korean secret services, Kim Yong-chol, will negotiate with Mike Pompeo, backed by the field-proven triad John Bolton – John Kelly – James Mattis.

By stopping the dangerous escalation which led to nowhere, the two leaders opened the path to mutual concessions. As an immediate example, Donald Trump took even the Pentagon by surprise, when announcing the cease of military maneuvers in South Korea. Two ”weirdly special” people reached an outstanding achievement and provided a strong hope for peace in the Far East. As about Trump, any ”special” he might be, he remains ”our special” and achieved what it took, when it took… and we will see if gets it how it takes.



The G7 Summit (June 9th) in Canada was a failure. The announcement made by President Donald Trump that the United States is no longer bound to the joint declaration of the G7 Summit sealed the failure of the meeting held in Charlevoix, Québec, by the leaders of the main industrialized western powers. D. Trump posted on Tweeter that ”based on Justin’s (Trudeau, the Canadian Prime-Minister) false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our  U.S. farmers, workers and companies,   I have instructed our U.S. Reps to no longer endorse the Communiqué, as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!”.  Trump accused the Canadian Prime-Minister of being ”dishonest and weak” after behaving ” meek and mild” during the Summit, when the latter pointed that Canadians consider the recently announced U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium ”insulting”. Actually, Prime-Minister Justin Trudeau pointed that he had been clear with the American president and told him that Tariffs are not an issue to bend about, and Canada would react: ”As Canadians, we are polite, we’re reasonable, but also we will not be pushed around”.

By a mix of bluntness and sincerity, Donald Trump announced, actually, that he denounces the Communiqué because the commitments he took within would make his future intentions more difficult, that is introducing new tariffs on western ally merchandise. Justin Trudeau’s declaration was just a pretext[5]. President Trump’s decision summarizes a situation which the transatlantic partners refused to accept, but which backfires and cannot be ignored anymore: from an economic point of view, the Trump Administration considers itself at war with all the nations in trade excess with the U.S., regardless the causes (fair or unfair competition) and rules. The soft approach, by persuasion and instrumentation within the very framework established by the U.S., did not pan out for the Europeans, or for the other G7 members. The Trump Administration is not interested to settle a fair balance, even with  its allies, but to get the job done: the U.S. has a huge trade deficit which has to go. Beyond the apparently narrow, mercantile and destructive[6] vision of the its president, the U.S. has to cope with the reality: America accepted far too many compromises, being busy to maintain the global political-economic framework it created, until the point to jeopardize its own competitiveness. Strategic competitors and allies alike abused the framework created by the U.S.. Regarding the competitors, the economy of modern China is the product of the U.S., who accepted unacceptable terms of trade and investments, as well as technology and copyright protection. As for allies, as difficult would be to admit, the Europeans, especially Germany, have been interested in exports, mostly on the U.S. market, leaving to the Americans important responsibilities[7], including the burden of its own defence[8]. There is a say among the American military, that the U.S. bases in Germany are there to defend the Mercedes factories.

The G7 Summit atmospherics were tensed, having the U.S. representatives alone opposing everybody else. The final Communiqué has been roughly negotiated, especially on trade issues. The U.S. did not agree mainly to two aspects: the World Trade Organization, and the trade balance. First, the Trump Administration does not like WTO, and did not want its name in the final G7 document. The compromise was to include in the Communiqué language like ”we underline the crucial role of a rules-based international trading system”. Second, the U.S. insisted on ”mutual trade”, meaning zero mutual trade deficits among partners. The compromise for this one spelled ”free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment, by creating reciprocal benefits, are the key engines for growth and job creation”. The compromise was reached with difficulty, as negotiations with President Trump were tough and intense. Donald Trump surprised his allies, some of them perceiving his reaction as ”absurd”. Canada announced it would proceed further with new import tariffs for American goods and services. The U.S.’ problem is that it has to accept WTO, having nothing to gain from sabotaging an institution which is part of the international trade system that America itself created after 1945. His is valid even if the United States is desperate to reduce its trade deficit. As for the Europeans, they might fall into the trap of considering that, since the U.S. does not respect anymore the rules established in agreement, they might find a partner in China or other emerging powers (or which consider themselves as emerging, such as Russia). These nations only piggy-backed this framework and blatantly breached its rules. Switching bearing towards China would open the path to an economic system dominated by China and built by Chinese rules. This would generate a bigger danger than an American mercantile administration, as the Europeans know how the African nations devastated by the Chinese trade” rules” look like.

