Red Zone Negotiations

As ENSI negotiation Process Observers we can anxiously consider how Trump’s aggressive approach plays out. Will the US’s tough talk escalate confrontation or deter North Korea? Is the loud noise around this new policy direction calculated? What may be the consequences?

In recent years, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has authorised five nuclear tests, two in just the last year. Despite international trade sanctions and condemnation, North Korea has continued to pursue its missile-testing program ostensibly aimed at developing long-range nuclear warheads. Within this menacing geopolitical context Trump has emerged as a new player. His objective is clearly to see the Korean Peninsula demilitarised. Keen to demonstrate a new approach to North Korea we can analyse what-negotiating counter tactics Trump is employing to enhance his position and to alter regional perceptions of power.

Tips for Altering Perceptions of Power

  • Use a Third Party and build an alliance – Since becoming President, Trump has ratcheted up his competitive or ‘red’ talk on US military, diplomatic, security and economic measures towards North Korea. Having just hosted China’s President Xi Jinping at his private mansion, Mar e Lago, Trump’s staff are now boasting of their new alliance against the rogue state.
  • Appeal to an authority that supports your case – Proclaiming China’s President Xi Jinping as making a turnaround towards North Korea,  Rex Tillerson quoted Xi Jinping as having had ‘extensive discussions’ and an emerging ‘shared view’. According to Tillerson, President Jinping ‘clearly understands’ the threat of North Korea and there is now ‘no disagreement as to how dangerous the situation has become’.

    Flying high over this nascent Sino/US alliance, ESNI Process Observers can examine US key strategic attempts to alter perceptions of power. Historically, US and Chinese interests in North Korea have not always publicly been in accord. Having China now purportedly ‘on side’ may create a powerful impression of strength and undermine North Korea. Similar recent diplomatic alliance building efforts have also encouraged Japan and South Korea to support the US.

  • Give an Ultimatum – Trump has vowed to finish with the Obama’s “strategic patience” approach to North Korea. Now with China seemingly in agreement the US may be emboldened to do so. We clearly see how US efforts to communicate and build common ground with key regional powers are creating an alignment of shared values. On the other hand, Trump has signalled the US has ‘spoken enough about North Korea” and stated it will not more directly engage unless North Korea ceases its nuclear program. Will this ‘ultimatum’ and an ‘apparent withdrawal’ position the US more strongly?
  • Sudden Shift – The US policy review has already sparked sudden shifts in US decision-making. Trump has just ordered the 100,000-ton USS Carl Vinson and support ships, to the western Pacific, as a show of force and threat. Other sudden shifts on the table include the possibility of returning American nuclear weapons to South Korea. These shifts are provocative and heighten an atmosphere of unpredictability. We sometimes see unpredictable ‘sudden shift’ behaviour in high-stakes negotiations. Such wild cards, can make havoc and undermine the other party.

Following this escalation of threats, aggressive military positioning and political alliance formation, we as negotiation Process Observers will sit tight watching how this crisis unfolds.

Is common ground now out of reach? We hope not. The solution, according to Massachusetts’s Democrat senator Ed Markey, is for the US to work with China to establish direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mindful of the potential escalation of this conflict, and devastating consequences, direct talks focused on a negotiated outcome maybe the only way forward.

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ENS Team