Regarding Russia, the gap of perception on approaching Russia as a security threat was widened by President Trump’s insistence to allow it to join the G7 again, and the flat refusal by the allies to agree. Such lack of unity encouraged Putin to declare Russia’s lack of interest in rejoining G7. Vladimir Putin even took this opportunity to ironize the criticism raised by the Europeans in this forum as being ”creative stutter” - one of the criticisms, aiming at condemning Russia for the Skripal case, appeared in the final Communiqué. Additionally, he minimized the importance of the G7 economies in bravado[9]. Maybe, this way, Putin wanted to mask the fact that, commercially speaking, it is now Russia’s turn, because Russia’s economy follows the price of crude oil, and Saudi Arabia and Russia started to raise production, after they stopped delivery and obtained a better price. When the oil price plateaued high[10], President Trump sent a warning message[11]. In another topic, the Trump Administration decided new economic sanctions against companies and individuals suspected of committing cyber-attacks and illegal developments in underwater electronics. First on the list is KVANT, the Russian electronic warfare colossus. Russia is also suspected for developing underwater technology aimed at intercepting or denying the Internet communications, which are based largely on underwater cables.

The economic tensions between the United States and its European allies will likely grow, Germany being the first to be considered. Europeans will probably close ranks, but hopefully will show the wisdom to keep the tensions at economic level, not higher up, in the political domain. On the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. needs wisdom in two main problems: the trade issue and the political approach to Europe. The U.S. economy cannot continue with such trade deficit, especially with China. For these two problems, the Trump Administration discarded the economic rules, even with the allies.



The Normandy Group foreign ministerial meeting held in Berlin (June 11 – 12) brought no progress in the peace process, i.e. about deploying peacekeeping troops in Donbas. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, declared that Russia and Ukraine were not able to reach an agreement and preserved big differences between the two points of view, regardless their general acceptance on a U.N. mandate mission. Further discussions were decided to continue at lower level, in order to identify the specifics of a possible U.N. mission in eastern Ukraine. The only success is that the Normandy Group actually had a meeting at this level, since February 2017. Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stated that all parties agreed to observe the Minsk Agreement framework, including the issue of heavy armament and prisoner exchange. France and Germany offered to provide logistic support for securing the minefields. Heiko Maas pointed he was confident that the political negotiations held in Berlin would impact on the situation on the ground. Previously, he stated that the new E.U. policy in Eastern Europe must find new ways to cooperate with Russia, in the interest of all Europeans.

The meeting in Berlin was a foreseeable failure, as both the German and the French parties were interested for the beginning, just to bring Russia to the table. It was known that Moscow said ”no” to the deployment of peace forces inside the separatist region and at its border with Russia, accepting peace-keeper deployment only along the contact line. It is unclear whether Russia accepted a classical U.N. mission, most likely Russia being prepared to propose its own peace-keeping forces, or mixed Russo-Ukrainian troops with U.N. mandate, avoiding the impartiality of really international peace-keeping forces. Russia is waiting for Ukraine to implement some of the political measures of the Minsk Agreement, concessions which would provide political recognition to the separatists and a role in Ukraine’s domestic politics. Only later Russia will implement the most elementary disengagement military measures – the main argument Moscow holds against Kyiv. Judging the latest information from the field, Heiko Maas’s hopes are baseless. The only certitude is that a sports event just begun, and the Kremlin needs calm for this period. After the World Football / Soccer Championship held in Russia, we will see…   



In the presence of their prime-ministers, the Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias, and Nikola Dimitrov respectively, met this Sunday on the shores of Lake Prespa, at the common border, and signed the accord about changing the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to ”Republic of North Macedonia” (in Macedonian language ”Severna Makedonja”). The document was also signed by the UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz, who has mediated the issue since early 1990s. Both the Greek Prime-Minister Aleksis Tsipras and the Macedonian Prime-Minister Zoran Zaev had declared before that the Athens and Skopje governments reached an agreement which offers the bases for the settlement of a dispute which delayed Macedonia’s integration into NATO and E.U. The agreement signed this week-end needs to be ratified by the two parliaments and to pass a referendum in Macedonia.

Although a very important step, the official statement is just the beginning of a difficult process in both countries. Both in Athens and Skopje, the parliamentary oppositions reject the solution which the two governments identified. In Macedonia, the social-democrat government will find it difficult to get support from the nationalists in VMRO party to pass this bill. The Macedonian President, Gjorge Ivanov, already stated he would not accept the change of the country’s name. However, his role is limited, and after the bill is passed in the Parliament, he is obliged to sign. In Greece, the opposition already opposed the bill during the vote in Parliament, Friday, June 15th, because the political right cannot accept that a left party like Siriza can also solve a foreign policy problem, after it yanked the nation out of bankruptcy, even at a high cost paid by the population. The Greek fear of Macedonian nationalism performed by VMRO is probably second to the main security problems of the nation, which lie in the East. There will likely be foreign pressure as well, since both the E.U. and NATO are interested to stabilize, and later integrate Macedonia. In the process of NATO integration, the name of the country was the only clear cut problem, after the domestic issues found solutions. Even the Albanian minority problem was stabilized, although it is still far from a permanent solution. A Russian meddling should not be ruled out, since Moscow is interested to prevent any extension of the North-Atlantic Alliance, and it did meddle before, during the political crisis.


[1] Between South Korea and North Korea there is only an armistice concluded, at the end of the day, between a communist North Korea, on one side, recognized by only some countries, and the United Nations, on the other side, under whose colours fought the American forces and its allies in the Korean War.

[2] The Pyongyang regime manufactured a parallel reality in two ways: by terror – the dynastic communist North-Korean regime’s “Hell on Earth” competes with Stalinism and Nazism combined, and by propaganda – the image of a “communist paradise”.

[3] China demonstrated that a communist regime, even with a personal touch, can not only survive, but even progress rapidly and substantial, becoming a nation where the communist party holds the leadership even if the economy turned state capitalist.

[4] The U.S. does not pursue anymore the “respect of human rights” as a prerequisite in international relations.

[5] Trudeau just reaffirmed what he had previously declared. Additionally, the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada only for goods, in general. If services are considered, the balance would tilt in favour of the U.S.

[6] Asked by a journalist ”Which are the bases of American decisions?”, an American counselor answered ”We are America, bitch!”. Any ”America First” would the U.S. be under the Trump Administration, building a strategy probably requires more than such vulgar language, likely to be considered but not spoken as such by Russia (in the political-military field) or by China (in the political-economic field).

[7] Some nations’ whole defence strategy spells, in a nut shell, that ”the Americans are with us, even if we are not”.

[8] Within NATO, the U.S. asks the operationalization of a 30-30-30-30 reaction force (30 army battalions, 30 warships, 30 air force squadrons, deployable in 30 days). In the same time, the E.U. Commission rushes to pass rules to exclude American companies from the European defence projects. However, the old untold principle – ”you defend us, but we defend our defence industry from you ”could have waited for the answer until the NATO Summit, where the Europeans will not have too much to chip in to the ”30s”.

[9] According to V. Putin, the economies of China and Russia combined would be comparable to G7 economies.

[10] Russia raised production to 11.1 million barrels a day, with 143,000 over the quota agreed with OPEC.

[11] The U.S. competes on oil production market, after turning from importer to exporter, due to modern technologies. Additionally, the U.S. would not allow the present economic grow to be undermined by a too high oil price. Since Venezuela and Iran cannot deliver oil at the agreed price, because of their economic collapse but also because the sanctions start to kick in, OPEC and Russia obtained a higher price of crude, and now Russia enjoys the new prices and increased production. Anyway, the Saudis will observe the signals from Washington.